Tied up at the dock in Puget Sound against the magnificent backdrop of the jagged snow-covered peaks of the Cascades is the Suzuran, as white and trim and clean a refrigerated cargo ship as you'll find anywhere. She is Japanese, preparing for her maiden commercial voyage, bound for Singapore, and carrying a cargo of Washington state apples. They are destined for Saudi Arabia.
Alan Johnson, the Port of Everett commissioner, is excited. He moves across the deck of the Suzuran, watching as carton after carton of apples moves aboard via a line of conveyor belts specially designed for the purpose.
"We thought there had to be a better way to put apples on ship and so a young engineer whose father had been with United Fruit designed this system for us," he says. "And the damned thing works. Yesterday in Seattle, using the old lifts and winches, they were loading 800 boxes an hour. We had one hour where we did 2,400 boxes.
"We used to be the Yankee traders and we better get back to that or the other countries in the world are going to take our place," he said. "We laid back and stopped competing. And they're doing it cheaper. Our Pacific Northwest ports are closer to all the markets in Asia than any other ports. This is our opportunity today, and we'd better grab it now before it's gone forever."
That sort of determination characterizes much of the talk among community leaders in Everett, population 57,000, some 45 miles north of Seattle in the heart of the aerospace, timber, fishing and agricultural country of the Pacific Northwest.
Once all that economic diversity was supposed to buoy this region, make it recession proof, soften any blows felt by other regions. Now not just a recession but a depression has struck this area, raising fundamental questions about what was presumed to be this region's economic future.
Nowhere else in this trip around America are there such stark contrasts between hope and despair. Everywhere are signs of shattering new hardships striking deeply into the lives of people who never expected to be among the sufferers, and of a tough determination to prevail no matter how difficult the present.
Several blocks away from the waterfront, at the corner of Lombard and California, a long line gathers outside a one-story building housing the Volunteers of America in downtown Everett.
Standing there are people of all ages and descriptions: elderly couples and young ones, some with babies and smaller children, some with none. Some are there for the first time.
A piece of paper flutters from the front door. On it are the words, in neatly printed block letters: "Cheese, butter and fresh milk not in. Check back . . . ."
Inside, at the rear of the building, Bertha Patapoff prepares to dispense another day's complement of grocery sacks of free food to people whose benefits have run out.
She directs the volunteers' emergency services relief operation in Everett. Behind her, on the wall, hangs one of those homey sorts of expressions often seen in rural homes: "God grant me patience, and I want it right now."
Patapoff is a blunt, no-nonsense sort of person, strongly critical of the dole and goverment give-away programs. She holds up a chart to show what is happening at that office. Two years ago in August, they served 320 families. A year later, in the same month, the figure had risen to 516 families. This August, it was 1,002 families. And the numbers are still rising rapidly.
Now, 2 1/2 tons of free food are being given out daily there.
"You see those zeros with the slashes through them?" she says, displaying the chart. "That means no income. That means unemployment compensation. That means they're working part time. We're getting people who are being evicted because they can't pay the rent, and they have no place to go.
"Right now I'm seeing people who have been working in places like Boeing and Weyerhaeuser and Scott Paper Co. where they've been making really decent salaries. These are the people who are really hurting.
"It's not the poor who have always been poor, because they don't know anything else except being poor. But these people have gone out and bought homes and appliances and furniture, all these things, and now they can't pay for them.
"I'm seeing many people whose wages are garnished. Some of them, if they are working at all, are working at $3.35 an hour when they used to be getting $15. There are lots of homes being repossessed around this area. Their payments are $600 a month and now they can't make them. They had what they thought was security.
"It's a total disaster for them to have to walk into an office like this. I had one man say he drove around the block three times before he had the nerve to come in. It really affects their dignity to have to come in here, and this office is jammed with people like them. Lots of college degrees. It's really sad. They have to wait as long as an hour because we're so crowded."
The Everett story was not supposed to include such a chapter. Ever since the early '70s "Boeing bust," as it is still called here, when massive layoffs hit the aerospace industry, people have believed that sort of problem could not reoccur.
Like Texas with its permanent oil boom and constant luring of new people to the Sun Belt, the Pacific Northwest had entered a bright new era of prosperity. It was choosy about new industries clamoring to relocate among its splendid valleys, deep hemlock forests and coastline. It had the luxury to turn them away. Christopher Little, who came here as publisher of The [Everett] Herald three years ago after the newspaper was purchased by The Washington Post Co., entered into a world of soaring economic expectations.
"The winter of '79-80 was the end, though people didn't know it was the end, of really strong boom times," he says. "Boeing employment was way up. The forest products industry was doing well. There was a lot of new housing construction in the southern part of the county.
"The mayor told me before I got here that you could fly around this area in a helicopter and see frames of houses being built everywhere--just raw lumber everywhere you looked. People thought the Boeing bust was not going to happen again, and that the Northwest was a great magnet for electronic companies, for people, for recreation. The main concern here was how you were going to control growth.
"The biggest controversy when I got here was that Hewlett-Packard wanted to put up a plant that would employ 5,000 people. Very clean, operated well, tremendous people, a lot of new money for the area, but a lot of people fought it. There was getting to be too much growth.
"It started to slide in '80, but for months and months and months until early '81, people thought it was only another temporary bump. Boeing employment started going down, but not dramatically. Wood products started going down fairly drastically.
"But Hewlett-Packard was coming in and other electronics companies were looking at the area. It still felt pretty good, but then the bottom really started dropping out around the middle of '81.
"Lumber companies and paper companies started laying off their people and closing down their operations. Weyerhaeuser has closed down two major plants here that will never open again. They're just gone. The lumber jobs up in the hills started disappearing. Paper mills started laying off more and more people.
"The entire waterfront used to be nothing but big lumber mills and big paper mills. This was the biggest lumbering center in the world for finishing lumber, cedar shakes, that sort of thing. The sky was absolutely black here from the smokestacks. Outdoor furniture rotted after one year.
"Virtually all that is gone now. This used to be called The City of Smoke Stacks. Now there's only one left that smells. Most of the wood products jobs that have disappeared will never come back, ever. They're gone, partly because this recession, or depression, has acclerated structural changes in the whole lumber business."
The impact has been drastic. Unemployment stands at 12 percent, but the picture is even more serious than that indicates. Because people have been out of work so long, their benefits are running out. And not only their benefits. At times free food distributions have also run out. A coalition of 18 voluntary food banks has been put together for the area. There are boxes for food donations in City Hall, in the driver's license bureau, in the Snohomish County Courthouse, in corporate lobbies, in churches, in supermarkets. Still, sometimes they are not enough.
Hardship stories abound of people sleeping in cars or at highway rest stops, of not having enough clothing or being unable to pay medical bills.
" . . . A woman came in who had been sleeping in a car with her two children, and I asked her what happened," Bertha Patapoff says. "She said she and her husband had a big blowup, and I said I'd like to know why. She said neither one of us can find a job and all we do is fight. She says we love each other, we want to be together, but all we do is fight over money.
"I had a woman come in here, her hand was all out of shape and swollen. I said what happened to you? She said my husband beat me last night. He had never done that before. I sent her over to the emergency room. She had a broken wrist.
"It's getting worse all the time. I have many people who have no utilities in their homes. I have people who are really cold, and they have children in their homes, and they sit there and cry. I have people sit right there in that chair who tell me that suicide is a viable alternative."
Here, the personal distress appears to translate directly into changed political views. There is no question President Reagan has been affected adversely. The criticism takes several forms, but the main elements come down to two: his program is unbalanced in favor of military vs. domestic spending, and it doesn't address current hardships.
Patapoff is an example of the latter. She voted for Reagan, still likes him, and is reluctant to criticize him. "He's doing what he thinks is right," she says, "just like I'm doing what I think is right, but people are not always right in what they believe, you know.
"I don't believe in give-away programs but in emergency situations people should be helped to get on their feet. I believe there has to be some program like the WPA during the Depression. It has to come to pass. These people must go to work, otherwise you're going to have some emotional cripples in this country that we're not going to be able to cope with."
Jobs, and what kind of them, are the question here as elsewhere, and here that question has special national implications. The wood products industry provides an example of how the old economic base is changing.
"I don't think we've admitted to ourselves that what has happened is permanent," says William Ruckelshaus, a top executive with Weyerhaeuser who is remembered for his resignation as deputy attorney general over the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate crisis.
Not since the Great Depression, he says, has his company experienced such stress.
"Since the end of World War II," he says, "this industry has been through seven or eight cycles where as a recession would commence and housing would go down because interest rates were too high.
"As the country entered the recession and prices came downward, interest rates came down with them. Then builders would go out at the end of that recession, when interest rates were low, and start housing on speculation.
"This industry, along with other supplier industries to housing, would lead us out of the recession. With interest rates remaining high, this time there simply was no recovery. There has been none yet and there is really none in sight. So we are still down.
"Because of our investment in paper as well as wood products, we've had a sort of counter-cyclical impact. Now paper is down as well. Both sides of the business are in trouble, which is unique since the second World War.
"In this industry if housing starts don't get to 2 million plus, where they were a couple of times in the last decade, but instead peak at around 1.5 to 1.6 million, and not only that but the houses are smaller because of the affordability problem, we could have as much as a third of the capacity of this industry permanently out.
"That would mean several businesses would be out of the industry. We'd have a lower plateau from which to start, and then you'd find growth back up from that lower plateau."
The impact on a giant like Weyerhaeuser has been profound. As Ruckelshaus says, "The cutbacks we've had here in this company have had a very dramatic effect on people's morale and their feelings about the future. Significant numbers of people have had to be laid off to adjust to economic conditions. They simply never have been through that before and it really has had a dramatic effect."
Difficult as the present remains for companies like Weyerhaeuser, their economic future is assured. That is not the case of some other independent firms.
Summit Timber Co., for instance, in the mill town of Darrington, is nestled between the Sauk and Stillaguamish rivers, an hour's drive through the mountains from Everett.
Summit is one of the largest privately owned, family held, lumber manufacturers in the United States with a worldwide export business. It was confident of its future, and aggressively determined to keep prospering.
Two years ago, after a major capital investment, Summit began operating a new saw mill, complete with the latest in computer and laser technology. The timing of that investment proved to be disastrous. The cumulative blows of continuing high interest rates and plummeting business have put Summit on the verge of bankruptcy.
In a 16-month period, it lost $8 million. The union work force has taken a voluntary 25 percent pay cut. Top managers from the president on down have taken cuts ranging from 60 to 50 percent. But the new debt on the new mill is choking Summit to death.
"We have been financing our losses through liquidation of our timber reserves," says Burke Barker, senior vice president and one of Summit's owners. "We have anticipated a resurgence in the market. In '80, we said it was going to get better. In '81, we said it was going to get better. We're still saying it's going to get better, and it will, but we don't know when."
Nor, as Barker concedes, will better times necessarily arrive in time to save them from outright bankruptcy or some sort of takeover by a larger firm.
In any case, it will never be the same for Summit, a fixture and a way of life in the great Pacific Northwest.