Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Ron Gay, the Mayor of Wallowa, owns the town liquor store. Really, do I have to say anything more?
41 down, 201 to go.

Friday, August 7, 2009


After our week in La Grande was up, we couldn't bear the thought of heading home to Portland so soon so we booked a night at the Union Hotel. On our way to Union, I happened to get in touch with Mayor Jim Lundy of Cove. Cove is kind off a highway that is off a highway, so you really have no reason to go through there unless you're really trying to go through there. In fact, this was only the second time I had been there--and both times I've had to stop in at the market to ask for directions.
The entire town is on a gentle slope at the base of Mt. Fanny facing west-southwesterly, something my wife immediately picked up on. At our house the sun seems to go down an hour earlier than everywhere else in the world because of Forest Park being directly to our west. But here in Cove, sunset is probably at a more Mid-Western, acceptable (to her) time. Cove's unique topography might explain why they have one of the region's only wineries.
Mayor Lundy invited us to sit down in the shade of his deck while he autographed our map and he told us a little about life in Cove. I swear if there was lemonade involved, we probably would have stayed there all day because Mayor Lundy is one of the friendliest and most interesting people we met on our trip to Eastern Oregon. The man keeps bees, for chrissakes.
The Lundy family and their yorkiedoodle (?) live on about an acre of this gently sloped land on the eastern edge of town. He has a little creek that feeds his garden and apple trees year round, although he explained to me that Cove was originally "prune tree country." Apparently the landscape around Cove was dotted with prune drying houses years ago that would occasionally burst into flames and destroy the entire town. I find it fascinating that in addition to all the other things one had to worry about 60 years ago in Eastern Oregon, prune house fires could destroy your livestock, house, barn, or entire town on a whim. Maybe that's why we call them dried plums now.
40 down, 202 to go.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

North Powder

We just came back from 9 days in northeastern Oregon. We saw many things, and met many mayors. But one of the main reasons I scheduled our visit for last week was because of the North Powder Huckleberry Festival. Firstly, I love huckleberries and anyone that doesn't is seriously misinformed. And secondly, I was intrigued by the promise of something called "Chicken Poop Keno." I had a pretty good idea what it involved, and if you guessed that you buy a square for a dollar to bet on where a chicken is going to poop, then you've got a pretty good idea what it involves as well.
Near the base of the Wallowa Mountains in the Baker Valley, North Powder holds about 500 or so people about a half a mile from Interstate 84. It's a hot, desolate place in the summertime with the only shade on the downtown parade route coming from the shadow of the abandoned tavern. Like most places in Eastern Oregon, their mill closed down sometime in the 60s or 70s and most of the people that live there now commute to La Grande or Baker City for work. The sidewalks are kinda crumbly for lack of any considerable tax base, and their fire truck is as old as I am--possibly older. In other words, I love it. And I love it even more when there's a frickin' HUCKLEBERRY PARADE going west down the very Main Street that covers up original wagon ruts from the Oregon Trail.
The Rose Parade, this was not: You'll find no dazzling floats of 200,000 peonies here. But you will see some sort of freakishly midget horses pulling a wagon of toddlers, a hot rod doing cookies mere feet away from spectators, a cheerleading team made up entirely of 8-year-olds, and tractors. Lots and lots of tractors. Our son was extremely impressed and excited when someone from the back of a fire truck threw candy at him. He still talks about it.
Gravy Dave's from nearby Union was serving huckleberry ice cream, and someone was selling huckleberry doughnuts. Every few minutes or so, some guy on an ATV drove by selling official huckleberry t-shirts. There was a dunk tank. There was a sack race. There was a bluegrass band made up of teenagers. It was just so damn small-town American that I almost called my realtor and put our house on the market right then and there, devoted to move right away to North Powder for the rest of my days, even if that damn chicken wouldn't poop on lucky number 49. C'mon chicken! Baby needs a new pair of shoes!
Interesting fact: The Mayor of North Powder, Bonita Hebert, is actually my plumber's wife's cousin. So it was no problem finding her--I just had to walk up to the parade announcer and ask where she was. After I told him why I was looking for her, he announced over the PA that "If anyone knows where Bonita is, tell her to come to the booth." She had heard about our little trek to get all the Mayor's autographs, so when she first walked up I think we shared one of those awkward "do we hug?" moments. Maybe I'm wrong about that. I don't know. Pretty cute for a Mayor, though, so now I'm almost regretting not hugging her.
This year had the highest turnout ever for the North Powder Huckleberry Festival, according to Mayor Hebert. If you're not doing anything in August of 2010, I strongly suggest you make the trek.
39 down, 203 to go. (I'm about 50 or so behind with the whole blogging thing. I'll try to catch up.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009


First thing you should know about Beaverton, at least if you're a Portlander like I am: Tri-met works on a 3-zone system, and your 2-zone ticket will NOT fly in this town. Henry and I got kicked off the #57 bus at the Beaverton Transit Center after we got off the MAX, so we walked to city hall from there. The driver was actually kind of mean about it, saying, "It says so right on the sign outside," in a very condescending manner. It did, in fact explain in small print on the sign at the transit center that we were indeed in Zone 3, but as I explained to the bus driver, "Sorry, I've never purposely spent any time in Beaverton before."
And it's true, most people just drive through Beaverton on the way to somewhere else, thinking--as I did up until yesterday--that it was nothing but wide fast-moving streets full of Home Depots and Targets and various strip malls. But through the magic of teh internets and my friend Brenda from high school, I've found that Beaverton is actually not a bad place at all once you get out of your car. I found this site via youtube (and am borrowing the above picture from them until I unload my camera) and decided to take the day off with little Henry to visit the fountain at Beaverton City Park. It's about about 10 blocks from the Transit Center--should you find yourself walking there. Once you get away from the 5-lane boulevards that seem to traverse Beaverton in every direction you'll find yourself in quiet--almost deserted--little downtown filled with little shops and restaurants. Brenda and I took our respective children to Ava Roasteria, a coffee shop/sandwich cafe run by teenagers whose website will surprise you with Spanish-inspired guitar music about 10 seconds after you click on it.
Beaverton used to bring up weird alternative-universe feelings in me for some reason. It's as though I could totally see myself living there if things had turned out differently: The manicured lawn, the Costco membership, the 9-5 job, the commuting. Company golf tournaments, discussions about LCD vs. Plasma, casual Friday, 401k, a pet dog. Turns out (with the glaring exception of Brenda's cherry Buick SUV), people in Beaverton aren't really that much different from me. Their taxes are lower, their sandwiches crappier, and their bus drivers meaner, but other than that I think you could plop my family down in Beaverton and no one would be the wiser.
Mayor Denny Doyle, with his very un-Mayoral gangster-sounding name, has autographed our map. There's an unsubstantiated rumor that Beaverton is the most densely-populated city in Oregon, but I forgot to ask him about that.
38 down, 204 to go.

Friday, July 3, 2009


As expansive as Eastern Oregon is, sometimes it's the little things that stand out. Take the "zebra" room at the Northwestern Motel for example. Is there any reason--any possible reason--that this place should actually exist? Counting pillows, headboards, throw rugs, lamps, and other accouterments, I counted 31 pieces of zebra flair in that room. And it's just one of several themed rooms in the one-story, late-1940s, courtyard-style piece of kitschy goodness that is the Northwestern. Sitting out in the courtyard around 10:30 or so, we learned a lot about life in Heppner. The best job on the ODOT crew is to run backhoe, and don't trust Sheila as a babysitter, for example.
Heppner kinda bills itself as a sort of Irish town. Their cute downtown has a giant shamrock in the middle of the main intersection, and even their municipal garbage cans have shamrocks instead of little round holes for your trash. They also have a "Wee Bit O' Ireland" festival every year in March. As far as I could tell, churches outnumbered bars four to one, which is probably about right depending on how Catholic you're leaning. We had a horrible time trying to find something to eat during our stay, as it seems that none of the restaurants we saw had a real kitchen--just panini machines and microwaves. In all fairness, it looked like two of the restaurants were closed for remodeling or because it was Monday. We did find some sandwiches at a very eclectic 50's-themed antique mall sorta place.
Maybe it's because we had just spent three days out at the Deer Creek Guard Station, but I was really in the mood for a real beer when we got to Heppner. Best I could find at the grocery store (also conveniently located downtown) was a sixer of Mirror Pond, which was fine, but it made me think that if I had a spare million laying around I'd totally open up a brewpub in Heppner. It's pretty much the perfect place for one: A cute downtown, lots of people that probably like beer, and the nearest microbrewery has to be at least 100 miles away. Instead, we went bowling at the weirdest bowling alley on earth: The Youth Stable. I think it might actually be an old bowling alley that is slowly converting to a church annex. Half of the lanes are currently in the process of being torn out and replaced with air hockey tables and such, but it was just as good a place as any for our 27-month-old to learn how to roll. Thankfully he came in third, but just barely. I later checked out the bar in town, Bucknum's. It's like every other bar in any town under 10,000 people: Since the smoking ban, even bars in rural Eastern Oregon are soulless pits of depression with no character. Taking out the smell of cigarettes from bars only highlights the other more offensive smells: Fryer grease, cheap cologne, and urinal cakes. Lots and lots of urinal cakes.
We missed Mayor Leslie Paustian by five minutes on Monday afternoon, but the nice ladies at City Hall held onto our map overnight and made sure the Mayor autographed it by the next morning.
Heppner was probably one of our most fun towns so far, but my wife said something completely epiphanic while we were sitting in the courtyard of the motel among the tipsy young party-girls hitting on the visiting ODOT workers: "It's a nice town, but we would have had a LOT of fun in this place five years ago."
37 down, 205 to go.

Friday, May 8, 2009


The first thing I noticed about Sodaville Mayor Thomas Brady Harrington was that he didn't quite fit the stereotypical "Mayor" mold that I've gotten used to.  He's young, kinda scrappy, and friendly in more of a drinking buddy way than a statesman sorta way.  I met him in Salem at the Oregon Mayor's Conference and we talked a little about tubing down the Santiam outside of Waterloo, and a little about Sodaville in general.  He seemed like a nice guy and was definitely enjoying his first month of being the new Mayor of a town with just over 300 people.  
A couple months later I was in the Fairview Mayor's office and he asked me if I had met the "convicted felon Mayor."  I had no idea we had an Oregon Mayor that was convicted of a felony, and Mayor Weatherby couldn't remember what town he governed, so I just sort of forgot about it and went off to Canby for another autograph.  Well, a few weeks later I was talking with some folks from Lebanon, who told me the whole story.  Turns out, it's kinda interesting:
Sodaville, originally and ironically named for it's mineral water springs, was having a problem with their municipal water system.  Not enough water for the whole town, so they were having to truck it in from Albany and the city budget was in real trouble.  As the election for the new Mayor neared, the two names on the ballot were incumbent Ronda Bennett and Thomas Harrington.  Mayor Harrington won by just 13 votes, but after the election many of the townspeople admitted that they thought they were voting for Thomas Harrington Senior, the owner of a rock products place in town.  In a way, it's almost the same plot for the movie The Distinguished Gentleman starring Eddie Murphy.  Check out this news story about the whole thing.  It's kinda fun, and when you see Mayor Harrington's mugshots you'll understand why I felt he was a little different when he autographed our map.
There's a happy ending to this story presumably on the way.  With federal stimulus money, Sodaville may soon have the necessary $628,000 to upgrade their facilities.  The best news--for me anyway--is that convicted felons can still be Mayor.  Watch out in 2024, Woodburn!  I'm officially announcing my candidacy.  
  36 down, 206 to go.

Monday, May 4, 2009


One of these days I'm going to quit my job and move to Astoria. I have been saving almost $70 per month since I got married, so at this rate I'll be there in 2108. Can't wait. I'll find an easily remodeled ranch in the South Slope neighborhood and teach old people how to kayak in Young's Bay. Seriously, Astoria has everything a transplanted Portlander would need: A natural foods store, a cafe that serves Stumptown, multiple places to enjoy a microbrew, a strip club, dive bars, and even the Columbia River just to remind you that you're never to far from home.
Hood River is a close second, but Astoria is my first choice for a place to lie low for an extended weekend. And there's no better place to do just that than the old Astoria Red Lion. That place must have been built just before the decline of the logging and fishing industry, and I imagine it must have been the jewel of the north coast after it was built. Every room has a sweeping view of the bridge and the marina with a deck right over the water. These days the attached restaurant has long been abandoned, and sometimes (when the maintenance people accidentally leave it unlocked) you can sneak inside and wander through the upturned mold-covered barstools and the rotting tablecloths while pretending you're in a post-apocalyptic version of 1980s Astoria. I once saw a mongrel pup limping out of there with what looked like a platter of potato skin apps, but it was late and I was just walking back from the Triangle Tavern so I could have imagined it. By the way, the smoking ban is all well and good but if there's any place in this state that you should be allowed to smoke, it's the Triangle. Two lawn chairs behind the building on a cold spring night just ain't going to cut it, especially since you can't bring your beer back there.
Astoria and its Red Lion have been with me through thick and thin. I spent two days there the weekend before I got married. Knowing my friends would throw me the world's most cliche bachelor party if I didn't get out of town, I hightailed it to Astoria and hid in the Wet Dog Cafe until it was time to tie the knot. Although technically littering, I took a friend of mine out there during one of the worst winter storms I've ever seen and we sent messages in bottles to his estranged girlfriend via the choppy Columbia and empty bottles of Henry's Blue Boar. To this day I'm sure you can find a dozen drunken missives addressed to Rita Tiwari at the bottom of the mooring basin. My ex-girlfriend downed a three-egg breakfast at the Pig-N-Pancake too quickly and had the most amazing upchucking experience I've ever encountered--barfing them up cleanly and neatly back onto the plate, a slightly different color but the exact same consistency. Good times.
I met Mayor Willis Van Dusen at City Hall, an amazingly beautiful building in historic downtown Astoria. Julie Lampi, the executive secretary, totally hooked me up with a Monday morning meeting and hung out with me while I waited. I had never met an executive secretary to a Mayor before, so I was relieved that she was so friendly. Before I walked up to the third floor where the Mayor's office is, I noticed that City Hall is attached to an abandoned hotel. Julie told me that it's called the Waldorf, and because Waldorf, Germany is the sister city of Astoria, it's slightly embarassing when one of their representatives visits to see that the Waldorf Hotel in Astoria is a neglected, boarded-up, yet gorgeous old building (for those of you keeping score at home, Waldorf, Germany is the birthplace of John Jacob Astor, for whom Astoria is named for). I wish I could afford to buy it and turn it into something. Oh, I should also mention that the poster for the movie "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III" is prominently displayed in the grand hallways of City Hall. I bring that up only because I wanted to get through this post without saying anything about the Goonies.
Mayor Van Dusen showed up and graciously signed our map even though I think I may have made him late for another meeting. He was wearing an Oregon Ducks coat, which proves my theory that any coastal mayor north of Yachats is a Ducks fan. One of the first things he asked me was who the most unfriendly Mayor I had met so far. I was so taken aback by the question that I actually answered it without hesitation. What a random question, I thought, but was too surprised to hem and haw. I'm willing to bet that Mayor Van Dusen uses that tactic a lot in his mayoral duties, and he probably gets a lot of straight answers out of people that way. He had just dealt with the plane crash from a few days before, so maybe that was it.

35 down, 207to go.