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INSURRECTION

Bill Burkett
9 min readApr 20, 2024

It was an in-between sort of day in Seattle, so Buck had an Eddie Bauer down vest on over his flannel shirt that afternoon when he drove up to Broadway for lunch. He parked where he could keep an eye on his pickup truck while at the pizza buffet, because his .30–30 Winchester was on the window rack and the usual Broadway melting pot was developing bubbles of criminality.

It was 1976 and Buck had reinvented himself on the West Coast. Very few out here knew or cared that he had been a hotshot newspaperman back east, or a soldier for a while. The newspapers on this Coast could not seem to read past the part of his resume that said he was once a flack for a major labor union.

News executives out here feared unions like the plague, based on salaries they thought the Newspaper Guild had extorted from Seattle newspapers. Since Buck had worked for a union, he must be a spy, sent to infiltrate and organize. Never mind that he wouldn’t have put it on his resume if that was true.

As far as the Seattle papers, they had filing cabinets full of pleas from reporters trying to escape the crime-ridden east or the stultifying Midwest and grab one of those well-paying jobs. One managing editor told him smugly they had men with doctor’s degrees in journalism ahead of Buck in the resume queue and what did he think of that? It’s okay if you want a doctor, Buck replied — but if you want a reporter, call me. That got a laugh, all right — but no call.

The Arabs shut off the oil supply in the middle of his job search, creating another headache when prospective employers didn’t believe he could find enough gas to drive in from his rural home.

But he had a job now, one that he had found advertised in the pages of Editor and Publisher, unlikely as that seemed. A weekly fishing and hunting newspaper — they didn’t even have such things back east — had hired him, thrilled to upgrade their staff of outdoor writers with a “real” newsman who also happened to know which end of a rifle to hold.

He spent his days on the phone, finding out where the fish were biting or the birds were flying, and grinding out hundreds of inches of quick and dirty stories on a tight deadline to get the information into the mailboxes of Northwest outdoorsmen in time to plan their weekends. Some of the other staff writers considered this sort of hack work beneath their dignity. Like Buck, they had been raised with the “Big Three” outdoor magazines, full of fully realized stories by excellent craftsmen and even some famous authors.

Their publisher, who had created his quick-and-dirty tabloid in his garage after getting bored teaching high school journalism, sneered at such pretentions. The “me and Joe went hunting” school of outdoor writing, he called it. Perhaps only quirky Seattle could nourish a tabloid devoted to providing actionable weekend intelligence to fuel proletarian outdoor aspirations.

Buck worked an eight-state network of informants in game departments and hardware stores and tackle shops that kept him apprised of everything from salmon returns on the Columbia to elk herd migration patterns east of Yellowstone. Offshore party boats, river steelhead guides and duck clubs traded free trips to his publisher for advertising space, and the publisher cheerfully doled the perks out to his staff — who complained that he substituted the trips for living wages.

Buck thought they were idiots — worse, ungrateful idiots. It would be years before he read where Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe Jackson asked, about a baseball diamond in a corn field, is this heaven? (“No, it’s Iowa.”) But for Buck, having escaped the sixties more or less intact, free hunting trips was pretty close to heaven. So his answer would have been “No, it’s Washington.”

Nobody out here found it worthy of comment that Buck drove a big Ford pickup truck. When he purchased his truck back east, those left-leaning pseudo-intellectual Bambi-hugging reporters had given him a hard time; his was the only truck in the entire newspaper parking lot. But all that was behind him now. His Ivy League three-button center-vent suits were in dry-cleaning plastic at home and his Cordovan wingtip brogans had gathered a lot of dust on their shoe-trees. He wore flannel shirts all summer and wool shirts all winter, and varied his footgear between hunting boots and cowboy boots.

The radio in the pizza joint was tuned to National Public Radio — only in Seattle, Buck thought — and a guest was mourning the death of “mass politics in the street” that had characterized the sixties. The commentator, playing to his Seattle audience, asked if 1976 was the final rain shadow of the turbulent sixties. The humorless guest plowed right on with his treatise, that the sixties had not been the pre-revolutionary situation that activists such as himself could be forgiven for thinking it was — “though the Nixonian ruling class shared our error of perception, based on the fury of their reactionary response.”

Heavy going with all-you-can-eat Hawaiian pizza; Buck thought he might be the only one actually listening to the words coming out of the speaker: Seattle’s version of Muzak.

“The black urban insurrections of the sixties that had set American cities aflame,” the guest intoned, “and working-class wildcat rebellions of the same period, the collapse of the American military will in Southeast Asia, student and youth rebellions at home, the emergence of feminist, gay and ecological activism, all seemed to presage a social earthquake…but the manufactured ‘oil crisis’ and the ’73-’75 recession brought that whole era to a screeching halt.”

“Will the last one to leave Seattle please turn out the lights,” someone said off to Buck’s left in the restaurant.

Someone with dulcet tones, and mocking laughter running under the words. A lithe, saucy blonde wearing an out-of-date mini skirt over dark leggings, a black turtleneck molding her unbridled breasts and a scarlet beret perched on her lank hair; she smiled and toasted Buck silently with her beer stein.

“I thought I was the only one listening,” Buck said.

“Whoever heard of a cowboy listening to NPR?” she said. She pointed at his Stetson on the table. “Why is your hat upside down? Don’t you risk getting tomato sauce inside?”

“It’s the only proper way to lay down a Stetson,” he said.

She smiled. “Learn something new every day.”

He felt his blood stir; spring was in the air, and the weak Seattle sunshine tended to make you restless. But he had to go back to work. A deadline was a deadline, even when it was just to inform Boeing workers where the spring salmon were running. It was probably his imagination, but she seemed disappointed when he left.

He was still thinking about her and about the radio guest’s grim eulogy for the revolution that failed, as he eased the big Ford into thick Broadway traffic. He had covered any number of news stories involving some aspect of what that guy was going on about. He had gotten even closer to some of it working for that labor union, during the hopeless children’s crusade to elect George McGovern, and AFL-CIO’s flailing attempts to support Cesar Chavez against Teamster goons in the California lettuce fields. But all that was happily behind him now and it felt good to be mistaken for a cowboy.

Up ahead on Broadway, a tall svelte redhead in a burnt-orange sheath and high heels, wearing big-eyed sunglasses in the glare, was striding along like she had places to be. He was thinking that all the lovely Seattle women were coming out like rhododendron blossoms in the sun when he saw her head turn toward the traffic flow.

Two black men were hanging out the doors of a low-slung pimped-up sedan, grinning and gesturing. He faintly heard “C’mon, Mama, take a ride wid us.” She shook her head and smiled politely, turned eyes-front and marched on. The old Mercury slowed to a crawl, backing up Broadway traffic, and they kept at her. She had class; she tried to bluff it through and just keep walking.

Seattle was not known for its readiness to go to horns when traffic slowed, but somebody behind Buck tapped once, diffidently. The men in the car shifted their focus with feral quickness, feeling themselves challenged. Their grins vanished under stone-faced glares. They couldn’t see past the big pickup, so they focused on Buck sitting high above the cars between them. He met them with a flat stare of his own; he had seen this kind of crappy behavior as an Army MP, and cracked a skull or two behind it. They didn’t like getting the hard eye back in spades, so to speak. The car stopped entirely, right in the traffic.

The redhead took that moment to turn smartly down a side street — going against the flow on a one-way street. Intelligent move, one that should have signaled them it was time for them to move on. But no, the driver hooked a hard right into the street, straight into oncoming traffic, and now there were faces at all four windows yelling curses at the traffic as they bullied their way upstream with far less elegance than the salmon Buck wrote about daily.

The redhead looked behind once, just a quick stab that belied her previous coolness and showed a flash of fear — and lengthened her stride. She had long legs and used them well, but you could read the fear now. Like in Montana, when the wolves cut out a crippled doe, the rest of the herd — the cars coming up the one-way street — nudged out of the way and their drivers averted their eyes.

Buck dropped the truck in low and climbed a curb. He jounced over concrete bunks meant to keep cars from crossing the parking lot there. When he went behind the dry cleaner’s on the corner he lost sight of the unfolding situation — and they lost sight of him. He shifted into second and moved through another parking lot, climbing obstacles that would have halted a car, then through an abandoned Gulf Oil station that had folded during the Arab oil embargo. That led him right back onto the side street the redhead had taken. She was just walking past. He pushed across in front of the hesitating traffic, cut back to face the Mercury head-on, and stopped. Perhaps because the blonde in the pizza joint called him a cowboy, he tipped his hat to the redhead.

“Can I give you a lift?” he asked.

“Oh God, could you?”

She stumbled in the grass between the sidewalk and the street.

“I mean, would you?” Her voice seemed uneven; no damned wonder. She glanced nervously toward the lurking Mercury. “Those men…”

“I know,” Buck cut her off. “I saw.” He stepped on the parking brake and stepped down. “Here, let me help you up — these trucks aren’t built for city skirts.”

He had the momentary sensation of a firm round armful of woman that evoked a flash memory of a lost love, and then she floated into the truck and quickly scootched over, sending her skirt high on quite-nice thighs. Buck would have had to be dead not to notice. He looked away, over the hood of his truck.

“You guys are going the wrong way,” Buck said, and stepped into the truck.

He really wanted to haul the old .30–30 down and lever in a round — hell, he really wanted to blow a couple of them all over the back glass of their pimped-up ride — but they had to make the first move. They just sat there, staring at him, giving him mean face full bore. Did they not recognize the abyss when they confronted it? His pulse was thudding but his hands were cold and steady.

“Can I drop you somewhere?” he said.

“God! Far away from here!” she said.

“Okay.” He gave it another beat for them to make up their minds, then shoved the big four-speed transmission into low and walked up over the curb beside the Mercury, driver door to driver door, watching for sudden movement in his peripheral vision; nothing. Then he turned back across the adjacent parking lot and rumbled away. The car still hadn’t moved when he lost it in the mirrors.

“Are they following?” she said.

“I doubt it,” he said.

“What’s happening to Seattle anyway?” she almost wailed. “It was never like this before.”

“That was smart turning down the one-way street,” he said, speaking across her.

“Not so smart. Another block and there would be nobody around but them and me. I couldn’t imagine them just going the wrong way on a one-way street like that.”

“Blame the black insurrection of the sixties,” Buck said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Just something I heard on the radio today,” Buck said. “Where can I drop you?”

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.