Here I go, to my annual pilgrimage to the high desert of Oregon.
I am more than a little obsessed with my hometown of Portland. Central Oregon (pictures attached) is good, too. Not as good as Portland. Too country for me, but just arid and hot enough to make a good week-long vacation.
Oregon is truly God's country. Portland is incredibly progressive and has a regional government that has the magical ability to make a descion, like, "Hey let's build light rail by about 20 years before any other large city bothers to plan for increased strain on roads and transit..." and then Portland does it.
The rest of Oregon just pisses me off, though. There is no sales tax, so only property taxes fund schools and other essential services. In the last 20 years, a certain majority of Oregonians have decided that they don't have to pay for public services and keep voting down all kinds of tax reforms and increases. This drives me insane. The public schools have actually had to cut days off the school calendar because they've run out of money to operate them.
Oregon, with its ruggedly handsome beaches, a mountain that stays snowy in summer (thank you Japanese snowboarding tourists for spending your money on Mt Hood!), rivers that lash around turns and drops and give you the rafting ride of your life, farms that so easily bear fruit as luscious as you could ever hope for, and lives & cities that are affordable enough for people to enjoy themselves, eat out inrestaurants, meet up in pubs, start businesses that fulfill their dreams. Oregon is God's country, there is no question.
When I drive home and cross the state line and see the "Welcome to Oregon" sign, my heart does that virtual scissor kick of happiness. There is so much to love about the place that I actually feel guilty not living there anymore, like I have abandoned post as a native Oregonian. I can only hope everyone else there is so hopelessly in love with the place that they are looking after it the 51 weeks a year that I am gone.
Best things about my hometown:
1. Powell's Books - largest used & new bookstore in the country. An entire city block and about 4 floors of books, books, and more dusty books. I used to take the light rail downtown with I was in middle and high school and could spend a whole day here. Makes you want to read. And Portland is no doubt a city full of readers.
2. Higgins Restaurant and Bar. Greg Higgins, chef, helped start the food/dining revolution in Portland. Local and fresh and refined and amazing. Some of the best service you could imagine. When in college, my boyfriend lived in walking distance, so we would frequent the pub attached to the restaurant. When his parents came to visit, we went to the restaurant proper, and the waiter brought us all kinds of tasty extras that we didn't order in that quiet knowing way. We were regulars, but cheap ones since we were broke college kids. They treated us like kings to make sure our guests (boyfriend's parents) were blown away with service. Lovely & gracious. This is why Higgins is still the best restaurant in town. Not to mention the food. Hoooo boy, it's good.
3. It's a walking city. I can take the train from Seattle, arrive and the gorgeous historic train station, and walk to the Pearl District and all that this great neighborhood offers, right in the middle of downtown. You can do an entire vacation in Portland without a car. Seriously.
4.Tugboat Brewery. Smallest brewery in the land. Charming. Tiny. Fun.
5. Strippers. Yeah, I said it. One of the goofy things about this nutso state is there are no real zoning laws, at least not as it relates to "vice." So there are strip clubs all over. Mostly in the burbs and the more white trash parts, but there is a great one downtown called Mary's. Because there are more strip clubs than hot girls in Portland, the clubs tend to employ a pretty democratic assortment of girls. Girls with belly fat. Girls who may have c-section scars. Girls who are sort of butch. It's a riot. My college friends and I would occassionally stop in and it was a hoot. We girls would chastize the cheap tippers and root on our little muffin-top strippers. Three cheers for good body image! Vegas this was not. More like hipster pole dancing.
6. A few decades ago, a big ugly freeway cut through the center of the city (Portland is divided in two by a river, the Willamette (say Will-AM-ette... got to stress the AM)... anyway, the freeway was parked on the banks of the Willamette and Oregon just decided, "Um, hey, let's tear that shit out and give the waterfront back to the people." Magic. Why can't Seattle figure that out? Because Seattle isn't brave. Period. Oregon is just naive enough to be dangerous. I love it.
7. 2 hours from the beach, 1.5 hours from the mountain, 3 hours from the desert. You kind of never have to leave the state.
8. Small businesses. Don't even get me started here. So many fun, small, unique awesome places to browse and buy and get inspired.
9. The McMenamin's empire. These brothers make "chain" a not-so-nasty word. The slowly built a small empire of brewpubs and movie theaters by buying and rehab-ing great old buildings and turning each into a fantastic neighborhood watering hole. Best spots include the Mission Theater... an old funeral home (so I hear) turned movie theater in which they've ripped out every other row of seats to install long skinny tables so patrons have a spot to put their burgers and pitchers of beer. The 2nd-run movies are only $2, making Portland a great place to live on the cheap. Also a huge fan of the pitch & putt golf course at Edgefield, a bed & breakfast just outside of Portland. The par 3 course starts at the little shack where they distill their own whisky and serve a full bar. So, you know, even if you are a bad golfer, you level the playing field since you're all a little buzzed before you even start.
10. Oregon leaves you hungry. Best part about Oregon? It's no NYC. It leaves you humble and hungry. You don't grow up thinking you've seen it all, because your provincial ass hasn't. Oregon is the best kind of home. Raises you right, leaves you wanting to see more, more, more, but welcomes you back home just when you've seen enough and want to come back to something familiar.