IT HAS BEEN 30 years since I wrote about Rex and Debby Allen. I still get emails asking for an update. “Are you the guy who wrote … ?” Yes, I am.
Type “Visiting Tukwila,” and that story still lands on the first page of a Google search.
Rex now is 68. Debby is 60. They’re retired, living in the Loyal Heights neighborhood in the North End. I’ll save you the suspense: The visits have slowed down. As they explain, they simply got older.
They are the couple who gained national notoriety because three decades ago, they proudly and publicly proclaimed their affection for each other by … sharing the astounding amount of sex they had.
Sometimes two to three times a day, sometimes six or eight times a day, all carefully noted in a calendar.
I remember trying to figure a way to write about their endeavors in some manner that didn’t appear crass. The euphemism “Visiting Tukwila” was born (more details about that in The Backstory).
Back then, I was writing a column for the features section of The Seattle Times. Sometimes I wrote about relationships in our modern age, because what matters is always personal.
The more I wrote about that topic, the more readers responded with calls and letters. They were my focus group. There still is a nonprofit group called Seattle’s Sleepless Singles that was created in 1994 after one such series of my columns. Its first major event was a dance attended by 1,000 people.
One day, for another column, I quoted a national marketing expert who said that the average American woman had gained 6 pounds in the past year. Food was substituting for sex in our modern, stressful lives, said the expert.
In December 1989, Debby Allen phoned me.
“I’d like to disagree with that. I haven’t gained any weight,” she said. “But then, I’m getting plenty of sex with my husband.”
Well. There are phone calls, and there are phone calls.
She went on.
Debby said that they had been keeping track of exactly how much sex they were having since mid-April 1989. It was a lot. Around 500 times by New Year’s Eve, they figured. In 1990, it was more than 800 times.
Then, Debby was 29 and a technician at Seattle Center. Rex was 37, a city engineering inspector. They had been married for a year, the second marriage for each.
They didn’t mind having their names in the paper. “There are worse things we could do,” she said.
Still, I had qualms. What made me decide to write about them wasn’t just that astounding number. It was that, at the heart of it all, they were such a romantic couple, innocently happy.
Each day, they’d leave notes for each other: “I love everything about you. I love your eyes. I love the way you listen to me. I love it when you pretend not to notice when I do something dumb.”
“I’m glad you’re home, my gorgeous husband.”
They set aside Thursday night to go out to dinner or someplace special. They showed their caring for each other with little gestures.
If Rex was working late, Debby brought a homemade dinner and flowers for him. If Debby was stressed out at work, Rex would do things like bring her Belgian waffles.
Rex and Debby took their newfound celebrity in good humor, with the Weekly World News dubbing him “Sexy Rex” and her “dynamo Debby.”
At work, they say, most co-workers took their new fame in stride, with somebody putting up a sign about “Rex the Wonder Dog,” for example.
Tukwila civic officials weren’t particularly happy, however. A People magazine story about the couple quoted a council member as fuming, “Tukwila isn’t a sex town.”
Even now, all that Tukwila Mayor Allan Ekberg has to say is, “Thanks for reaching out. Not worth revisiting.”
Thirty years later, the romance still is there.
“He still gives me cards. He’s still as sweet as he’s ever been,” says Debby.
You’re married for a while, the notes can be about more utilitarian things. Rex left Debby a note, “Thank you for doing the bills each month and my dad’s taxes!!!!” He attached stars, a heart and “Totally awesome” stickers.
But it’s been a while since they kept a calendar like they once did.
“Other things have slowed,” says Debby.
Over the years, they’ve had to deal with life’s travails.
Rex is a civil engineer and in 2008 was working for the City of Seattle on reviewing construction sites. He says he was burning out, working 60- to 80-hour weeks. He retired.
Debby was working as a data administrator and working so many hours, under high stress, that her weight dropped to 99 pounds. She’s 5 feet, 5½ inches, and these days weighs an appropriate 121 pounds. She retired.
She’s undergone 10 surgeries, says Debby, some major, and two organ donations — one of her kidneys and half of a liver. The kidney was originally for a family member who didn’t need it in the end, as her family carries a genetic disorder (Debby doesn’t have it).
“It’s my way of evening things out,” she says about donating her organs.
I ask Rex and Debby for any final advice to other couples from all their experiences.
Back 30 years ago, Debby described what the next morning was like after Visiting Tukwila, oh, say, six times the previous night.
“You’re tired, but not like after a long day at work. It’s a pleasant tired. The whole world has a soft, fuzzy focus. Know what I’m talking about?” she said.
In 2020, they say, “Pay attention, and be appreciative. Thoughtfulness goes a long way.”