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  SIX THINGS YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT: OREGON.  
   
   
 

Oregon: it's the woodsy belly between Washington's ample bosom and California's Pilates-toned legs; exporter of Tonya Harding and fine timber products; simultaneous birthplace of the Nike superdynasty and fleece as dresswear; purveyor of really killer weed (so I've read). There are many, many more than six things you don't know about Oregon, primarily because you, like most of the country, don't give a flying shit about our fair Beaver State. But it's all good, that's just the way we like it, although to be honest, we're too stoned to get aggro about it right now.

So pass the Tofu Paté and gather round the hemp-product campfire, because you're about to change your reality in the moment and learn six things your Chi-blocked kharmic spirit already knew about Oregon -- but you didn't.

 

 
 

#1: Steve Prefontaine is Our Jim Morrison.

Sort of immortalized by Billy Crudup in "Without Limits" and Jared Leto in that other movie, Steve Prefontaine doesn't mind that we all call him Pre, because he's been dead since the Seventies.

The late mustachioed hero of track and field enjoys his posthumous status because he injected a palpable fire into long-distance running, the most boring sport humanity ever invented. Pre jogged and facial-haired his way from coastal Coos Bay to Eugene's University of Oregon in the early 1970s and quickly became the fire-hearted hero of Bill Bowerman's legendary track team, leaving all other puny mortal collegiate distance-runners in his custom-shod dust. When he was a 19-year-old freshman, Pre made the cover of Sports Illustrated under the cover line "America's Distance Prodigy" -- and then went on to win four consecutive championships in the 5,000 meters.

Pre's devastating fourth-place finish at the 1972 Munich Olympics broke Oregon's heart. But even more heartbreaking is what could have been. When Pre died in that car wreck in 1975, he was poised to make a breakthrough/comeback in 1976 in Montreal -- and held almost every American record in every race between 2,000 and 10,000 meters.

Let Tennessee have its Elvis and England its Beatles. We'll stick with Pre, who embodied everything that Oregon is: running your ass off for no particular reason through torrential rain in front of no audience just because it makes you feel alive.

 

#2: We Speak Our Own Language.

If you're not from around here, it takes a while to understand the preferred Oregon mother tongue: Really Self-Righteous Earnest.

You see, the before about 1969, Oregon was actually just a cluster of truck stops and porn huts (you know, like Florida), until one day some guy in a souped-up VW camper-bus took the brown acid by mistake and overshot San Fran by about a thousand miles. He was out of gas, so he figured he'd just turn the camper van into a "bus-home," found a natural-foods store and a Montessori school, and spread the good word. Soon thousands of hippies followed his lead, and with every passing Grateful Dead concert more of them migrated there and just stayed around, bringing their insufferable kindness and sincerity with them and passing it onto their offspring, which they named Morning Star, Willow, Free, Moon or Dhanya.

There's no way to become fluent in Earnest without turning into a neo-hippie, but if you do want to blend in during your visit to Oregon, it's helpful to adopt a few of the less-harmful terms.

For example, in Oregon one never gets upset about anything; one is rather stuck in a "negative headspace." Goods and services that cost a lot of money are not expensive -- they are "spendy." Sentences end in questiony cadence? Whether they're questions or not? And just because somebody trails off and is silent for ten minutes... doesn't mean they're finished talking, so it would be really cool of you? If you would maybe not interrupt.

 

#3: Oregon's a Desert, Really.

If you think driving through three states in one day is a "big deal," then Oregon will seem positively enormous. Way bigger than you think -- 98,386 square miles! We're the ninth largest state and with a patchouli-scented population of about 3.3 million, you're going to have some empty space. And a major hunk of ours is desert.

Which a choice like that, it's not surprising that people actually choose to live where it's rains -- the bulk of Oregon's people congregate in Eugene (pop. 150,000, "A Nuclear Free Zone, Got Any Weed?"), Portland (pop. 1 million, microbreweries per capita: 3) and state capital Salem (pop. 90,000, none of whom wanted to be my boyfriend in the fourth grade). These three booming cities all happen to be situated in the lush Willamette Valley (it rhymes with "dammit"). But what most people don't realize is that if you keep going east, arid expanses like the Klamath Basin and High Desert cover anywhere from half to two-thirds of the state's total land mass, depending on whether the Sierra Club or U.S. Forest Service made your map.

 

#4: We're Tax Free ... But Kinda Broke.


Sure, sales tax is a pain, but so is dying because you can't go to the doctor. How are the two related? Well, states get their budgets from three sources: income tax, property tax, and sales tax. And when you're a state like Oregon which has no sales tax and prides itself on low property taxes, you rely entirely on income tax for schools, roads, health care for the poor and middle class, police and rescue services, etc.

And when your unemployment rate is 8% like Oregon's, there suddenly isn't enough *income* to tax. But unlike the Federal government, you can't go $400 trillion in debt because you have a balanced-budget amendment in the state constitution. You're fucked. You'd ask the federal government for help, but they gave your budget to Ken Lay.

Oregon has had to deal with its floundering economy in several unsavory ways, including dropping over 500,000 people from the Oregon Health Plan, leaving almost one-sixth of the state's population uninsured. So if you move there from your state that doesn't even *have* insurance, either be rich or don't get sick!

 

#5: Dude. Oregon's Like, the Best Place to Live.

Oh, yeah. So, apparently pot's not criminalized in Oregon if you've got less than an ounce and you're not going to sell any of it or something. And what you get there is so much stronger than the glorified hay that the low-rent East-coast "dealers" peddle off onto people for $60 a bag that you can't even really put them on the same plane of existence ... although when you think about it, aren't we all on the same plane of existence? Yeah.

Anyway, the Weed of Understanding has a history almost as long and illustrious as Jerry-Beary's beard when he went truckin' off to the great hackey-sack circle in the sky. For instance, did you know that people in Oregon plant weed in the forest? In 2002, a forest fire torched the Siskiyou National Forest, lighting up the entire place and half the state got a buzz ... or would have, if they hadn't already roasted one with their breakfast tofu scramble.

But dude, dude, dude -- check this out. The mari-jahoobie isn't just for letting your mind unwind. It also makes it so you can munch some serious grub even when you're ridin' the chemo puke train. And that's why even though the narcs in D.C. still won't hip to it, Oregon voters legalized medical ganj for the treatment of HIV-related complications, cancer therapy, MS, glaucoma and chronic pain ... in 1998. Man, if only I could get me some chronic pain.

 

#6: You're Pronouncing Our State Wrong. Again.

Oregon is not pronounced like to hexagon or pentagon. We are not "Ore-Eye-GONE."

Just like that one place in Massachussets where Ben Affleck claims to be from or Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, the final syllable of "Oregon" is unstressed. The "o" is pronounced like the "uh" that grammarians everywhere know as the "English schwa." OR-uh-gun.

You see, the word "Oregon" derives from the French word for hurricaine, 'ouragan,' so named because once some cartographer fucked up and mistook us for Wisconsin, which might have actually been hit by a hurricaine once, though to be honest I spent most of American History class passing notes and trying to grow boobs. I don't know why it's not pronounced "Ore-eye-GONE," I really don't. But what I do know is that when Oregon was originally founded they didn't have sound recording yet. And what I also know is that it's my fucking state and so I don't have to justify its pronunciation to you, or anyone else. It's your job to say it right.

OR-uh-gun.

In the great spirit, borne of the pioneers, I do believe I challenge you to a good old-fashioned Oregon ass-kicking! Luckily for you, this consists of a 10K fun-run followed by bong hits and a chai latte, but still ... watch your back.

 

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