Tuesday, October 28, 2008

apropos of absolutely nothing

...here is a story about why I was never cool enough to live in Eugene.

When Eric and I first got together, we left the small college town in Northern Idaho where we'd met and took off on a road trip. We spent 2 months travelling around the southwest: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. We lived out of the back of my Subaru wagon and ate black-bean burritos every day for eight weeks. EIGHT WEEKS, people. Not even REAL black beans, but the black bean FLAKES that you buy in bulk from the natural food store and then "reconstitute" with hot water to make a PASTE. This really has nothing to do with the story, but when I think back on that period of my life, I swear I involuntarily burp black beans, just remembering. ANYWAY, we wandered around the southwest and had some incredible experiences. But eventually I got very, very cranky about sleeping on the ground and the once-a-week showers under icy cold water at some dingy campground. I demanded that we find a place to settle, and soon.

The southwest was gorgeous, but it was too dry. Next we headed up the California coast, which was pretty, but it was too crowded. Soon, we were in Oregon, and Oregon was juuuust right. Beautiful mountains, wide-open spaces, huge old-growth trees, the Pacific Ocean, and every where we went, we met friendly, progressive, environmentally conscious people. We settled in Eugene, a hip college town often compared to Berkley. Eugene was a favorite stop-over of the Grateful Dead and Ken Kesey (of the Merry Pranksters fame) lived just outside town. Each year Eugene hosts the Oregon Country Fair, which is a gigantic drug and music-fueled party out in the country; the police don't even BOTHER attempting to get people to put their clothes on or stop smoking doobies. Young people from all over the United States came to live in Eugene, where they could let their freak-flags fly. Shortly after we moved there, our friend Rick came to visit from New Mexico. We picked him up at the airport and on the way home, we drove by a beautiful hippie-chick, long hair and long skirt flowing as she blissfully rode her bike through the center of town, completely naked from the waist up. Rick was ready to go back to NM and start packing.

There were so many things that I LOVED about living in Eugene; it's a beautiful, progressive, very "green" town, with bike-lanes on every road to encourage riding rather than driving. The people were so friendly, every weekend there was some sort of celebration with music and dancing going on, there were always great concerts and authors coming to town...and get this: restaurants (more than one even!) where the entire menu was VEGETARIAN! And the PEOPLE. Oh man, the people were so diverse: you could walk through downtown (closed to vehicles) and see punks on skateboards, a saffron-robed, bald woman meditating under a tree, a dreadlocked guy riding a unicycle and singing joyfully, an elderly woman and her small dog sitting on a bench knitting next to a tattooed hippie playing a banjo on his lunch-break, and a lesbian couple freely holding hands as they browsed the art gallery windows. Eugene also has the most amazing Saturday Market ever.

We made some wonderful, life-long friends during our time in Eugene, and many of them lived in commune-type settlements in the hills outside of town. It was magical, how they lived: in hand-built cabins and tee pees, community meals and huge organic gardens, naked children and chickens running around, goats bleating, peacocks screaming from the trees, nightly bonfires with plenty of pot going around and drumming. ALWAYS drumming .

Both Eric and I immediately felt at home in Eugene, unlike any other place we'd ever been, including the towns we each grew up in. Eric slipped seamlessly into the Eugene scene; after 2 months on the road, he looked exactly like Jesus with a long beard and dreadlocks. I, on the other hand, was always just a bit too....conventional. I just didn't quite "get" the whole hippie/spiritual/New-Agey thing. But I tried, tried to pretend that I spoke the language.

Example: while we lived there, I worked at a restaurant down town. My co-workers were, unsurprisingly, of the hippie/new age sort. They were always sharing recipes for home-made soap, discussing the pros and cons of solar power or a newly discovered pattern for sewing your own organic-cotton maxi-pads. Once, I came up to the bar and overheard my friend Patty having a conversation with our friend Richard the bartender. As I walked up, I overheard her say "Yeah, I'm hoping to sit in a sweat this weekend. I love to do sweats". Richard said "Me too. Man, you just feel soooo good."

Me, the dork from Idaho? I say "Why are you guys talking about sitting around the house in your SWEATS??"

They both looked at me, utterly speechless, and then Patty carefully and slowly (while trying not to laugh) explained that they were discussing the Native American spiritual tradition of the SWEAT LODGE.

And that, my friends, is why I was never cool enough to live in Eugene.


Maggie said...

I hear you. I grew up in New England, but have lived in OR for 16 years. I love it here and appreciate the freak flag nature of Eugene and parts of Portland, but sadly my freak flag was never freaky enough. Although it was a load off not to care what the heck I was wearing to the grocery store in my old neighborhood because even if I was wearing the freakiest thing I owned, I'd still look totally boring next to most of the people there. I could never actually totally embrace the hippie thing because I like privacy and hot water and can no longer stay up half the night because I've got a real job. But it's nice to live someplace where others can and do embrace the heck out of it.

Dee said...

No wonder you have opinions different than anyone else in the family. I'm surprised you are as close to normal as you are. Oregon is truly the home of freaky people ----- all up and down the entire state. They should secede and really go freaky. The language is even different.

jpogue said...

I just don't know what to say. I still have a few old highschool friends like that (only we were the originals!) and I sigh and think "how sad that they never grew up."

Yea, it was fun, but geez, that just gives me the creeps.

Heidi said...

I had no idea Eugene was so freaky. It sounds so... blah. We visited Asheville, NC a few years ago and I remember feeling like I wasn't cool enough to live there. We were living in Savannah at the time and in GA we were SUPER freaky (vegetarian, non-churchgoing, CALIFORNIANS!). But in Asheville, we were just lame. It was so artsy and funky, I loved it. Not nearly as freaky as Eugene sounds, though!

Fancy Schmancy said...

I appreciate that feeling. I'm either too freaky, or not freaky enough. A long time ago I just decided to be who I am. Too freaky for conservative New England where I send my kid to Catholic school, but never freaky enough to move outside of the box. Now I just concentrate my efforts on making my son a subversive. And totally enjoy when he breaks free from what is expected of him.

Robyn said...

This sounds like something that would happen to me. I know I'm not cool enough for Eugene.

Whosyergurl said...

Sounds kinda like Bloomington but on a freakier scale. You still see a lot of freaky things here. Because I'm so diplomatic and PC I'd rather say "interesting."
Dug & I went to a party w/his soccer buds on New Years eve. NEW YEARS FREAKING EVE. Isn't that when you are supposed to dress up? well, I show up in boots, light colored slacks, cream cami & blouse that are lacy, have glitter on my chest & sparkles in my hair. I looked like an angel. we walked in and everyone had on black, brown, navy, maroon FLEECE. we didn't go back to that party the next year. I'm back! Cheryl