Friday, July 6, 2012

to oregon, love me. thanks for summer. SWAK!

ah oregon! my oregon! today is the first unabashedly lovely day of the summer, the day that fills my heart with an ever-expanding love and adoration of you! just when i thought i couldn't take one more week, one more day, one more minute of the damp and rain and clouds, summer arrives! in all its dry, clear, crisp-blue-skied glory. and when summer arrives, there's no better place in the world than oregon.

and what makes oregon such a great place? i've decided to write down my top 5 reasons why i love oregon so much. at least, i think it will be 5. i'm not planning this ahead at all. and it's not the reasons why oregon is weird - much of what makes portland the subject of portlandia applies to many other parts of the state, too - although there's much overlap. so, without prior planning, without real consideration, here's my favorite 5 things about oregon, off the top of my head.

1. public beaches. this is, quite possibly, the greatest thing in the entire universe. i totally didn't appreciate it as a kid; i took it for granted that the beaches were the domain of the people, all the people, for free, and for eternity.  the beach is the ultimate equal opportunity recreation in oregon - anyone can go to it, access it, for free. as long as there's beach to walk on, it's all yours. and it's been like that for a long time, too. this wasn't legislation borne out of the environmental movement of the 60s. the drive for public beaches began when Oswald West was elected governor partly on his promise to reclaim our beaches as public lands. in 1913 the legislature declared the coast a state highway! and thus was state ownership borne. in 1966, when greedy developers once again tried to stake a claim to bits of the sand, our hero Tom McCall rallied public support for the Oregon Beach Bill that ensured "free and uninterrupted use of the beaches" to the public. that's us, all of us, no matter how small and insignificant we are. it's ours. and it's gorgeous. and freezing cold, but hey, it keeps the crowds away.

2. oregon driving. it's completely true that we don't honk - ever (see link above on non-ironically weird things about oregon). and it's absolutely rooted in this idea of rudeness. my mom, teaching me to drive, specifically told me that: 'it's rude to honk.' it means that i've almost been hit by cars merging with me in their blind spot - and even if it occurs to me to honk, it's a completely delayed reaction, and i end up merely ineffectually pounding different areas of the steering wheel, because i have no idea where the actual horn is on my car. because i never use it. you can use it to tap a hello to someone you know. that's the only permitted use. you think i'm joking, if you're not from here, but i'm completely serious.

also on the subject of driving, it's got to be the most laid-back and chill state in the country to drive in. everyone drives like we live - with a sort of lack of hurry for anything and an almost annoying at times regard for every other thing on the street, whether wheeled or not. the amazing tendency for oregonians to cruise in the left-hand lane on the freeway for miles and miles stems, i'm convinced, from a laziness about re-merging into the right hand lane. you can almost see them move left, pass someone, and then contemplate moving back over, but shrug and say: why bother? there's just another car up there in 5 miles that i'm going to want to pass. might as well stay here. thus the amazing sight of just as many people being passed on the right as on the left on our freeways (all 3 of them). and all without annoyed honking by other cars.

3. land use planning. a drive led by farmers, enthusiastically championed by city dwellers, oregon's famous land use planning laws have led to a much less sprawling landscape than most other states. it's a subtle difference, but one that you get used to over time, so that when you visit other states the blur of city to suburb to suburb grates on your sensibilities like sandpaper. it just seems somehow wrong. kind of distasteful, really.

4. brown, green, and grey. ok, other states can lay claim to these colors, but when i think of oregon, that's what i think of: brown, green, and grey. the grey is the color of the coast to me: the grey sky, the grey never ending pacific, the grey of the weathered shingles and driftwood. the green of the sea of conifer needles, viewed from a high point on a logging road in the coast range or cascade highway; the intense, almost neon green of the valley farmlands in spring (which somehow looks brighter on a cloudy day, the grey of the sky contrasting sharply with the green fields at the height of growing bloom). and the brown: the grey-brown of the doug-fir bark, the red-brown of the ponderosa bark, the velvety brown of the grass-covered hills of eastern oregon.

5. pumping your own gas. 'cause you can't. and it's really not about pumping your own gas: it's about some of our odder, more idiosyncratic laws. like that one, and the lack of sales tax, and the (original) bottle return bill to reduce littering and increase recycling. true, these are also things we share with other states - rumor has it that there's at least one more state where you can't pump your own gas, there's definitely 4 other states without sales tax, and there's any number of states with bottle returns now. still, i like our sometimes infuriating, often inexplicable, kind of quirky laws like this.

anyone else? what's the best about oregon?