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Holiday Bus to Joseph

With the kids moved out and far away with families of their own, I decided that what I needed was something to kick off the holiday season—something to get me in the mood—Thanksgiving and Black Friday just weren’t enough.

My first adventure, a Christmas concert at Eastern Oregon University—it just so happened on the night of the concert, La Grande and northeast Oregon experienced one of the worst blizzards on record. The walk to the concert hall from the parking lot took on the challenges of an expedition to the Arctic—very memorable—very North Pole-like.

The following year, I thought it would be fun to take the Eagle Cap Excursion train along the scenic Minim River. The price was right—a few cans of food for the food bank. There was a hitch however; it was a Santa Clause train for the kids, so borrowed  a couple of kids from a friend to make my presence seem legit. We had a great time—the winter scenery was spectacular, which included sightings of elk, deer, bald eagles and a coyote, but the ride was over too soon.

That year I learned you get what you pay for.

On the third year, I decided to cater to the altruistic, extravagant shopaholic in me and signed on for a Holiday Bus tour to the touristy, colorful, quaint and remote village of Joseph, Oregon for a full day of s-h-o-p-p-i-n-g!

Joseph, for those of you who don’t know, is way the heck out there in the far northeastern corner of Oregon at the gateway to the Hells Canyon.

It’s beautifully situated, nestled up against the Eagle Cap snow-covered peaks of the Wallowa Mountains—an area sometimes referred to as Little Switzerland.

I paid for the tour, which promised goodies, snacks on the bus, coupons for food, coupons for savings on merchandise from the merchants in Enterprise, as well as Joseph, and

drawings for special savings certificates; never suspecting for one second that I had signed on for a marathon.

First stop—Enterprise for the warm-up round of shopping, then on to Joseph for the major round, then on the return trip, back to Enterprise for the grand-finale, with a chili feed and Christmas parade.

It sounded great. I was chomping at the bit.

Saturday morning we gathered at the crack of dawn—raw recruits, and what I would soon categorize as experienced campaigners—in front of Albertson’s super market in Island City,  a suburb of LaGrande. We all piled into the busses like sheep for the fleecing.

As a newbie, I took a seat up front, close to the driver and the exit door. The veteran soldiers-of-shopping headed for the back of the bus, Santa hats in place, twinkle-light necklaces denoting their rank, hooting and whooping like sailors setting off for their long-awaited shore leave.

We traveled along, passing through small villages, stopping for stragglers and innocent rookies who eagerly waved the bus down. We pressed on, all of us yakking, clacking, flapping our gums, confident, our wallets bulging with cash, our credit cards shined up and ready.

Naïve, I’d left home with a clear objective in mind: I wanted to find the one-of-a-kind gift, the unusual, the I just won’t be able to resist something you can’t find at Wal-Mart.

Perhaps I need to clarify here that La Grande has two primary places to shop and they are Wal-Mart and Bi-Mart. And during the winter, with a pass on both ends of town, you aren’t inclined to travel the seventy-five miles to the nearest mall.

We arrived in Enterprise for the warm-up round at nine-thirty a.m. The temperature hovered in the mid-twenties with a light breeze, an overcast sky, and a skiff of pristine white, crystalline snow on the ground—perfect—beautiful.

With the snow-capped Wallowa Mountains in the background, our buses pulled up in front of the old, stone-block Enterprise courthouse. Can you imagine how the local merchants

must’ve felt watching those buses unload? You can believe those merchants were ready, with feet braced, shelves fully stocked.

Set free, we spread out over the town—about four or maybe five square blocks—each of us with our quest for the perfect gift uppermost in our minds. I perused and assessed each shop and after careful deliberation made one purchase. That one purchase made it easier to make the next and the next. This practice round showed me that I needed to hone my shopping skills, keep my impulses in check. After all, I needed to spread my cash out sparingly, know when to use my credit card. I had a full day of shopping to do and couldn’t afford to lose my head—not this early in the game.

After nearly two hours of nonstop shopping, many of us had retreated to the bus. My feet hurt. Hungry, inexperienced, I had dressed expecting the cold to be my enemy. But as the morning passed, I realized if I had any hope of surviving, I would need to rid myself of several layers of insulation, namely my faux fur hat, faux fur muffler, my fleece vest, and my gloves. In other words, I was miserable, in pain, and sweating.

Remember, this was only the first round, and, it wasn’t even noon.

Laughing, singing, weaving in and out of the stores, the seasoned campaigners regrouped, the last to file back on the bus. I couldn’t believe it! Whooping victoriously, they skipped to the back of the bus with their bundles of booty, as fresh and as full of robust good cheer and camaraderie as they had at the outset.

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The city limits of Joseph arrived too soon, but allowed me enough time to strip down to just the bare minimum of outer gear. However, there was nothing I could do to revive my feet, wiggling

my toes was about all I could do. As the bus pulled into a parking lot, I girded my resolve, determined to see the day through to a successful conclusion. To do that, I needed nourishment and a tall, cool glass of something containing lots of caffeine.

But first, I had to run the obstacle course of the Joseph Holiday Flea Market. The seasoned campaigners had decided this should be our first objective. I couldn’t allow them to see that I had already started to fade, so I put on my game face to do what had to be done.

It was beginner’s luck that I discovered a booth selling homemade fudge just inside the door. With a sugar boost, I made it through the flea market and down the street two blocks to where I found real food and caffeine.

Thoughtfully, I, and all my fellow bus-mates, were given a voucher for dollars off at the restaurant of our choice, thereby assuring we would all eat hearty. While I savored my roast beef sandwich, my head cleared a bit, and I reasoned I could do this if I could pace myself; after all, I had four-and-half hours of shopping to endure. I had a list of merchants in my coat pocket, and I withdrew the list to study it, deciding on a plan of attack.

I would work the stores from north to south on the east side of the street, cross over and return on the west side of the street to the parking lot and the bus. Along the way, I would take advantage of any place that offered a place to sit and rest. If I had too many parcels, I could leave them in the bus. Feeling more confident, I visited the restroom, adjusted my purse on my shoulder, and set out to conquer.

Three hours later, all my plotting having failed me, I limped into Mad Mary’s Soda Fountain and Emporium, lugging a very large bag of stuff, and plopped myself down at her counter.

What kind of stuff?  you might ask. At this point, I couldn’t exactly remember. The day had become something of a blur. I was drunk from purchasing; staggering from one shop to the

next like a crazed fiend—choosing and buying—opening and closing my purse, stashing receipts in my pockets, sweating, thirsty, I was out of control.

With my hand under my chin to hold my head up, I glanced at the clock and groaned in agony. I still had an hour and thirty minutes to shop. I knew there were stores out there I had skipped. I would have to backtrack now.

Carolers entered the store to sing songs of praise. The battalion of seasoned campaigners were out there; I could hear them laughing, unfazed, undaunted. I had begun to despise them for their unflagging enthusiasm.

In my weakened condition, I guess I must’ve become slightly paranoid because, as I looked around at the other women sitting in groups and clusters at the tables, and along the counter, some in worse shape than myself, I had an epiphany, a crazy, wild moment of clarity. We had all signed up for this mission, willingly, eagerly. We’d signed on to shop our hearts out for one entire day. Like lambs to the slaughter, we’d accepted incentives and enticements, we were all aided and abetted into indulging in our vice for out-of-control spending. We’d been given permission to fall off the wagon of reason and into the abyss of shopaholic despair.

Suddenly I saw everything more clearly. This was a subversive plot! It was a cunning strategy of mass aversion therapy! And I….I was cured! I knew it right then—I was cured for all time. Those poor souls out there, those women in that battalion of jovial, veteran campaigners, they were the incurables—after all, therapy doesn’t work the same way for everyone.

I would see the day through, take my medicine like a good little soldier. I drank down my hot chocolate, picked up my shopping bag, squared my shoulders, and headed off to those shops I had not visited.

But now, I kept my head about me, and even rode the delightful horse-drawn wagon from one end of Joseph to the other, then back to where I started. I actually took the time to glean

some enjoyment out of what remained of the day, making it back to the bus moments before our departure time.

In my seat, with my parcels tucked in around my feet, I closed my eyes. Ashamed and full of remorse, I knew I had gone way over budget, I had blisters on my feet, my knees screamed with fatigue, and my shoulders ached. I was battle-weary but alive, and that was enough.

By now, the sun had slipped down behind the mountains. Our balmy twenty-five degrees at midday had fallen off into the teens, with a light snow falling at dusk.

While wishing I myself at home soaking in a warm bath, the bus driver took us away from beautiful downtown Joseph and back to Enterprise where he parked on a side street near the end of the parade route. Once again, we disembarked in mass and marched two blocks to enjoy the feast of a homemade chili the townspeople of Enterprise had made for all of us who came to enjoy the Christmas parade.

With my belly full, I trudged back to the bus, barely acknowledging the diehard veteran shoppers still laughing, still weaving in and out of the shops, still merry and seemingly still full of fight, their Santa hats and twinkle-light necklaces flashing in the dark, making them appear in my eyes, as extraterrestrial beings…inhuman.

Feeling defeated, I surrendered to the fact that I would never have the stamina of the seasoned veteran shopaholics that rode the Holiday Bus to Joseph. I would never make the grade—earn the right to wear a twinkle-light necklace. It wasn’t in me.

Accepting that I was a wimp and a pansy, I watched the parade from the warmth of the bus. Melancholy, I longed for my slippers and my warm jammies.

As we left the Christmas lights and all the good people of Enterprise behind, the diehard veteran shoppers at the back of the bus began to sing Christmas carols. I tried to sing along, but I had trouble keeping my eyes open long enough to hold a tune.

After twelve and a half hours of shopping, walking, eating and talking we rolled into La Grande, right on schedule at seven-thirty P.M. We wished one another a merry Christmas and left the bus.

Lugging all my booty, I limped to my car and asked myself, would I do it again?

No, was my first response.

Well, maybe, I thought, once I was home and able to sort through all my purchases. By the time I lay in my bed, all snug and warm, I had decided to wait and see. Perhaps doing the Holiday Bus tour to Joseph was like giving birth, perhaps it would take time for my memory of the pain and the stress to fade, but in all likelihood, I would probably have to try it again.

Merry Christmas to all the hearty souls who brave the Holiday Bus to Joseph and to those who are wise and stay home—Happy New Year.