Stuff you don’t know about Oregon unless you lived near/in it

Okay, so I moved to Oregon a week ago, and now I think I can write about it? It’s like this. I have lived nearly half my life within half an hour of Oregon. Unlike Idaho, which I had barely visited before I moved there, this place I have known well and long. I am probably better acquainted with eastern Oregon than your average Portlander, since they rarely go there. (It’s hot, dry, and has dust storms.)

Like most Western states not named California or Texas, Oregon doesn’t feel very noticed by the rest of the country. It is also a very mavericky state that does things its own way (weed, assisted suicide, strong environmental laws, no self-service gas, etc.) and is immune to national peer pressure. Here’s your Cliff’s Notes education on Oregon, if you need it:

The name of the state is pronounced OAR-uh-gun, with the last two syllables very short. It barely differs from the pronunciation of ‘organ.’ It is not pronounced ARE-ee-GONE. Some may not understand what the big deal is. Imagine that half the news and sports announcers said kuh-LEE-for-NEE-ah, or tex-ASS, or NEBB-ruh-skuh, or flo-REE-duh, or o-HEE-o.

No, you cannot pump your own gas in Oregon. This does not make it that much more expensive, and it does means that fueling station choices are influenced in part by actual service. Unfortunately, this means that in Oregon, if your gas cap is not attached, you have to check to make sure the employee put it back on. Laugh if you will at the impossibility of this, but I have a pickup truck, so I can set mine in the bed while I pump gas in Washington. I can only lose my gas cap in Oregon (or New Jersey, were I to go there).

Yes, Oregon has a high state income tax but no state sales tax. The financial mind may immediately wonder how any business can survive on the Washington side of the border. In the first place, in the case of major stuff like vehicle purchases, Washington and Idaho have ways of making sure you pay their own sales tax to license the car in the state. I assume Nevada and California do as well, if it applies (not sure about tax in Nevada). In the second, Oregon residents don’t have to pay at least Washington sales tax, which is a constant factor along the border. In Kennewick, it was normal for checkers to ask if I were a Washington or Oregon resident (and yes, you need ID). So yeah, I’d say that appliance places in Vancouver are likely hard put to compete with those in Portland. Grocery prices, probably not, especially since Washington doesn’t charge sales tax on groceries.

Speaking of Vancouver, to most people that brings to mind British Columbia. In Portland, it does not, for Vancouver is the primary suburb on the Washington side. We would have chosen to live there, but paying both states’ tax would just suck rocks, and my wife has brick-and-mortar employment in Oregon (thus she must pay Oregon income tax no matter where she resides). Ah, but wouldn’t we just do all our shopping in Oregon? We would only have to try crossing the bridge one time for a typical grocery run, and we’d be over it. If one works in Oregon, it makes sense to live in Oregon.

As with Washington and Seattle, Oregon suffers from the national confusion with Portland. “Oh, you’re from ARE-ee-GONE! The land of rain, people to the political left of Stalin, and fair trade cruelty-free organic pagan eco-hipster cyclists!” “Not quite. I’m from Pendleton. I was on my high school rodeo team, and whenever we got rain, I thanked Christ. I never cared what all the fruit loops in Portland thought. To me, a bike meant dirt biking out in the desert.” Central and northeastern Oregon are dry places with more cowboys than hipsters.

Almost no one even lives in southeastern Oregon. Malheur County is about 10K square miles, roughly fifty miles wide by two hundred high, and only has about 30,000 people. And if it weren’t for one city of note (Ontario, which is only an hour from Boise), it would only have about 20,000. Comparison: New Hampshire is smaller, yet has 1.3 million people (almost as many as all of Idaho), and isn’t even very densely populated as Northeastern states go. Dry lake salt pans are not rare in southeastern Oregon. It’s desolate.

Oregon has an ugly history of sundown town racism that hasn’t fully faded. When the second Ku Klux Klan was operating (as much nativist and anti-Catholic as anti-black, 1915-1925), Oregon was one of its strongest states. The joke of Lake Oswego as ‘Lake Nonegro’ has not disappeared. As major US cities go, Portland is one of the whitest.

Yes, Oregon did attempt to dispose of a beached whale carcass by blowing it up. They won’t try that again.

Speaking of the Oregon coast, do not expect development to destroy it any time soon. Nearly the whole thing is an Oregon state park (more precisely, a long string of Oregon state parks). Plus, “Hi, I’m a SoCal real estate developer, and I would like to appropriate some of your public beach frontage for a very posh resort that would attract lots of very rich people!” is right down there with “Recycling sucks!” as a lousy introductory line with Oregonians.

I’ve only seen one episode of Portlandia, and I guess Fred Armisen actually makes his home in the Pearl District, but I don’t think it’s terribly far off base about Portland. The issue is more that not all Oregon is Portland. As long as that’s understood, the folks in Burns and Madras won’t have to explain that their places don’t resemble Fred’s Portlandia.

Is it true that Oregonians hate Californians? Well, that depends upon two things: which Oregonian you’re asking, and to which Californians you refer. If the variables are ‘a fairly average Oregonian’ and ‘someone who embodies every over-the-top LA stereotype,’ answer’s probably close to yes. However, thinking people realize that California is not LA, any more than Oregon is Portland, and that living examples of stereotypes are not the norm. If it were, there would be prison terms here for failure to recycle, right? Yet there are not. (The fine for littering, however, is quite justly enormous. In Oregon, the fine for driving over 100 mph is $1000. Maximum littering fine is $6250. Don’t toss that cigarette butt.) Is it true that California tags are a ticket magnet for police in Oregon? Yes, but all license plates are ticket magnets in Oregon, including those with the familiar covered wagon. When California wants water from the Columbia, or when a Californian family moves into a neighborhood and starts behaving like the stereotype, yeah, at those times, it’s pretty grumpy. However, the former is impractical due to determined public opposition, and the latter is as rare as any other embodied stereotype, including that of the wafer-thin-pizza-eating, bushy-armpitted, all-organic Oregon hippie mom lecturing everyone else about their life choices. Like the plastic-smile Angeleña negatively comparing everything to LA during her daily mani-pedi, they exist, but they aren’t your average Oregonian.

I suspect that locals borrowed “Keep Portland Weird” from Austin, TX, just as it’s well established that Seagulls fans decided they were “The 12th Man” approximately fifty years after Texas A&M gave that title reality. Imitation is a sincere form of flattery, but the originators should be respected.

College football fans may be mystified at the rise of the Oregon Ducks as a national power. With the full disclosure of the fact that they are my team’s most loathed rival, the one team I would not root for even to beat the University of Pyongyang, here’s the reality. First, that rise does owe a great deal to palatial facilities and lavish funding by Phil Knight, owner of Nike and a Duck alum, who basically continues to throw money at the situation until it results in dominance. Well, seems you can buy a better football team. However, much of the credit must also go to skilled coaching, including recruitment (aided by the gaudy uniforms and impressive facilities) of the sorts of athletes who will excel in the coaches’ system. It is taking time for teams to figure out the few weaknesses in the Oregon system, but you can be certain that eleven other highly capable Pac-12 coaches work very hard at this, gaining ground each season. In the meantime, Oregon State Beavers fans continue to soldier on, disliking the Ducks nearly as much as I do, just glad to be away from a twenty-year era of enormous mediocrity. When I was in college, the Beavs’ records looked like binary notation: 0-10, 1-10, 0-11, etc. Meanwhile, the Washington/Oregon rivalry remains one of the most personal and hateful in the land, which will probably impact my life at some point–especially because my guys have lost ten or eleven straight, and in most cases, it’s because we were not as a good a team and did not play/coach as well. I have to admit it, which is not the same as having to like it.

When you see quotes from a guy named Osho–an Indian-looking guru sort with a heavy beard–just remember that his minions launched biological warfare terror attacks within the United States. We who lived near northern Oregon back in the 1980s remember him as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. His followers took over Antelope, Oregon, a town in south Wasco County. It was a small enough town that eighty new voters could automatically win any municipal election. They then tried to take over the county, including homebrew salmonella attacks at restaurant salad bars. Why do that? To reduce the number of people physically capable of going out to vote against the Rajneeshy candidates (children, this was when voting occurred by going to a polling place, unless you voted absentee). For the same reason, they shipped in many homeless people in order to register them to vote. It was all a blatant takeover tactic.

If he’d done it in the East, it’d be remembered alongside Tim McVeigh’s deeds, but it happened in Oregon, so it may have lasted one news cycle in the major media markets before some important actor was diagnosed with a pimple on his butt, or it rained hard in Manhattan, or a white American female went missing abroad, or something else Far More Important occurred. In any case, when Rajneesh’s minions got in trouble and their colony of a couple thousand people collapsed, the government moved to deport him. On the way out, he called the United States “a wicked country.” Bub, I’m not sure someone whose fan club uses biological terrorism on his watch is in any position to call my country anything but merciful for not hanging you.

Anyway, when henceforth you see quotes from Osho, they may sound very wise on their face, but some of us take it as the moral equivalent of quoting Robert Mathews. At the very least, Rajneesh slept at the wheel of his own movement while some truly evil minions harmed folks I worked with and respected, and I will not sit in silence while people use his new name and rehab his legacy (he has been dead since 1990) as if he were admirable and noble. To me, on balance, he is not. The Rolls-Royces were excrescent, but they didn’t fill up every hospital in The Dalles, Hood River, and small surrounding regions with people guilty only of taking the family out for dinner. Salmonella did.

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For those who read this far, I want to explain something about how I operate the blog. This is my professional presentation. Since I’m an editor and writer, that can be about anything as long as I don’t embarrass myself.

Posting has been sparse in the last couple of months, well off my normal schedule of 1-2 posts per week. There’s a reason for that. I have begun numerous posts which I never completed because they were too emotional for the blog. “Too emotional” here means: subjects about which I am sensitive or emotional, and do not wish to bare my soul for potential public heckling during a difficult time. I embrace the right of the public to heckle (with some modicum of civility) anything I might post, and the only way to handle that is not to post anything I wouldn’t want heckled. So I start writing as catharsis, realize halfway through that this one will probably never see the green light, and at least get the benefit of journaling out frustration/grief/euphoria/rage/whatever.

Some were also borderline libelous, too likely to provoke political discussion which I’d then have to shut down, or simply not well enough reasoned. Some readers might say: “Awwwww! But that’s you being you! That’s what we come to read!” I understand. However, this is not the suitable place for such things. It may seem strange to some, but this is the office. I need rules for myself at the office. Think of this as a company newsletter in a way, with me as the company. While it’s okay for the firm to nail its ideological colors to the mast to a degree, it should do so judiciously.

So yeah, I’ve been writing, just not often posting, because the one thing every writer should realize is the truth of the old Russian proverb: “What is written with the pen cannot be erased with an ax.” Many a career has been altered, rarely for the better, when a writer’s need to speak his or her mind overcame his or her good sense long enough to stab the ‘Publish’ button. (q.v. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Dear Negative Reader.) I want to keep the blog as informative, entertaining, and uplifting as I can, with a primary focus on the craft of writing and editing, and the secondary focus on thoughtful social comment. You already get enough of my personal opinions, leaking through here and there, but this cannot be the place where I drop the professional posture. Some matters are simply too personal to belong here.

Every public post in any medium is voluntary, after all. And if it’s ill-advised, the poster can expect reminders that no one compelled him or her at gunpoint to make the post public. That would be my standard advice to any writer maintaining a blog.

If I fail to heed it myself, I am a great fool.

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