Tag Archives: oregon

Official Oregon Relocation Questionnaire

I participate on a message board with regional forums covering most of the world. The Oregon and Washington forums in particular are full of bright-eyed folks who want to live in the Pacific Northwest. While I can understand that, they often have less than realistic explanations.

I originally drafted this as a post for the board’s Oregon forum, then decided I’d rather just share it with my own readership.

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Official Oregon Relocation Information Form

Hi, we too are interested in moving to Oregon. We are drawn by the (check all that apply):

[ ] Great job market, so we have heard
[ ] Low cost of living, it just has to be
[ ] Excellent educational system (better than Mississippi)
[ ] Low property taxes (you should see California’s!)
[ ] Lack of sales tax
[ ] Beautiful scenery
[ ] Granola people
[ ] Trees (we are from Kansas)
[ ] Seismic activity
[ ] Great climate (we love [ ] rain [ ] sun)
[ ] Show ‘Portlandia’
[ ] Ability to have someone else pump our gas
[ ] Strange laws
[ ] Legal weed
[ ] Number of preppers
[ ] Bicycling
[ ] Sailboarding
[ ] Rajneeshees (we saw an old documentary)
[ ] Emptiness (we plan to live in south Malheur County)
[ ] Assisted suicide laws
[ ] Gay-friendly attitudes
[ ] Pockets of True Biblical Marriage outlook
[ ] Pendleton Roundup
[ ] Monsanto Roundup
[ ] Kicker
[ ] Punter
[ ] Long snapper
[ ] Other ________________________________

Our monthly housing budget is:

[ ] We plan to trade weed for it
[ ] $500
[ ] $750
[ ] $1000
[ ] Surely we can get a three-bedroom something for $1250
[ ] Under an overpass
[ ] We’re preppers, we plan to build our End Times fortress

Our children have the following special needs, for which we will want social services:

[ ] Autism
[ ] ADD
[ ] ADHD
[ ] Veganism
[ ] Lactose intolerance
[ ] Other child intolerance
[ ] Spina bifida
[ ] Attitude disabilities
[ ] Learning disabilities
[ ] ODD
[ ] SAD
[ ] Gaming addiction
[ ] Ketamine habit
[ ] Others (list all in this dinky space) __________________

We have the following number of pit bulls and other large dogs (and if you don’t like them, you suck):

[ ] 5
[ ] 6
[ ] 7
[ ] 8
[ ] 9
[ ] 10+, and if you falsely accuse our dog breed of being violent, we will have them rip you to shreds; they are sweet and loving and would never harm anyone

We are coming from:

[ ] California
[ ] Florida
[ ] Arizona
[ ] Texas
[ ] The East
[ ] A flat farmy state

We feel the following about soccer:

[ ] The beautiful game
[ ] Sport for communists
[ ] We think sports are stupid

We are very (check all that apply)…

[ ] liberal
[ ] conservative
[ ] tidy
[ ] slovenly
[ ] insular
[ ] outgoing
[ ] peppy
[ ] crabby
[ ] racist
[ ] guilty

…and would like to live only among our own kind.

In college football, we plan to root for:

[ ] The Ducks
[ ] The Beavers
[ ] The Vikings
[ ] Whoever is doing well
[ ] Our current team
[ ] The abolition of college sports, they suck

We simply must have:

[ ] Lots of green space
[ ] A view of mountains
[ ] A view of the ocean, or at least a river
[ ] A view of puddles, at least, for pete’s sake
[ ] All the things we have checked and specified

Will we be killed immediately for being:

[ ] From California?
[ ] Christian?
[ ] Conservative?
[ ] Gun nuts?
[ ] Screw you, I’m from Idaho, bring it hippies

We have heard that there is terrible gang violence and imminent danger. We can tolerate:

[ ] Not even a loose gum wrapper on the street
[ ] A little tailgating
[ ] Limited diversity
[ ] Petty theft
[ ] Regular gunfire
[ ] Regular automatic gunfire
[ ] All of it–we are a new gang looking for turf

We are willing to endure the following commute:

[ ] We expect to be able to live in our workplace
[ ] One minute
[ ] Five minutes
[ ] Ten minutes
[ ] Fifteen minutes
[ ] Surely there can’t be any commutes longer than fifteen minutes!

We are bringing the following savings to sustain us while we get established:

[ ] You’re kidding, I assume?
[ ] $50
[ ] $100
[ ] $500
[ ] $1000
[ ] Some stash
[ ] None needed, we raid dumpsters

So those are our needs and wants and hopes and dreams. Where should we live? Thank you!

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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.

How to encourage recycling

I’ve only been in Oregon five days, and I see how they do it. Simply put, they give you no other viable choice but to recycle/donate.

This is new to me. In Idaho, the only thing they recycle is spent shell casing brass. They put more gunpowder and bullets or pellets into it, then shoot it again.

It begins with a very small trash trash bin, an enormous recycling bin, and a big yard waste bin. If you’ve got a lot to get rid of, the trash trash bin will not get rid of it all because you barely have room for minimalist household trash. Thus, one must begrudge anything tossed in the trash trash. We’ve already designated a separate, unlined can just for waste paper, so we can keep it out of the trash. If we do not do this, we will not have room for true trash.

Oregon also has a 5-cent deposit on bottles, cans and plastic. If anyone thinks that won’t add up, fine, but I want my damn money. I’m going to rig up a handheld carrier with lath dividers just to make it easier to take them in, even though I have tons of room in my recycle bin, because if I’m going to go through all this, it’s time to pay me. I pick up loose pennies in supermarket parking lots. I damn sure will pick up nickels, and every one of these cans now resembles a nickel to me, forty to a $2 roll.

Landfill dumping seems to exist…sort of, expensively, somewhere difficult to get to. However, if you list an item for free on Portland Craigslist, unless it’s absolutely worthless, expect to be bombarded with replies. I gave away a remarkably crappy miniature folding couch that we could have used to extract confessions from people just by making them sleep on it. Twelve replies, half an hour, gone two hours after posting. We’re pruning down our excess crap, and St. Vincent de Paul is about to become a real asset, because charities are the only way to get rid of bulk stuff. Before I left Boise, I removed the hard drives from two old dead computers, hit them with a hammer until I knew I’d broken the platter and the electronics, and chucked them in the bin. In Oregon, that is punishable by a fine, but there are a number of places to recycle old computers. I tossed a dying mini-fridge into my bin in Boise. Portland? Wouldn’t come close to fitting. I’d have to call and find out where you recycle dying refrigerators, and I’ll bet there’s an option.

All these boxes? All the packing paper? Craigslist. Someone’s always moving. Free boxes? Yes, please. Free packing paper? Oh, they’ll come get it. Just as well, because the boxes and paper would overwhelm even our cavernous recycle bin.

I’m not opposed to any of this, though neither am I an ecomaniac. Just, I’d always wondered how they dealt with the large numbers of people who can’t be bothered to deal with recycling. In Boise and Kennewick, there was no impetus. In Portland, they make it so it’s the only way to avoid being buried in unwanted crap.

A part of me admires the strategy’s ruthlessness.

Nearly gone now

It is not my habit to write a whole lot about my personal life and feelings here, but right now they monopolize my mind and world, and it is time to write.

Two more days and I am gone from Washington, for thirty-nine years my state of residence.

The process is difficult mainly due to my personal quirks. I am most comfortable with non-change, and am often ill at ease when relative strangers are in my space. When that space has ceased to really be my own–when everything I own is either being carted away or is already packed up–the impact is greater. Plus, everyone you hire breaks things, and it is always guaranteed to be something problematic to repair or replace. I am not sure I have ever had a service provider not break something that was very annoying or impossible to put right. I do not know why; it is just so.

My preference would be to do as much as possible myself, but my knees simply will not permit that. Even what I have had to do has been painful. Naturally, we are doing this in the hottest part of summer, so that adds its own joy. While it’s okay to smell like sweat at the end of a day where one did honest work, that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely pleasant sensation.

So I sit with my computer all crammed into our breakfast bar, and I write, and I chat in Spanish with the cleaning service. They are friendly and polite. In fact, everyone’s been great, really. It’s just hard for me on any level, and there is nothing for it but to bear up.

Through this process, I wondered at what point this house would cease to be home. While it lost a lot when Deb headed for Idaho, it still had elements of the old life, comforting reminders. When they packed up the library, I just went somewhere else. When I came back, and it was gone, that was the point of fracture. If it has my wife and my books, it’s home on some level. With neither, it is not. Now we know.

It’s almost time to get the hell out of here.

For those of you who have never been to Washington, let’s close this phase of my life with a little education, and countering of misconceptions widely held. That’s always fun and usually entertaining. It should probably be a separate post, but nah.

  • Not all of Washington is rainy. Only the western side is rainy, and more so as one approaches the ocean. The southeast, where I will soon no longer live, is bone dry and would be barren but for irrigation.
  • Washington’s politics are viewed as left-wing by the nation because the Seattle area, with over half the state’s population, leans that direction. The central and eastern parts lean right.
  • Washington is that rare state where some of its Native Americans live on ancestral land. While there are conflicts over treaty rights, the Native Americans here have a sense of their political leverage and aren’t afraid to use it.
  • The eastern part of Washington has a significant Hispanic population, in some towns exceeding 90%. The sound of spoken Spanish is unremarkable east of the Cascades. The western part has a significant Asian population as well. As with all minorities, levels of assimilation vary by culture and individual and time their families have been here. I speak better Spanish than some Latinos who live here. There are some who speak English better than I.
  • What you have heard about the beauty of Washington is all true; what you have not heard is how diverse that beauty can be. The wheat country rolls and has its own agricultural beauty, as do hills completely girdled with vineyards, hop fields, acres and acres of orchards, and so on. The semi-dormant volcanoes have snow and glaciers year round. Washington has mountain passes that can be problematic to keep clear all winter, and roads that close entirely in winter. Near Bellingham are acres and acres of tulips. Seattle itself mostly looks like a forest with some buildings protruding. The walls of the Columbia Gorge are majestic, as is the view from Vantage looking out across the Columbia. We have rain forests, deserts, ranch country, jagged mountains, beaches, stands of scrub oak, many square miles of pine and fir and spruce.
  • Washington is one of the best places in the nation to be working for minimum wage, as ours is among the highest in the nation. It has no state income tax, just a high sales tax (not levied on grocery food). If you live near Oregon, you can go shop without any sales tax. Oregonians can shop in Washington without paying sales tax. It’s a rip for Washington, but the alternative is zero business from Oregonians, so that’s the best solution we could come up with. If you go down to Oregon to buy a car, though, there the Washington State Department of Revenue draws a line–you will have to pay the tax to license it.
  • Until last year, Washington had only what I called Soviet liquor stores–owned by the state. Now they are privatized. You could and still can buy beer and wine in any store. In fact, a Washington grocery store with a lousy wine selection is considered a fail. We are winos.
  • Washington is maybe the only state where the employer can make employees pay a portion of the premium for industrial (workmen’s comp) insurance. Varies by job type and occupational hazards. Computer jocks barely notice the bite, but ironworkers sure do. So do both our remaining loggers.
  • I believe Washington was one of the first states to elect a woman governor. Both Washington’s US senators are women.
  • There’s a little piece of Washington sticking out of the Canadian mainland, called Point Roberts. It’s only a few square miles, and is more or less a weekend getaway and gas station community for Vancouverites. Washington also has a Vancouver, which is a suburb of Portland, Oregon.
  • Washington has some amazingly odd place names, and I’ll help you pronounce them: Sequim (SKWIM rhyming with ‘swim’), Puyallup (pyu-OWL-up), Enumclaw (EE-num-klaw), Snohomish (snuh-HOE-mish), Humptulips (HUMP-two-lups), Poulsbo (PAULS-boe), Camas (KAMM-us), Washougal (wa-SHOE-gull), Kalama (kah-LAMM-uh), Spokane (spo-CAN), Colville (CALL-vul), Mattawa (MATT-uh-wuh), Wahluke (wa-LUKE), Methow (MET-how), Hoquiam (HO-kwee-um), Wenatchee (wuh-NATCH-ee), Yakima (YACK-uh-muh), Chehalis (sha-HAY-liss), Tulalip (two-LAY-lip), Camano (kuh-MAY-no), Skykomish (sky-KOE-mish), Kittitas (KITT-ih-tass), Husum (HEW-some), Bingen (BINN-jen), Stehekin (sta-HEE-kin), Cle Elum (klee ELL-um), Pe Ell (pee ELL), Naches (nah-CHEESE), Tieton (TY-uh-ton), Selah (SEE-luh), Naselle (NAY-sell), Satus (SAY-tuss), Ephrata (uh-FRAY-tah), Touchet (TOOSH-ee), Kahlotus (ka-LOH-tuss), Washtucna (wash-TUCK-na), Asotin (ah-SO-tin), Palouse (pah-LOOSE), Chewelah (cha-WHEE-lah), Nespelem (ness-PEE-lum), Tonasket (tuh-NASS-ket), Tekoa (TEE-ko). As you can see, the trend is toward the stress on the second syllable, but it’s by no means universal.
  • Washington’s highest point is Mt. Rainier, fifth highest peak in the lower 48 states. Only three in Colorado and one in California top it, at least outside Alaska. Its lowest, of course, is where the surf meets the sand.
  • It is true that Seattleites can’t drive on snow and ice, because a) they get very little practice at it; b) the city has wholly inadequate means of snow and ice remediation; c) ice can come very suddenly and dangerously when the temp hits freezing in such a wet climate; d) the whole Seattle area is very hilly. Most years we have the annual ritual where the east side laughs at the west’s paralysis, though not at the traffic deaths that are sure to result when idiots in 4x4s think “this is my time, I am master of my environment.”
  • Both sides of the state tend to sneer at one another. To the east, the west is full of tree-hugging hippies who jump into their gas-hogging SUVs to drive (when they could bus) to their cruelty-free fair trade vegan lunches. The east sees the west as effete and self-superior. The west in turn mocks the east for growing food, being backward, voting for Republicans, going to church, and surviving in blistering heat and bitter cold. As with all stereotypes, both have bases in fact yet go very wide of the mark for most people. Not all of the west is that wet, nor is most of it urban. The east has good universities and high levels of education in many places. Seattle has a lot of thriving churches. You’ll see plenty of Priuses out east (including my wife’s, until very recently).
  • Washington is a very outdoorsy state with lots of water, forests, fishing, hunting, hiking and climbing. Hang gliding, ballooning, kayaking, canoeing and wind surfing are popular. No one goes surfing at the beach, though–too often cold and windy, and there are dangerous riptides in places. There are a limited number of days in the year on which you can see bikinis on Washington beaches.
  • Washington provides ready access to all that British Columbia has to offer. Vancouver is larger than Seattle, and might be described as ‘Seattle, only more so.’ The BC interior is inexhaustibly beautiful and wild. Vacations up north are common, though Canadian border control has tightened of late. Likewise, it is unremarkable to meet Canadians all over Washington. The province and the state have much in common on all levels, including a live-and-let-live Western ethic that just doesn’t get in people’s faces without a compelling reason. Oregon is likewise much like Washington with many of the same issues and climates, although I’d say Oregon is slightly more granola overall than Washington.
  • The college football rivalry between the University of Oregon and the University of Washington is the most venomous one you haven’t heard about. Objectivity demands that I give Oregon its due: it has some excellent programs, a great college town atmosphere and some of the most rabid fans in college football. That said, there can be no peace in the Northwest until Oregon is crushed. This is not something we have even come close to achieving in recent years. The Washington-Washington State rivalry reflects the internal division of the state, and is hotly contested, but without quite the same deep loathing as Washington-Oregon. There’s no love lost between WSU and Oregon, either.
  • Far and away the worst trend in Washington, besides a congenital ability to balance the state budget and a tendency to ignore passed initiatives that the legislature just decides are icky, is the political polarization. It’s divided the state much worse than before, with businesses getting into the act and fishing in conversation with customers for signs of political sympathies. Political incontinence is a plague here. Politics is like bodily waste: when handled in the suitable facilities in sanitary fashion, it’s a bearable and necessary aspect of human civilization. When it’s allowed anywhere, disease and suffering predominate. It’s getting worse.
  • If you haven’t visited Washington, there’s a lot ahead for you to discover. Come on out sometime. Most Washingtonians are helpful to tourists, especially if they aren’t littering or holding up traffic.

Driving from Boise

I drove down to Idaho’s capital, where we anticipate we will be living before 2013 is out, to visit Deb. She has completed her first week of work at a new job and we miss one another keenly, though we have a plan that depends upon me not just ripping up stakes and moving quite yet.

Boise is a 4.5 hour drive from here, if one wants to avoid falling foul of the Oregon State Police. When you have any tags but Oregon on your car, you very much do not want to make yourself an interesting person to pull over. The trip is mountainous, winding and beautiful. Reunion was joyful and came just in time for us to find a fun Lebanese place in Boise. Tried my limited Arabic on the staff, but none would answer in it. One may take that as a sign that my pronunciation was atrocious, or that they kind of try not to be too conspicuous–I don’t know.

The next day, we wandered around to some specialty stores related to hobbies of mine, which was quite fruitful, then headed to the Basque Block downtown. About the only place in the world with more Basques than Boise, we are told, is Euskadi itself (Spain’s Basque country). Stopped in at one of Boise’s more storied Basque spots, a tiny corner pub named Bar Gernika. (Accent on the second syllable–and yes, the name refers back to Guernica, of Spanish Civil War tragic fame.) I liked my paella and croquetas, and Deb enjoyed her selection as well. Lots of Basque flags there (looks much like a Union Jack but with a green background). Did not try my Spanish there; one suspects it is widely spoken, but as the language of what Basques would consider an oppressor, might be a real bad start with people.

Headed out earlier today, and decided to describe the travel, for those who have never been to this part of the world. A trip from Boise to the Tri-Cities of Washington mostly crosses northeastern Oregon on I-84, which can be formidable in winter even though the summit of the Blue Mountains is only just over 4000′. From Boise to Ontario, OR is fairly flat past croplands and medium-sized towns like Nampa and Caldwell, enjoying Idaho’s 75 mph speed limit. (I could not stop calling the former ‘Nampon’ in my mind. I may one day blurt it out.) At the Oregon line, speed drops to 65, shortly after which comes the climb up to Baker City, and the trucks begin slipping back shortly after crossing from Mountain Time to Pacific Time. Soon one sees the first of many breathtaking vales and valleys, which almost become dull: the majestic turns commonplace. One eyesore: an old lime plant in full decrepitude, looks like a lot of kids go where they would be wiser not to and mess around in the ruins. I guess kids need to do stupid things in order to adventure and learn.

At this point in late winter, the road is clear but the mountains surrounding are still quite snowy where one can see that the sun doesn’t strike directly for long during the day. There is usually a river near the freeway, or a snowy field, or a herd of cattle, often all three. Snow drift barriers are rarely out of sight; these look like fence sections leaning over, and exist to control the heavy drifting of snow–presumably onto the freeway, since most are close to it. North of Baker some miles, a sign announces that you’re crossing the 45th parallel. It feels compelled to explain that this means you are halfway between the Equator and North Pole, which says a lot about the state of geography education in this country. From Baker to La Grande is more very empty and pretty country, where the freeway sides are often far apart and many steep descents and climbs show up. In numerous spots, wide roadside areas advise that one may use them to chain up–indeed, in winter, carrying chains or having traction tires is the law in this stretch of the Blues. Even though it’s in the 40s, the wind at a rest stop is punishingly hard and cold, a reminder of what it’s like to make your living up here.

Past La Grande some miles, one begins to descend out of the Blues, and one sees those signs that are the clearest signs that one is in a mountainous part of the West: RUNAWAY TRUCK RAMP 5 MILES. Other signs set aside areas for trucks to check brakes, give speed guidance based on gross weight, and otherwise make absolutely clear that everyone on the freeway knows the danger. This is when it hits you. If in your rear view mirror (which you should check frequently), you see a semi barreling down on you at what looks to be 90 mph and accelerating, he hasn’t gone crazy or decided to bully cars (as trucks sometimes do, in my experience). He’s lost his brakes, is hoping not to roll his rig before he reaches a runaway ramp, and he can not stop. You can get out of his way, or die. The runaway ramps themselves are steep tracks into the mountainside located at bends which a runaway truck could not hope to survive at those speeds, paved with loose crushed rock (probably a couple of feet deep), to soak up the speed in conjunction with the steep climb up the slope. The first one I passed had numerous ruts, some all the way to the top of the ramp. If you weren’t checking your mirror before seeing that, you would start. Deadman Pass is along this stretch, and it’s not inaptly named. Just a couple months earlier this winter, a busload of Korean exchange students going to Canada from Las Vegas went down a steep embankment at Deadman Pass. Nine fatalities, dozens injured. To stay alive up here, one best look alive.

For my trip, happily, everyone’s brakes were fine. Coming down toward Pendleton (yes, home of the Roundup), one crosses wide farming areas on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. On the way there, I had seen a tribal police speed trap, and watched my speed carefully this time–but the only speed trap on the way back on Umatilla land was an OSP van hidden in a clever defile. From Pendleton to the Columbia is rolling high desert, heavy with sagebrush and offering the turn onto I-82 north for home. I pass at one point the hundreds of bunkers in which the nation once stored enough nerve gas to wipe out a fair percentage of humanity. I always feel happy when I’m onto the bridge and the sign welcomes me to Washington. I feel a little less happy when other signs start to harangue me about various laws, but I guess we need them. Limit is 70 in Washington on this part of I-82, which seems kind of symbolic that we’re partly like Oregon and partly like Idaho. Of course, as always, the Oregon license plates will tailgate one even more readily in Washington than in Oregon–they take deep personal umbrage at being impeded in any way, even if there are four other cars ahead, and will come up within a yard of your rear bumper. I’ve never figured out why they do this, but it got old a long time ago.

These drives used to be worse before the Ipod came along. I got four and a half hours of Viking metal quality time, though my truck is noisy enough that I must jack up the volume in order to hear anything over the background road noise. Pick up the dog from Rich and Betsy (bless them), drop off some Basque sausage for them (Rich is Pennsylvania Polish, thus the perfect tidbit), and home to some cold beers.

After four and a half hours in the saddle, with only one ten-minute leak break, I need them.