One hundred pilgrims

One hundred pilgrims

Friday, 7:30am. As I walk to the gas station to buy toothpaste, I get a taste of what it is that brought me here. Everywhere I look there are pine trees, tall, deep green and swaying gently in the wind. Outside my hotel window and lining every road, they move like some verdant choir, under the 4,000′ rocky spine of Mount Si, looking exactly like they do on TV.

Twin Peaks Festival
Location: North Bend, Washington
Distance from Charlottesville:
2,774 miles

Twin Peaks Festival:
Snoqualmie Falls:
Double R Diner: 

Being There. That’s what we’re all looking for, all 100 or so of us, around 74 first timers and 23 returnees from Australia, Spain, Canada, and all over the U.S., the feeling of inhabiting the same physical space as something meaningful and sacred. And where we are is in and around North Bend, Washington, for the 16th annual Twin Peaks Festival—”Twin Peaks,” the ABC TV show directed by oddball filmmaker David Lynch, which aired from April 8, 1990 to June 10, 1991 to much acclaim and wild popularity. If you’ve never heard of “Twin Peaks,” just know that it was about a high school prom queen, Laura Palmer, who was gruesomely murdered, and that it was one of the strangest and most disturbing shows to ever appear on network TV.

Portrait of a die-hard “Twin Peaks” fan: Chris Matthews, 40-ish, with an earring dangling from each ear, is a postal worker with two kids and seven “Twin Peaks”-related tattoos. He has attended every single festival and I ask him if they get boring. “Boring?” It is 9am the first day of the fest, and he is drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon (itself a Lynch reference), music blaring from a little mp3 player outside his hotel room. “It’s like a family reunion,” he says after a while, “only with a different family every year.”

The festival is a three-day affair; breakfast Friday morning (donuts and coffee, two big “Peaks” fetishes), then a trivia contest and a hike to Snoqualmie Falls (heavily featured in the show), followed by Lynch Movie Night in Seattle. Saturday includes a bus tour of filming sites, and the big dinner, with guest celebrities in attendance, the costume contest, and much “Twin Peaks”-tinged merrymaking. Sunday it’s a picnic in the woods (more filming sites), the Tibetan Rock Throw contest (don’t ask) and the Cherry Stem Tying contest (ditto).

Portrait of a whole bunch of die-hard “Twin Peaks” fans: Twenty-three people are taking pictures of what in the show was “Big Ed’s Gas Farm,” a neon-lined, rustic filling station, now totally unrecognizable as such. We snap away, then turn en masse and take photos of a small, white-picket-fence-encircled house across the street, where Big Ed lived. Through the living room window a small child stares at us over the back of the couch, perhaps wondering why a busload of strangers is taking her picture. Later, the scene is repeated at a restaurant, “The Roadhouse” on TV, but now also no longer the same. As our digital shutters whir, someone drives by and shouts, “Get a life!”

At Sunday’s picnic I ask people why they come here, why many of them automatically set aside these three days every year. What it is about the show that inspires such devotion?

“There’s never been a show like ‘Twin Peaks.’”

“The last episode.”

“It’s like the Rolling Stones; the show never ends.”

“It has to be magic.”

Magic, or belief in magic, might explain it. We want to believe that our fantasies can inhabit a place and imbue it with a spirit that can be captured simply by being there. The Twin Peaks Festival is a pilgrimage, a gathering of the faithful, who endure great hardship (cancelled flights, gruesome injuries on drunken, midnight “tours” of filming sites) to partake of cherry pie in the fictional place where “pie goes when it dies,” and photograph each other and the Xs that mark the spots where, for a few flickering moments, Twin Peaks was real.
“Look, there it is! The intersection where the One Armed Man drove around and around screaming!”

“Are you sure? I mean, it kinda looks like it…”

“No, totally, that’s it!”

“There’s the Fat Trout trailer park where Theresa Banks lived and Agent Chet Desmond disappeared!”

“And there’s the high school! And that place in the woods where Mike shot that guy! And there’s the Double R diner!”

After the Festival is over, I drive to Seattle and then take the ferry out to Bainbridge Island. Until now, I haven’t felt much of a connection to the fantasy, save for those blowing pine trees, a recurrent image on “Twin Peaks.” I head to the Kiana Lodge, where, on a small, seaweed-covered beach, under a massive dead log, the body of Laura Palmer was found, blue-lipped and pale. And suddenly I feel like I’m on hallowed ground, like I should be leaving flowers. There it is, the final resting place of Laura Palmer, the (fictional) Twin Peaks High School Prom Queen, 1972-1989.

Rest in peace, Laura Palmer, and get a life, Twin Freaks. Or at least something to tide you over until next year’s Festival.

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