It’s a hot quiet weekday morning in Falls City, Oregon, which is more of a town than a city, at least by the standards of a northern Californian who has lived in Santa Rosa and San Francisco. There’s a post office, a high school with an award-winning principal, and a volunteer fire department. Big lumber trucks from Valetz, now a ghost town, and once a thriving community, cruise down Main Street with newly harvested trees bound for the sawmill. Driving West on Oregon highways, I saw hillsides that had been clear cut and reforested. Some one was ecologically minded or maybe thinking about a renewal resource.
Falls City seems to be largely autonomous, though there is no coffee shop and no public library. There is one of those little libraries that are ubiquitous. This one had a dozen or so paperbacks. My friends, who recently mored from Sebastopol to Falls City, tell me that the town is a mirror of America with blue collar workers, some with small arsenals and also counter cultural folks who preach the gospel of live and let live. I met some of them at the three-day Pride festival. They were tattooed, had body piercings and wore costumes, mostly Barbie pink, the color of this summer. Two sheriffs deputies stood around and smiled. Good PR for law enforcement. A woman who called herself Wonder Woman, and who had relocated from California greeted arrivals and flirted, too.
The Falls City general store sells burritos. There is a bakery owned by two gay men and a bar, the Boondocks, owned by two lesbians. I haven’t met a Latino or an Asian in a week. I did meet a talkative Moslem, his wife and daughter in Newport on the coast, and there was also a group of Amish women and men who wore their traditional garb. Ahmed, the Moslem, wanted to talk and did. The Amish hardly spoke a word. They clustered around one another as though for safety.
Ahmed said he was born on the border between Morocco and Algeria and that the French who colonized the region outlawed his religion. So much for liberty, equality and fraternity. Ahmed came to the US decades ago, taught math at a college and assimilated. Now he practices his religion without fear, he said. He basked in the sun, talked freely and watched his wife and daughter stroll on a beach dotted with tourists from near and far who had escaped from the heat in the interior.
This is only my fourth visit to Oregon. On the first visit I attended a marijuana confab when a measure on the ballot called for the legalization of weed. The measure failed, but Oregonian lawyers and their clients smoked weed openly. Now there are marijuana dispensaries almost everywhere in the state, though not in Falls City. I purchased two pre-rolled joints at a dispensary in Monmouth and tried to pay, first with a debit card and then with a credit card as I do in San Francisco. No go. I handed over a $20 bill. Later in the day I got stoned on Oregon weed.
I was wearing a hat that said “Cold War Veteran” that might explain why the fellow behind the counter looked at me suspiciously.
I figure that anyone who lived through the Cold War is a Cold War veteran. When I wear the hat I’m usually told, “Thanks for serving our country.” Sometimes I’m treated to coffee and a muffin, No harm done, I figure. Like my parents and members of their generation, and like members of the Silent Generation and the Boomers, I endured Cold War bullshit and lies about the bomb. Now the bullshit is about the new Cold War in Ukraine.
On my second visit to Oregon, I connected with friends who had fled from Berkeley because they couldn’t afford to live there, but who could afford to live in Portland, a city that has many of the same social problems as any sizable city in the US. On the drive from the Portland airport to Falls City I saw tents and camps for the homeless. I’m told that in Oregon opioid use is out of control. In 2023, there’s nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide from urban problems unless you belong to the super rich and can afford to live in enclaves for the 1%. On my third visit to Oregon, I hiked along the Columbia River in a forest torched by a wild fire with blackened trees that went on for miles. California has no monopoly on environmental disaster.
Mid-way through my stay in Falls City, the TV in my friends’ living room, brought news of Trump’s indictment. Hurray! Washington, D.C., and the ex-president’s attempt to hijack the popular vote, seemed a long way off, and so did LA. I watched the Dodgers swept the As and then head for San Diego. They were bound for the World Series. The summer of 2023 would go down in history, I figured, as the summer before the shit really hit the fan. Trump might well be re-elected and then pardon himself. Isn’t that the American way? I think so. In Corvallis, home of Oregon State University, I enjoyed a local IPA and chatted with a long-haired hippie refugee from Virginia who complained about the lack of diversity in Oregon by ethnic and and culinary standards. Still, he was happy he had relocated. My friends missed their California community.
In Falls City, I ate exceedingly well night after night. The gal of the house, who was also the gal of the garden, had brought her recipes and cook books with her from northern California and cooked up a storm for seven days. I might have had anxieties about the political and cultural climate of the nation and global warming, but I ate exceeding well and I was grateful to have friends in a town that might be forgiven for calling itself a city and that had made room for Oregonians and ex-Californians of all stripes and sizes.