Maybe you’ve read recently of 29-year-old West Linn resident Daniel Bullington. He’s a California native who ventured north almost two years ago and discovered — shock o’ horrors! — what most us already know: Oregonians hate our guts. So he offered a novel retort: Gimme $3,500 and I’m gone. He's even established a GoFundMe page to solicit contributions: https://www.gofundme.com/calioutoforegon/.
Congratulations, Daniel, for attempting to capitalize on this state’s tiresome prejudice.
I can speak only from experience. A sizable order of Fryes has called the mid-valley home since, I believe, the late ’60s. My great-uncle Lowell arrived first. He carved some Sodaville wilderness and tamed it into a plot with a two-story house, paved driveway and enviable lawn. Then he pitched the ol’ rebirth fantasy to my Grandpa Bud, who didn’t need much convincing. From there it was a slow procession — aunts, uncles, cousins — until in 1979, my parents traded SoCal for grayer environs. I had to move, too, since I couldn’t outrun a Nova.
Somehow, we landed in Scio, a culture shock for a six-year-old accustomed to such luxuries as neighborhoods and asphalt. It’s probably a fine town, but back then, I thought it sucked. Fate had dropped us into a mobile home on sickly acreage. A cattle ranch slumped across our two-lane road. Other than that, nothing for miles but specks of life.
Which was just as well, because the people we met weren’t friendly, children, adult or otherwise. My mother enrolled me in the second grade at the local elementary school. Most of my classmates — classmates, as in same grade — were between the ages of 7 and 10 and regarded me as a toy they could pound into cool shapes.
That fall and winter as a collective they broke the middle finger of my right hand, bruised my flesh, bloodied my face and tore half my collars. The only time I ever went to the principal’s office for disciplinary action was when I saved myself from a mauling by slashing a sharp branch across some advancing punk’s smirk. And this was elementary school. The high school, I heard, was an ultraviolent cauldron, where bored thugs honed their sadism. So we moved to Albany, where life was a tad more mellow.
Welcome to Oregon.
Of course, my tormentors weren’t punch-happy because I was from California. I doubt they would have cared about that. They were just apprentice sociopaths who lucked into a smaller, weaker kid.
We did learn quickly, however, of the inborn resentment many Oregonians feel for their southern neighbors. Upon sight they consider you spoiled, lazy, fake, stupid, arrogant, blissed-out, shallow and cheap, a sleazy invader polluting their homey charm. They hate your face. They hate your attitude. They hate your “lifestyle.” They hate your cities. They hate your culture. They hate your weather. They hate your sports teams. They hate your freeways. They hate your prices. They hate your sales tax. They even hate your In-n-Out French fries, which means they’re insane. They say, You Californians think you’re so amazing, with your big cities, your big houses and your oh-so-massive egos. Well, we don’t drink that bathwater here. This ain’t LA LA LAND. Here, you WORK. Here, you’re HONEST. Here, you’re POLITE. Why, we went to Disneyland last summer, and the gall of y’all, I swear, you drive like pickled maniacs and mince like muscled pigs. If my kids weren’t with us, boy, I woulda smashed the bleach outcher mouths with my bare hands because you’re all baby-soft tan lines and thousand-dollar hairspray and I’m pureblood, grit-knuckled ’merica.
It’s weird: You’re accused of a smug superiority I’ve encountered only in Oregonians, and I worked in the damn music industry (Rhino Entertainment, represent!).
Small-town pride is one thing. Salt-of-the-earth snobbery is another. I saw the most blatant example of this delusion in the mid-’90s, when PBS aired a multi-part documentary on Oregon’s history, created by hagiographers so inspired by Ken Burns they cadged his shtick wholesale. Between banjo twonks and sleepy journal readings, viewers learned of pioneers braving the Oregon Trail. However, the narrative seemed to imply that the hardy and virtuous forged on to settle our proud, stubby state while feral packs of debauched half-wits gamboled toward California in search of easy gold, easier women and, I dunno, primo street skag, and they all succumbed to various embarrassing diseases in a bordello on Sunset and Vine. So even our academics bought the lie: Here, we’re just better.
Maybe I bought the lie, too, for a while. Having grown up in Oregon and believing my California pedigree made me an aberration, I expected the worst when I moved back to the Golden State in 2000. Instead, I felt comfortable.
Those seven years were amazing. You could walk four blocks down any street and visit five or six countries Endless entertainment and epicurean options. people were cultured, colorful, sparkling and funny, even that really high dude downtown who became such my friend after a 10-minute conversation he tore off a bandage to show off his shotgun-ravaged ankle: raw meat gnawed from bone. Strangers doled advice. Street bums gave me grooming tips. “What are you reading?” wasn’t small talk, but prelude to discussion. I could sling music and film with anyone.
Yeah, there was nastiness. Guns gleaming on summer afternoons. Fetid odors in downtown doorways. Random and not-so-random screaming. Most sidewalk interactions on Melrose. Police helicopters flashing lights into your apartment window at three in the morning. Vomit and blood in bathroom sinks. But, hey, you can’t have everything. At least I was never treated like a bumpkin foreigner. When I told my prospective employers I’d lived in Oregon, they said, “Oh, Oregon’s pretty,” not “Oh, my God, do you even own shoes?”
Whereas when I returned to Oregon and visited my dad’s church, I happened to mention to its pastor that I’d been in L.A. “ELLAY?” he barked, then whomped my spine with his holy-roller mitt. “I’M SORRY! GUH-HAWP!” like this was savage wit. Like I’d gone lost in the wild and had finally come to my senses. Not really. I’d been laid off and gotten homesick. But that exchange killed whatever nostalgic fondness I felt. That homegrown sanctimony had completely slipped my mind.
But I ain’t mad, Oregon. I always thought you were cute. A credit to your country. One of the best kissers on the West Coast. And unlike Daniel Bullington, I hope we can be friends, despite our faults. Just don’t leave your purse unattended.