Marsing: Under the Radar

Marsing: Under the Radar

Marsing gave me this:

“I like to fly under the radar,” the thrift shop owner told me, but I had a hard time believing that. She had a business on Marsing’s Main Street with electric blue trim, a very obvious sign, and a bright red metal roof.

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Visiting town after being told there was rarely a long wait at the Marsing DMV, (which proved to be true), the brief stand in line yielded people-watching opportunities as locals greeted each other upon entering the office.

“You got a new pickup out there. Guess you’re going to slap some plates on it, unlike the other ones…”

“…Is your mom all healed up after her surgery?”

There were FFA (Future Farmers of America) jackets and 4-H tee shirts. It was everything I thought Marsing would be.

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After the DMV, it seemed right to explore, which is how I landed at the Marsing Thrift Shop. The owner greeted me from her cozy corner chair, book in hand, offering helpful comments as I meandered into each room of the little square house-turned-business.

Fifteen minutes later I approached the counter with a few more than reasonably-priced items, but the best part of shopping the Marsing Thrift Shop was finding out about Marsing from one who’d moved from elsewhere and was now a veteran of the Snake River Valley. It didn’t hurt that her story-telling and humor style totally reminded me of Carol Burnett. As a retiree from a long-time office job, she’d moved from back East to be closer to Idahoan friends. One of the first things noted was that everyone was either related or connected somehow.

“So be careful what you say,” she instructed.

The picture was painted of a fairly peaceful country life. Folks pitched in to help each other. They could see people if they felt social, and not see them if they didn’t. One could readily be a part of it all, without being a part of it all.

My stay lasted the better part of an hour. Before leaving, I asked where I could go for a late lunch. Which led into conversation about the now-closed historic Sandbar Restaurant on the water, how the little café called The Spot had also closed, and how the taco truck across the street was doing a killer business.

“They’re smart,” she told me, “they’ve got a good thing over there. I see cars all the time.”

Normally, crossing Marsing’s Main Street wouldn’t be much of a trick. But since I was hungry and food was across the road, there was a steady stream of cars, school buses, and trucks during what was now after-school hours.

While waiting at the curb, I sensed that everything about me screamed “non-local”. In a population of between 1,000 – 1,400 (depending on who you ask), outsiders were probably obvious.

I randomly remembered that Marsing hosted an annual “Light Up the Night” parade each December, where onlookers huddled up with friends from the Whitehouse Drive-In along this same street clear down to Island Park for their Christmas tree lighting. I also recalled their much-anticipated speed boat races by the river.

Once across, I walked uproad to the truck from which mouth-watering smells wafted. Seeing no one, I climbed the nearby home’s steps to knock on the door before noticing the large “Private Property: NO TRESPASSING” sign.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” said a voice behind me, “I didn’t know you were here!”

A young girl hurried into the truck and raised the window. While waiting for my tacos al pastor, I saw a long table and chairs under the house’s car port, a place of refuge for hungry, weary patrons.

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Cuddling my to-go food as if protecting a child, I tried to cart it, myself, and the Mexican soda bottle under my arm back across Main. I spotted a bench, perfect for sitting, eating, and watching traffic go by on, but it was covered in a thick layer of dust (courtesy of the Idaho wind and heavy late-day traffic) that wasn’t about to be removed with the mere swipe of a napkin.

After enjoying the meal in my car, I drove around, sighting a humble city park and row upon row of small, square houses with scads of lawn décor. As I rolled slowly by, people on front lawns waved while others stared suspiciously. I was pretty sure folks here knew each other’s whereabouts.

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The Caba’s Restaurant sign reminded me of dining there over ten years ago with some old-timers.

“It looks like ‘cobba’s’, but you say ‘sobba’s’,” they’d told me.

I’d been with that same group, the “Friendly Neighbors Club of Lakeview” (est. 1928) at the Sandbar for prime rib on the river, back in its heyday, hoping “Peggy” would tell the joke she told every time I saw her. I’d been disappointed that day until she went into her usual routine in the parking lot. She and a lot of that crowd were in nursing homes now, but we’d lunched at Caba’s, the Sandbar, and the Spot once upon a time, sharing golden moments of Idaho stories, down-home food, and raucous laughter.

Marsing tugged at the heart with its small town DMV, its dynamically entertaining thrift shop owner who could easily do standup, the taco truck with food I could eat every day, and its struggling or still viable businesses.

Geographically, Marsing is a masterpiece, called, “Gateway to the Owyhees”, embraced by gorgeous Idaho wine country, with the Snake River running right through as children play and seniors fish alongside teens at Island Park, surrounded by stunning views. If Marsing were a person, it would be the shy yet pretty wallflower who doesn’t particularly need to get noticed, but who gets attention anyway.

Under the radar, but not.

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Amy Larson

An Idaho adventurer, writer, artist, and chocoholic that travels the Gem State, looking for good stories and great food. Author of the "Appetite for Idaho" book series and Facebook page.

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