In ‘Twilight’ town, reality bites

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Have the money blues? Lighten up with Bank Shots, our new financial humor column. We’ve sent veteran Bankrate contributing editor Jay MacDonald into the wild to explore the wackier side of humans and money — no calculators required.

When my elderly Aunt Marge called with news that our family home near Forks, Wash., was being overrun by vampires, I didn’t immediately assume she had doubled down on her meds again.

My first reaction, and one that I’m sure occurred top-of-mind to most Forks merchants, was that perhaps there’s a cottage industry in this! Because when you’ve been through what Forks has been through economically, the supernatural is welcome.

It’s reality that bites.

Forks, as all teens by law now know, is the deliciously drizzly setting for the steamy, best-selling “Twilight” novels by Arizona author Stephenie Meyer that really put the “abs” in abstinence. There’s rumored to be a film out as well, LOL.

Here’s everything an adult needs to know about “Twilight”: If human, Bella, and her vampire guy, Edward, consummate under the conifers, she might die and she might become undead. And miss the prom.

Meyer reportedly chose Forks sight unseen based strictly on its precipitation, a gill-flapping 10 feet per year. Trust me, that’s more than sufficient to douse most campfires.

Teen hotness would indeed have to be supernatural to survive in the wilds of “the west end,” as this soggymost section of the Olympic National Park rain forest is known locally.

As the son of Forks High graduates who migrated to the bright lights of Seattle, I spent summers with my grandparents and relatives at nearby Beaver, playing Little League Baseball and harvesting fir cones and cascara bark to buy comic books.

Summers were idyllic, except for the part where you emerged from the chilly surf at Rialto Beach a spectacular shade of cerulean blue.

Back then, Forks was a bustling timber town with robust sport fishing on the side. Sawmills worked double shifts and log trucks clogged Highway 101, the Loop highway, on their way to Port Angeles, gateway to the Pacific Rim.

Weekend salmon fishing at dawn off Sekiu or Neah Bay could catch you a fish the size of a preschooler.

West-end weirdness

The reason that fangs barely warrant a raised brow around Forks? They’ve seen weirder.

My grandparents once attended a family picnic at Sekiu that was interrupted when a Loch Ness-style sea serpent reared its enormous equine head within casting distance of the dock.

Several of my great-uncles gave chase in a kicker boat, an ill-advised response at best, and probably fueled more by homebrew than bravery.

Sometimes west-end weirdness involved brushes with the historic. As a boy, my father’s baby-sitter was an older kid named Edward R. Murrow, who would become America’s pre-eminent broadcast journalist.

Years later, 12 undercover FBI agents used our family home for a lengthy stakeout that resulted in the capture of spy Christopher Boyce (see also, “The Falcon and the Snowman”).

During the ’60s, Forks also was the site for an annual Fourth of July rally of the Hell’s Angels, whose deafening arrival en masse in this sleepy one-light logging town frightened the women and angered the men.

Eventually, the loggers decided to dis-invite the motley motorists. Bikers verses loggers? It’s really no contest. They never returned.

Looking back, the Angels may have been an omen of trouble ahead, a weirdness unlike any Forks had ever seen.

The 1974 “Boldt Decision” protecting Native American fishing rights led to the collapse of commercial and sport fishing in Washington. Then, the ’80s recession led to buyouts, downsizing and widespread job loss in the timber industry.

Biting back

How would Forks survive without its two principal industries? One word: Innovation.

Overnight, it seemed, tree trimmers became innkeepers, charter captains became river guides and sawyers became stump sculptors as the west end retooled and reinvented itself as a tourist destination. All it needed was a pop-culture imprimatur to put it on the map.

When I visited in October, “Twilight” had certainly done that. Sully’s Drive-In now features a Bella Burger with pineapple. The Chamber of Commerce offers a Twilight Tour to sites mentioned in the books.

“Forks Bites” hats, mugs and tees are sold everywhere. There’s even a sign as you leave town: “Fangs for visiting. Be bite back.”

It’s said that the Chinese symbol for change incorporates the figures for “chaos” and “opportunity.” Forks was able to survive by recognizing and seizing the opportunity within its own economic troubles. And it did so without a bailout.

Let’s hope America can tap that same spirit as it moves toward the massive restructuring that’s dead ahead.

That, and not sleeping with vampires.

Veteran Bankrate contributing editor Jay MacDonald lives in Austin, Texas. If you have a comment or suggestion about this column, write to Bank Shots.