From Astoria to Cannon Beach on the Goonies’ steps

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Rome, 1988. 
It’s a hot, mid-Summer afternoon in the southern outskirts of town. Children are playing in the streets; sweaty t-shirts, grazed knees and sticky gelato fingers. Three floors above, a 9-year old boy sits on the couch staring at the TV, legs crossed and rounded eyes. A VHS tape is whirling in the player and on the screen a gang of four ill-assorted kids are laying their eyes on an old pirate map. They’re up to no good and it’s the beginning of an adventure.

Three decades later, that child is now 40 and while his social skills haven’t improved much, he can at least now travel. He is standing across the river from Astoria, the fisherman town where that adventure started. Because it doesn’t matter how many times we played that old VHS or the winters we’ve been through. The magic of The Goonies is that it gave a reason to many kids of my generation to believe that even in real life, where they say things such as aliens, spaceships, hi-tech computers and mysterious spells don’t exist, adventures can still happen; even to misfits, bullied, low-income kids from the dodgy side of town. They simply need to look for it. 

Astoria, OR August 14, 2019
From across the Columbia River that separates the state of Washington from Oregon,
Astoria is an abstract composition of white dots stretching from the docks up along the

Astoria-Megler Bridge

Astoria-Megler Bridge

green hills. On my right, the Astoria-Megler Bridge – an extension of the Pacific Highway 101 that I’m following on my road trip down to California, moves a stream of cars across the state border. I know that bridge. I’ve never seen it before, nor have I ever been to this part of the country; yet, I could spot that bridge all the times I watched Troy’s father going to Walsh’s residence to deliver their eviction notice. The man stands outside the front gate; the Astoria-Megler well visible in the background.  

“Is your mommy here?” He asks the kids on the porch. He’s a bully like his son, but they are the Goonies from Goondocks and they have learned how to take it from bullies.
“No, sir. Actually, she went to the market to buy Pampers for us kids!”

I get in my rental car and cross the bridge. The limited speed and the architecture of the bridge as it arches over the river add up to the intensity of the moment. I’m about to visit Mikey’s town and I feel like Alan Grant must have felt while approaching the majestic gate that slowly opens up on Jurassic Park.

The intersection at the end of the bridge

The intersection at the end of the bridge

There’s no gate at the end of the bridge but rather a sign that says, “Turn left for Downtown Astoria”. On the main street, I see the same stores and local businesses that seem characteristic of every American small town. Another sign says “Oregon Film Museum”, the first stop of my tour. I took inspiration from this article on Willamette Week. They suggest starting the tour from Walsh’s house but I decided to trace each location as they appear chronologically in the film. 

Oregon Film Museum

Oregon Film Museum and former county jail

The first scene is the epic jail breakout by the Fratelli brothers. The building where Jake Fratelli fakes his suicide used to be a real police station and county jail until 1976. Now it hosts the Oregon Film Museum. Surprisingly, Astoria hasn’t been home only to the Goonies; its surroundings gave stage to a fortunate production of family movies between the 80s and the 90s. Most of the first floor is dedicated to the filming of The Goonies. Fans can walk through and view original movie props such as Chester Copperpot’s wallet, Data’s stage clothes and bike, Jake Fratelli’s cell, suicide note and the S-shaped pipe he used to stage his hanging to name just a few. Finally, a board where the most nostalgics can share their messages with the community of over 35 that every year venture on a pilgrimage to Astoria. I’m not alone in there and I feel better.

After Jake easily knocks out the guard who finds him, we see him leaving the police station in no rush. His Mum and brother are waiting out front in the same 4×4 that is still parked outside the museum. The alarm goes off from inside the jail, guards run out while Jake awkwardly gets into the car from the roof. A gunshot from Francis sets off a fire fence. Mum Fratelli puts the car in gear and screeches away kicking off a car chase through the streets of a rainy, sleepy Astoria.

I leave the museum and I resume that old VHS in my mind from where I paused it. While the Fratellis are fast tailed by Astoria’s police cars, we meet the Goonies. Andy’s high school where she’s practicing with the cheerleaders has since been knocked down. Further on, Rosalita is crossing the street and she’s caught in the middle of the chase, cars whisking by her on both sides. The traffic light and the corner shop are still there but I wonder if this silent town has ever seen a real car chase. 

Rosalita crossing

The crossing where Rosalita is caught in the car chase

Mouth is helping his father to fix the kitchen sink with a failing result for both. Stef and Data are at the docks, one fishing a crab out of a barrel and the other testing his latest, failing as well, invention. Both scenes were filmed at East End Mooring Basin (pretty much across the street from where Rosalita is almost run over). The spot is also where, further on in the prologue, the Fratellis end their chase before joining the ORV race… which takes them to a beach 40 kilometers from there with the flip of a scene. Today, East End Mooring Basin hosts a community of sea lions.

The Stop ‘n’ Snack

The Stop ‘n’ Snack

The car chase continues and Chunk is at the Stop ‘n’ Snack playing an arcade game. “Oh wow! A police chase! With bullets!” He yells, running to the window and smearing his pizza slice on the glass. Today the building is the Low Columbia Bowl, a bowling alley. I walk in and look around expecting to find a sign reciting something like “This way for the Goonies. Grow up, by the way”. Instead, I find a deserted place, the bowling alleys are frozen in time. After all, people have better things to do than go bowling on a Wednesday morning, I realize. At the bar, a woman is serving coffee to the only customer around. She acknowledges my presence with a quick stare. I smile and look around for something that might tip off that the Goonies were there. When all I can find is the corridor to the toilets, I walk back to the bar. I give her time to finish her conversation with the other customer (not that she seems in the slightest concerned about me waiting)  and I make sure he’s at a safe distance before approaching her. 

“Hi there… I heard this is the place where…” nervous smile, “… where they filmed that movie…”
“You’re here for The Goonies.” She concludes. 
“Oh… am I not the only one?”
“No honey, you’re not. That way.”

She points at her left towards the only big window in the place facing the street. Obviously, the only corner I should have checked since the scene takes place in front of a window. But I’m relieved that I’m not the only one walking in there for that reason. She walks with me to the window. Despite the lack of smiles and tendency to cut it short, she shows to be an excellent source of information and is willing to share it.

“This is the spot where Chunk is playing the arcade game.” She’s standing next to a little table adorned with a couple of frame shots from the movie and a guest book. “At the time of filming, this place was on street level. Now we’re a couple of feet above. But as you can see, not much has changed”. She’s right; Astoria doesn’t seem to have changed much from what the movie features.

I walk by the window and place my hand on the glass. “Oh, shit!” Chunk swears, the content of his milkshake bursting on his face. I read somewhere that they had to film that scene over and over because the young actor couldn’t smash his pizza slice on the right spot. He ended up in tears. I want to ask if it’s still the same window but I refrain myself.

IMG_9406

The window where Chunks sees the car chase

I walk by the window and place my hand on the glass. “Oh, shit!” Chunk swears, the content of his milkshake bursting on his face. I read somewhere that they had to film that scene over and over because the young actor couldn’t smash his pizza slice on the right spot. He ended up in tears. I want to ask if it’s still the same window but I refrain myself.

“How many people come here to see this?” For some reason, I still want reassurances that I’m not alone in there.
“Judge by yourself.” She points at a world map covered in pins on the wall next to the IMG_0034

altar. Most pins are from the States. From Europe, I see that the UK sends the highest number of pilgrims. Only one from Italy. 
“You gotta pin yours now.” She invites me to join the community and she’s even smiling. Ipick two pins, one to go onto London and one for Rome, my hometown. Then I consider that London already has its good share of pins so my one pin becomes the second to go on Italy and I leave my personal note on the guest book. 

It’s finally time to go to the Walsh’s house. The address is at everyone’s Google-search – which must be annoying for the people who now live in the house. In fact, all the websites I visited kindly invite the movie fans to respect the neighbours and refrain from driving up to the front of the property. I diligently follow the advice and leave my car in front of John Jacob Astor Elementary School which happens to be where Arnold Schwarzenegger goes undercover as a school teacher in Kindergarten Cop.

People are not allowed to walk up to the house’s porch where Chunk performs his truffle shuffle. But from down the slope, we can still take a quick shot of Mikey’s home and the house next door, from where Data speedlines to the Walsh’s living room (“Operation: 007) sending a David statue on the floor and breaking Ms Walsh’s favourite piece. 

After mutilating and patching David up, the kids raide Mr Walsh’s attic. Instead of his his sexual torture tools as Mouth translated for Rosalita, the attic simply hosts the local museum’s, inestimably valuable collection before they give it to whoever is going to replace Mr Walsh as new curley… or kerney. That’s where One-Eyed Willy finds them before they find him. The quest begins.

The first stage on the map takes them to a huge rock on a wide oceanic beach that coincides with the doubloon Mikey found in the attic. In the movie, they reach this location on a short bike ride. In reality, that’s Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, also the same where the Fratellis join the ORV race while running from the police. The beach is about 40 kilometers south of Astoria on the 101 which makes it an easy and worthwhile natural beauty site to visit when road-tripping on the West coast. 

Haystack Rock

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

“It all starts from here.” They snuck into the Old Lighthouse Lounge, the Fratellis’ hideout. The criminals with the worst Italian accent are getting on to them and the tunnel underneath the fireplace is the only escape hatch.  As the Willamette Week mentions, the Old Lighthouse Lounge, where Chunk also reveals his worst mischievancies in what became one of the most memorable scenes of the 80’s adventure movies, was built purposely for the filming and then taken down. Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock are still there and what looks like a deserted beach in the movie, is in reality lined up with hotels, restaurants and beach houses. The place is a renowned tourist attraction in Oregon and while only few go there to trace the Goonies’ steps, most visit to enjoy the dramatic North-West coast line where the wild waves of the Pacific Ocean break on a wide sandy beach and the thick tree vegetation comes down from inland as far as it can stretch. 

It’s low tide and I can almost walk to Haystack Rock on the wet sand. I sit on a trunk carried ashore and playback the rest of the movie in my mind to the point where the Goonies make it out alive on the same beach. Their families have been alerted by the coast guard, they’re finally reunited. The Fratellis are arrested and the jewels that Mikey traded for his marbles are enough to save Goondock. Nobody’s house is going to be torn down; no one has to leave 

The Goonies belongs to that current of adventure movies that marked a generation of kids in the mid-80s but that differs from the sci-fi genre that was blooming at the time. The Goonies, like Stand By Me released the following year in 1986, gave a reason to a family of children and teenagers to keep dreaming that a map would lead them through a dangerous maze of tunnels and booty traps. But that also launched the foundations for a stronger belief: that something extraordinary, unexpected and life-changing could still happen to them if only they dared looking.

I wave a kiss to the waves where the Inferno got free to sail towards the horizon. “Bye, Wille.” 

IMG_9421

Cannon Beach

One thought on “From Astoria to Cannon Beach on the Goonies’ steps

  1. Pingback: Da Astoria a Cannon Beach inseguendo i Goonies | Across The Channel

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