Oregon is a state that does things in a way befitting its geographical location. When you’re bordered on the north by coffee-addled tech geeks in Washington, pot-loving Northern California hillbillies (and as I live in California, I guarantee you there are as many backwoods rednecks there as in the entire South), a section of the gambling mecca of Nevada on the southeast, and Idaho, you’re going to end up with a place where contradictions rule.
And what contradictions there are in the Beaver State.
First off, Oregon should be called the Duck State. The University of Oregon (Ducks) have become a college sports powerhouse, get most the state’s sports fans’ attention, and all of Nike founder (and U. of O. alum) Phil Knight’s money. Also, Eugene, home of Ducks, is right off of I-5, the main north-south highway running through Oregon, and eventually up to Canada.
Conversely, the Beavers, of Oregon State, are perpetually in a position of playing second fiddle to their avian cousins, both on the gridiron and in affections of Oregonians. And Corvallis, where Oregon State is located, is somewhere between the Pacific Ocean and Nevada, for all I know.
There’s the the state’s politics. Oregon had voted Republican in pretty much every presidential election through 1984. The older George Bush didn’t do so well with the Oregon crowd in ‘88, and the state has voted Democrat ever since. I can’t say for certain if presidential politics had anything to do with Oregon voters’ decision to vote in legalized pot back in 2015, but I’m sure that choice has only helped the business at the famous Voodoo Doughnut shops in Eugene and Portland.
But, whatever your politics are, Oregon has you covered.
For those opposed to the government sucking away too much of your taxes, Oregon is a shoppers’ utopia as it has no sales tax. On anything. If that new refrigerator you’ve had your eye on says it costs $2,000, well, $2K it is. Same for whatever that 12-pack of Deschutes Brewiing Inversion IPA might cost. And anyone knows that tax-free beer is about the best kind of beer you can drink.
On the opposite end of that bit of libertarianism is the nanny-state angle of government providing full employment, even if you don’t deserve a job.
Have you ever tried to pump your own gas in Oregon? Well, don’t. Because, like its east-coast brethren, New Jersey, Oregon doesn’t allow self-service gas. It’s all full service, like in the days of the old Men of Texaco. (When you pull up to the pump, you might even get someone to clean off your windshield, but don’t look for any free glasses and promotional swag with your fill up today.)
The legend is that in Oregon, gasoline is legally a “hazardous material.” I guess this means Oregon lawmakers think we civilians don’t have the safety skills and training necessary for pumping gas on our own and will just spray unleaded all over the place if given the chance. Once, in Eugene, I asked a gas jockey why Oregon didn’t have self-service gas stations. He paused, contemplated in a possibly semi-stoned manner for a moment, and answered, “Uh…I dunno. Maybe it’s to give everyone a job?”
So, there you go. Old-fashioned communism is alive and well at your local Oregon Chevron stop.
Oregon is also a surprisingly long state. We drive up from Oakland every summer to visit my mom in Tacoma. It takes us about six hours to get through what is typically thought of as “Northern California” to make it to the Oregon border. And after all of that, there are still about eight or nine hours worth of Oregon to get through before we cross the Columbia River into Washington. But on that drive, there are many very “Oregon” sights to see.
We’ve all been stuck behind, or nearly pancaked by, a semi-truck. In 48 of our states, that semi can have, at most, two trailers attached to it. But in Oregon (and also Idaho), there’s a good chance that a three-trailer-long semi road train will blow past you on the highway. And whenever I’m on one of those highways, I still find it strange to see signs reading “SPEED 65” instead of “SPEED LIMIT 65,” like you find everywhere else.
However fast you are driving, if you stay on I-5, for the entire length so Oregon, you will reach Siskyou Summit, which at 4,310 feet is the highest point on the highway that runs from the border with Canada to the border with Mexico. And when you hit Salem, you’ll want to keep your eyes open for the 45th parallel sign. You’re only halfway to the North Pole or equator, depending on which way you’re going.
Want to experience some non-native to Oregon wildlife? Take a turn off of I-5 south of Roseburg and drive through Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon. You can have an emu or a zebra stick its head in your car as you drive through the park. Go a little farther south, head west once you get to Grants Pass, and before long, you’ll be learning about Bengal tigers, African lions and even Geoffroy’s Cat at Great Cats Wild Cat Park in Cave Junction. Head toward the town of Merlin and you can see how orphaned wild animals are treated and raised at the Wildlife Images Rehabilitation & Education Center.
With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Cascades running through part of the system it’s no surprise that Oregon is a very green state. And it’s gotten even greener ever since marijuana for recreational use became legal in Oregon in late 2015.
One night in Medford, we drove two miles from our hotel to go to dinner and passed by no less than five pot stores. If the green cross that’s become the symbol of the American pot shop didn’t make the locations’ purpose clear enough, names like “Pharm to Table Dispensary”, “Patients Helping Patients”, and my personal favorite, “Hijinx Cannabis” left little doubt that the old drugstore soda fountain has a different clientele these days.
Pot’s a growing business in Oregon; The state took in $54 million in taxes from weed sales during the first 11 months of 2016, alone, and that amount is only going to (no pun intended) get higher. But, anyone who wants to fire up a bowl is fine by me as long as they are at home and eating a bag of Fritos while they get high.
And besides, Oregon’s always had a bit of a stoner vibe to it, and stoners love their munchies. There’s money to be made in stoner snacks. If I were the CEO of Voodoo Doughnut, I would buy up store space next door to every one of Oregon’s nearly 300 state-licensed pot shops and watch the real green roll in.