Wallace, in the Silver Valley, in the Coeur d’Alene district of the Idaho Panhandle used to be a very special place for me. Come to think of it, anywhere that blends heart and panhandle and silver should be special and certainly, Wallace has a special place in mon cœur.
Wallace used to be a booming mine town, one of several in the Silver Valley. In 1979, I was in Wallace working, doing my part to build two mine tailings dams. I spent a few months there, and got to know the town quite well. The Wallace area had a thriving Masonic Lodge, many bars, a few mines, and rough, hard-speaking, hard-working and downright Republican men and women. And it had lots of heart, Couer indeed.
I grew very fond of the rough men – we shared lunch under trees at the site, trading curses and insults and “Let’s rile the Canuck Limey”. But they were kind to me and a few times even tried to teach me to drive a bulldozer. One not-so-rough man was a college student – he later became a teacher, then the Superintendent of a local School District.
These men trusted me; and I, them. A couple of them quietly told me their favored primary colors. When I left the job they had a huge cake made in my honor, with frosting constructions of model dam, model bulldozer, model me. I was touched to tears; which of course, they mocked. Nicely.
Wallace was a well-known, frustrating town. For a very long time it was an irritating bottleneck on the 3100 mile I-90 freeway between Seattle and Boston. The community is nestled in a narrow gorge and refused to allow the freeway to be built over it. Besides: a looming overpass would have sped traffic above and away from the gaily painted doors and friendly painted ladies of Wallace.
Wallace proudly hosted the only stoplight on the longest interstate in the nation; traffic backed up on Wallace’s main street because of the sole red light. Some of that traffic, especially trucks, idled a while after the traffic red light changed, to enjoy the other Red Light distractions of the town: the Lux, Luxette, U&I, and Oasis. The names changed now and again, but these were the sole remaining operating brothels, out of scores that once served the miners of the Silver Valley. Each of the surviving brothels had a brightly painted front door. Blue and yellow and green and red, perhaps, but bright, cheery, primary, colors. “Come on up and see me” hues.
Wallace does not have painted doors/painted ladies any more. The last brothel, the Oasis, operated until 1988, when the occupants fled leaving belongs and half-eaten meals and a mystery. It is now a bordello Musuem. Too bad: inside those painted doors used to be welcoming thumping-heart music; too much smoke; much warmth and laughter; some sadness/great sadness; but, often, the wit and wisdom and too-brief affection of a lady whose heart was painted brightly.