Sunday, August 06, 2006

On Being Reminded Why I Love Oregon

As regular readers know, I've been out for a couple of weeks, visiting family in Virginia. I lived there for 27 years, in several places, and overall I like the state. For history buffs, places to go and see are abundant. Naturally speaking, it's a state with nearly as varied a landscape as Oregon, and much of it--particularly on the Chesapeake Bay and in the Shenandoah Mountains--is downright beautiful. For food, if you like fat (and boy, I love fat) you're in seventh heaven. And while there are drawbacks (see below), for a visitor even complete strangers are very friendly, and friends courtly to a fault. So apologies to my favorite state on the East Coast, but starting with the plane ride back to PDX, I'm reminded why I felt like I was coming home:

  • Mount Hood and the mighty Columbia River. It seemed like we passed closer than ever to Hood on yesterday afternoon's flight, yielding a stunning view of our state's tallest point against a cloudless blue...I almost imagined being able to see skiers! But alas, even if I did, the US's only year-long skiing resort looks doomed to have the title stripped by default. Hood was a big brown jut speckled with dirty white snow. It was a great year for both snowplay and water supply from the mountain, but that's not keeping it from losing more and more permasnow, seemingly every year. Still, if you're a native Oregonian--especially someone who lives nearby--and you don't get a little swell when you see Hood in all its glory on a perfect clear day, I'm gonna ask for some ID.

  • No sales tax! In a year when Ben Westlund threatens to dredge up the idea of a state retail levy yet again, it was instructive to remember what a downer the sales tax is. For one thing, you never really know the price is before it's rung up (especially when trying to figure in VA's nonsensical 4.5% rate), and that's just annoying to me. When you hit a dollar-plus in tax, as you do when you cross $25 in purchases in VA, you start to notice how quickly it adds up and how it could be disproportionately painful to the least monied among us. It ruins your ability to tip properly, since you only tip on pretax totals, so you either have to subtract the tax first or just overtip. Fault me for having mostly whiny reasons for not liking it beyond its regressiveness, but it's just a pain in the ass tax all the way around, and I don't like it. And any candidate who thinks he's won by getting one passed, will rue the day when angry voters realize their moment of folly among years of sanity.

  • Being civil but honest can sometimes be enough, and preferable to what you often get in Virginia, which is outward obsequiousness and cattiness behind your back. I'm a hopeless Yankee neanderthal, but the almost cloying niceness--coupled with a varyingly exaggerated Southern twang--gets on my nerves after a while. And I was in fairly deep country, where Wal-Mart is king, so both the niceness and the twang were in deep supply. To give you a rough example: the friend of a close relative was so nice to suggest throwing a little party to cheer them up, so we thanked them and posed overtly as is the custom--until we realized later it was the intent that WE throw the party, and THEY would come. As I moved dorm refrigerators into position on a 100+ degree day with high humidity to prepare for the guests, my thoughts were less than genteel.

    Mrs. Joe, a Virginia native, says the people here are friendly enough, but lack warmth unless you are very close. When I see the alternative, I think warmth is earned, and giving it out for free on the basis of custom actually leads to a little supressed resentment at times. Maybe I'm overanalyzing, but while there's a racial tone to the concept of "smiling faces," it's also a general warning about false pretenses masquerading as courtesy and kindness.

  • Beervana. Two stories should explain this well enough. You know how suite hotels usually have a "cocktail hour" where you get 2 free drinks and some kind of nosh between 5 and 7? The one at our hotel featured two beers: Miller Lite...and Coors Light. I asked the guy, "Do you mean to tell me BOTH of your beers are light beers?" Yep. The next day I ate at the local Applebee's (I was with 5 kids, sue me), and I asked for the draft beer list. It didn't take long (and trust that I have this 98% correct): Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Coors, Amstel Light, Heineken, and Sam Adams. There was an awkward pause while I waited for something more adventurous than Sam to come forth; in truth Virginia has some excellent breweries and they've come a long way. But that was it. I found a good pub in Richmond that offered all manner of beers domestic and international for takeaway, but if you want fresh beer your options can often be sadly limited. And if you're away from a population center, good luck doing better than one or two craft options.

  • As much as we bash on The O, and we think rightly so, the fact is it's a pretty liberal paper, and of higher quality than some of the rags passing as daily papers in other cities. I got some semblance of the news by reading versions of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Hampton Roads Daily Press, but the writing was often a little amateurish and cutesy--and as far as editorial content and the sense of the electorate, they're both among those clinging for dear life to the old order. Yeah, The O's top echelon is way too clubby and elitist for its own good, but they're comparatively well grounded and most writers do a solidly professional job. Particularly when it comes to arts and culture, Oregon's paper of record is a clear winner IMO.

  • Natural looking people, especially women. Perhaps there's a bit of the horndog component to it for me, but it kind of goes along with the way people speak to you and treat you in the South--nice upfront, but ultimately fake (in many ways, metaphoric and literal). Women like that bug me. I like women who use less makeup, who don't dress for the grocery store, and guys who wear shorts and don't feel all that comfortable in a suit and tie, and who don't really want to dress up to eat dinner at a national chain restaurant or put on a collar and khakis for a house barbecue. People are much more come as you are, be who you are in Oregon, and I like that.

  • I love climatic sanity. 100 degree days that are simply hot but not skin-wringingly damp--that's sane. Seeing people run FOR FITNESS OR FUN on days when you couldn't peel me off the air conditioner, makes me question humanity. Don't they know it's fucking hot out there? Are they intentionally seeking a stroke? And who stole the evening from the East Coast? At midnight sometime last week, New York's temp was 92 degrees and sultry. Sleeping on the fire escape leaves grill marks at that temperature, for God's sake. Give me Oregon's hot but dry summer days, and beautiful, cool (and longer) nights anytime.

And finally, I love Oregon because of you. The people who read this site are usually smart, involved and very interested in making our state even better. What Mencken once said about Richmond, Va ("a happy dullness of intellect is endemic") would never be said about Oregonians. We like being civic, and we think it's cool not to pretend we're too cool to care about politics and the greater society. Thanks for supporting us in that spirit, and if you like, please fill our comments with what YOU love about groovy old Orygun.