Sunday, July 20, 2008

On location

I am halfway through my trip to the Big City -- Portland. I do this about once per month and it increasingly feels like I’m driving into a whirlpool or hurricane… starting the wind-up far outside the city proper, but getting faster and more chaotic as I get closer. I used to live in Portland, but I have taken to the country like moss takes to a shady roof, and I now go in under duress only. There are noticeable differences between the country and city, such as:

- the country truck stops advertise “free side of bacon“; the city stops lure with “free internet”
- in the city, the truck stops/rest stops are spaced much closer to the approximate capacity of a middle-age woman’s bladder; in the country, they are set up for truckers who have access to lots of empty bottles
- one truck stop is still advertising a free cup of coffee with fill up -- for $100, you should get a free meal… or motel room!
- as I get closer to the city, the sky changes color. Right now it looks apricot, laced with lead gray
- the corrugated concrete walls that line the city highways remind me of community college campuses, where they were too poor to afford architects and/or they gave the architecture students the job, and ended up with poured concrete bunkers.. perhaps the students were visualizing the full weight of the loans they were incurring…
- all the cars and trucks are hospital-clean and sparkling in the city, despite the drought. Most of the time, I don’t notice that I haven’t washed my truck in a year, but now I feel like a Beverly Hillbillies advertisement. In fact, the gas station attendant (yes, we still have them in OR) was trying really hard not to lean against my truck as he washed the windows…. a hint? And hey - how much are we paying taxes to wash and re-wash all these state, city and federal cars that I see on the road?? Is this a good investment of our tax dollars? I think not…

and speaking of ads -- in the city they’ve migrated from the billboards onto any moving vehicle (the little Zap electric trucks can only handle a website address, the SUVs have four-color photographs wrapped around them) and at least half of the multi-storied brick buildings! Five-story Pabst ads a block wide leave me nauseated and bloated - much like the beer itself

- and ads have gotten more stupid since I left the city. Shell is now pleading, “Avoid gunking up your engine” with a big arrow pointing to some greasy part and the words “Engine gunk” -- that’s the level of comprehension they believe drivers are capable of??
- I notice they’re now advertising motel rooms as “economy studios” - as if they haven’t always been one room with multiple uses…

…and of course, the ever-present beggers on every highway and major arterial ramp in the city: men and women from teen to tottering, with cardboard signs and sometimes a dog, presenting their hopeless condition to the drivers forced to stop within shouting distance at the ramp lights (which we also don’t have/need in the countryside). I don’t know why these hobos -- excuse me, "rural nomads" (city-speak)-- don’t show up in rural areas, but it might be that their offers to work might be taken quite seriously by the farmers and other businesses. The pristine track shoes that many of these guys wear suggest they haven’t even walked that far, let alone worked in the dirt much. I feel ganged up on when I have to run the gauntlet of these beggers, who do tug at my heartstrings, despite the fact that I know they are dropped off from a van every morning and picked up again that evening (I have friends in social services). City folk have long since become cynical and immune, but I guess my immunity has worn off.

During the two hour drive I didn’t notice more than two very large RV “buses” of the type that used to cram the highways in summer… like the dinosaurs, they seem to have gone extinct… although I passed several car lots selling them - and advertising free lottery tickets with each RV bought - probably so you can afford gas. I wonder if all the Gramma and Gramps who got stuck in some “scenic” single-grocery hamlet, a day’s drive from any coffee shop, are now busily writing postcards home: “Dear Junior and Sue - weather fine, Oregon is very big. Please send money. Love, your parents.”

Passing by all the fields where harvest is in full swirl, I wondered at the strange, convoluted machines that they’ve got to pick and cull and sort. How did farmers figure out how to mechanize all of these hand-picking processes? And how many fields did they destroy while they were testing?? I can just see the vineyard: “Grab,grab, grab - oops!… Next row…” One gizmo looks like a little house on wheeled stilts,with a peaked roof above the driver, and just enough room for a stack of empty berry flats behind his seat. I wasn’t close enough to see if they were like a Dixie-cup dispenser - drop the empty flats down one by one, fill the bottom one, drop it on the ground for the “flat-picker-upper machine”… the gophers and rats must think they’re hallucinating sometimes… “Wow, dude - look at that monster with the seventeen spiked tentacles” “Man, you’ve got to stop nibbling that Jimson weed!”

I notice our native species adapt pretty quickly: since we’re chopping down the tall firs, eagles have colonized the cell towers with huge stick nests in the metal crown of antennae. Animals are in many ways more clever than we are at using whatever is at hand. And since they’re endangered, they probably get to flip a feathered finger to the Sprint and Verizon engineers.

I passed a sign for the Jefferson Museum of Power - this is the country, so they are referring to trucks and machines of all types, not political bigwigs. Country museums are so much more fun than city museums. The city museums only display pieces that are worth at least as much as the fancy display cases they use; the country places have gotten their cases from bankrupt Sears and Woolworths’ and cram them full of anything and everything. The city has stenciled plaques on each piece listing the “provenance” or pedigree - the country might have a handwritten note of who donated it and when; I guess you’re supposed to find that fellow if you want mre info. The city now has audiotaped tours to create an autistic experience as we roam in herds through the huge, 80 percent empty rooms; the country has some old guy watching the front door who’s so bored that he follows you around and tells you stories about the stuff as he keeps you from tripping over the worst of the clutter.

I think it was funny that I actually had a harder time staying on the road using my new digital recorder than I used to when handwriting on my lap. But I have to keep looking at the recorder to see if it is recording and where (what file folder, was it overwriting, etc.)… with a pad of paper, I know I’m recording unless the pencil point breaks or the pen runs out of ink. But OTOH, it has been difficult to listen to my smug voice as I relate some joke I think is brilliant, which on second listen is actually quite lame.

Anyway, that’s it for now… more city life later…

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