The Portland Tribune recently asked people what it takes to be considered a real Oregonian.
The answers were intended to be (mostly) tongue-in-cheek, but also revealed a great divide, one that I have found myself in for the past eight years. You see, I have lived in Oregon for 32 years, the first 24 as a citizen of Portland before moving to an unincorporated rural area where the nearest stoplight or fast-food outlet is more than 10 miles away in any direction, and 60 miles if the direction happens to be west.
For those first 24 years, the answers those interviewed by the Tribune would have rung true. Here’s a sampling:
“When your mountain bike costs more than your Subaru Outback.”
When “You hide all your Styrofoam packing pellets from your neighbors.”
When “You find yourself salivating at the thought of kale chips.”
Shoot, 24 years into my Oregon residency, I might have added a few of my own, such as:
When you can identify, in a blind taste test, five local, microbrewed porters and give directions to at least three vegan restaurants.
When you have ridden both your road bike and mountain bike at least 20 miles in the past two weeks (bonus points if you have not driven your car in that time).
When you shop at the neighborhood food co-op several times a week and can honestly say that you have never been inside a Wal-Mart (or at least not since moving to Oregon).
After eight years in the land far, far away from red lights and prohibitions against junked pick-ups in the front yard, all of these examples have a glaring failure: They tend to identify only what makes one a true Oregonian … who happens to live in Portland, Eugene or Ashland.
Out here in Gaston, I’m surrounded by families that have lived in the town since before 1900, and most could say that they never have done any of the things on the Tribune’s list, nor on mine. And keep in mind that even Gaston would not be considered “rural” by many Oregonians, especially on the east side of the Cascades. Gaston is an easy drive from the nearest Trader Joe’s, tapas restaurant and Tae Bo salon; we’re purt near city slickers by the standards of many lifelong Oregonians.
In fact, all of the things that established me as a true Oregonian when I lived in Portland served only to mark me as a newcomer to the oldtimers here. I suspect that if you asked families that have lived in rural Oregon for generations what it takes to establish yourself as a “true Oregonian,” the list might look something like this:
When you complain about heavy traffic in the city, and you are referring to one of the following: Ontario, Lakeview, John Day, LaGrande, Burns, Cottage Grove or McMinnville.
When you can identify what steps you must take to make your AR15 (well, at least one of your AR15s) legal for deer hunting. By the way: You are immediately disqualified if you refer to an AR15 as an “assault rifle.”
When you understand directions when someone tells you to “turn right on the unmarked road just past the old Jones place,” even though no one named Jones has lived there since 1963.
When, in the past year, you have done each of the following at least once: Attended a rodeo; driven a stretch of at least 15 miles on a dirt road (bonus points if the road has only a Forest Service number); shot an elk; and cut down a tree using a Stihl chainsaw that you have rebuilt yourself.
Even these divergent visions of what it means to be an Oregonian fail to include many among us. Many poor white folks in Gresham, poor black folks in Albina, Hispanics in Cornelius or Native Americans tucked away on reservations couldn’t identify with any of the traits on either list. Ditto for many Land Rover owners in Lake Oswego. Start adding all those folks together and there are an awful lot of hardworking, taxpaying Oregonians who still fall through the cracks.
Of course, there are things that bind together all true Oregonians. Here are a few:
We all think the East Coast media and political elites ignore or patronize us.
We all, whether urban or rural, think lawmakers in Salem somehow are against us.
We all think that “Back East” includes such places as Billings, Boise and Denver, and that “East Coast” includes Minneapolis, St. Louis and Little Rock.
We all get along despite the fact that some of us can look at a map and differentiate between Indiana and Illinois, New Hampshire and Vermont, or Mississippi and Alabama, while some of us can’t. We get along because none of us cares.
We all secretly love some part of California, whether it’s the Redwoods or Hollywood, but none of us would ever admit it in public and each of us somehow manages to simultaneously harbor both a superiority and inferiority complex about our neighbors to the south. Weird, isn’t it?
Finally, we all get goosebumps when we see Mount Hood, Crater Lake or Cape Perpetua, whether we have lived here for five weeks or five generations, and whether we live in the Pearl District or on the Warm Springs Reservation. And that’s not weird at all …
It is, in fact, what makes us all true Oregonians.