Every once in a while (but not often enough) we head down the coast to the beautiful town of Bandon, Oregon often called Bandon by the Sea. Founded in 1873 by an Irishman who was reminded of his hometown in Ireland – it is a town of beautiful seascape vistas and lots of cranberries. As usual on the Oregon Coast, there are some antique/vintage shops and a couple of restaurants that are good to fill your belly. There are some fun crab shacks that offer you an actual view of the water- oddly, something that is largely missing from Oregon’s coastline.
It’s the coastline that really makes Bandon shine. Those rocks out there…they are the stuff of dreams and the empty beaches…well…it’s often cold and windy…not exactly great for sunbathing but pretty good for a walk or contemplation. Bandon has a wildlife game park…which we have not been to. It also has a world famous golf course and a lot of RV parks. The median age of residents is somewhere around 58, the median age of visitors is probably higher. Of special note is Face Rock Creamery which makes some excellent cheeses and the Stillwagon Distillery which offers a tasting room in Bandon. Both are worth a visit.
Since 1955, drivers on Highway 101 along the Southern Oregon Coast have been able to walk among the dinosarus (23 if I counted correctly) at the Prehistoric Gardens between Gold Beach and Port Orford, Oregon. Being a road-side-attraction-junkie, I thought it important to bring my family there too. I assured Hanane and Sophia that the dinosaurs would not eat them (but at times it felt like I lied) and off we tramped into the rain forest (after buying a pretty reasonably priced ticket for each of us – $32 total for the three of us to get some photo ops with the dinosaurs). We were there in the off season, so we were alone with the dinosaurs – if there had been crowds, the price might have seemed a little high…so be warned.
I love roadside attractions, not least because they are relics of a bygone age…back in 1953 you could buy a piece of land, move your family there, and start building concrete dinosaurs and charging the public admission (or build Disneyland for that matter) – today, that would be impossible unless you had a team of lawyers and a billion dollars – so there won’t be any new roadside attractions like this popping up anytime soon (unless society collapses).
But, back to 1953 – that’s exactly what Ernie Nelson did. He was a mill equipment supplier in Eugene who dabbled in sculpture, but he decided instead to bring dinosaurs to life and create a theme park. Each of the dinosaurs were created by hand and most of them took years..the brachiosaurus (brontosaurus back in the day) is 86 feet long and 46 feet tall!
No trip up (or down) the Oregon Coast is complete without a stop in Tillamook, Oregon. While we haven’t had the opportunity to do all the fun things Tillamook (the town) offers, we stop every time at the Tillamook Cheese Factory – the tour through is fascinating – even if you know how cheese is made – and the sampling is divine. Trying 8-10 types of cheese where it is made, side by side is fun no matter how many times you do it – but the crowds in summer can be a bit overwhelming. In other seasons, you can really take your time as you enjoy the cheese. Even better than the cheese (okay, that might be an overstatement) is the Tillamook Creamery where you can get fresh, delicious ice cream in dozens of flavors – straight from the source. Since the Tillamook Cheese Factory has proved to be such a tourist hit – other foodie centers have sprung up – Blue Heron French Cheese Factory, Debbie D’s Sausage Factory, Werner’s Smoked Meats, Pacific Oyster, and some great farmer’s markets. Tillamook is a great foodie destination which also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities from kayaking to mountain biking to fishing and crabbing.
The Tillamook Air Museum beckons from beside the highway just south of the Cheese Factory. Situated in a massive hangar called Hangar B which was designed to house blimps during World War II. Hard to imagine but blimps patrolled the whole Pacific Coast back then protecting us from Japanese Submarines…the hangar is massive…you could play seven football games at the same time inside it! It houses a large collection of aircraft ranging from early aircraft to fighters, helicopters, and even a blimp. Inside there is a theatre and a little cafe – but my advice is to get your meal somewhere else. The admission price is worth going once, but beyond that, probably only if you are a real aviation nut.
This is actually, a very hard list to order – mainly because the particular time and experience I had in each place weighs just as heavily as the place itself. I didn’t realize that ranking these would be so difficult. Not only is it hard to rank the best from the places I’ve lived – it’s equally hard to rank the worst. In the middle, each place had positive and negative qualities that would change the ranking. Perhaps the only way to do this is to rank these places based on whether I would want to move there again with all other things being equal.
After getting started, I’ve realized that it only makes sense to rank the Top-10. As for the others, I’ve put them in an approximate order – but in general aside from general top and bottom of the list groupings – it’s pretty hard to juggle or rank them.
Looking at this list – it’s interesting to see that I’ve lived in six countries and seven U.S. States. My top 4 all have more than 1-million people. I’ve lived in four state capitals and nine cities of 500,000 population or more. I’ve lived in the largest cities in Turkey, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. In my top-10 are cities in Turkey, Hawaii, Washington State, Oregon, and Indonesia. I’m surprised that California isn’t in that group. The bottom line is that I like living in large cities next to the ocean, preferably with a Mediterranean or tropical climate, plenty of diversity, and at least one university and plenty of public transit options.
Izmir is a special place. It’s a port city on the Aegean and the gateway to the Turkish and Greek Aegean Islands. Izmir is cosmopolitan, modern, ancient, and laid back all at the same time. Izmir literally has it all. The caveat, of course, is that since I was last there in 2012 – a lot has happened. The Syrian civil war changed the population dynamic and the heavy hand of Erdogan and his process of re-Islamization may have drastically changed Izmir from my memories. Certainly it has changed, I’m just not certain how much.
No matter if Istanbul has changed or not – there is no place like it in the world. There are two places that I consider to be the center of the world. Istanbul is one of them and see below for the other. The entirety of human history and civilization meets in the crossroads of the planet. This astounding place with so many stories, so many traditions, and so many people. Istanbul contradicts itself. It is both East and West, a land city and a water city, secular and religious, expensive and cheap, easy and difficult. Every big city is a masterpiece – but Istanbul – it is more.
Honolulu is the other city I consider to be a center of the world. If you were to poke a straight hole through the globe, you could almost run it straight from Istanbul to Honolulu. Much smaller than Istanbul, much less history, and much less important in terms of human culture and politics – and yet – Honolulu is where the entire world dreams of going and you can meet anyone from anywhere on Oahu. It truly is ‘The Gathering Place’. Oahu is expensive, crowded, and remote – but the weather is beautiful, the people are generally peaceful and kind, and while very small in comparison to the world- it has an outsized place in the imaginations and dreams of humanity. At number three is living pretty much anywhere on Oahu including Honolulu, Lanikai and Kailua, the North Shore, etc.
Bellingham will always be a place that I hold dearly in my heart. The sheer magnitude of outdoor beauty from Mt. Baker to the San Juan Islands. Sitting between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. The terminus for the Alaska Ferry. The great beer, the hippie/environmental vibe combined with a great university. It’s just a cool place. I made a great decision when I decided to live there.
Like Bellingham but bigger and with a more robust tech industry, amazing museums, great architecture, and instead of being between Seattle and Vancouver, it’s between Vancouver, Bellingham, and Portland. Great music and art, lots of cool neighborhoods, amazing restaurants.
I enjoyed living in Fez. It’s an exotic city with a lot of the amenities of the West and great markets, food, entertainment, and a robust community of expats and educated locals. Fez is the only place in my Top-10 that isn’t a water city.
Kapa’a is one of only two small towns that made it onto my top-10 list – the main reason is because I lived right next to the beach there for a couple of years. Kapa’a itself had a pretty great selection of restaurants and diversity of cultures for such a small town – but really it was waking up and going for a swim every day.
Parapat is the other small town that made it to my list. I’m sure it is a totally different experience now – but swimming in Lake Toba, taking the trip to Samosir Island, drinking that coconut wine and playing guitars with the Batak men in the evenings, hiking into the jungle and finding giant fruit bats and orangutang – these were high points in my life.
Portland is a cool place but I’d never live there again. It’s gotten too expensive, too big, too weirdly politically correct. I love the food, the quirky neighborhoods, the music, the markets, Powell’s books – but I wouldn’t live there again. I will be happy to visit over and over again though…
The following are the cities that I would live in again – if there were no other choices available. They are good places.
Tacoma seems like it just might be cool. I need more information but if I had to choose one town from all of those not in the Top-10, Tacoma would probably be it because of proximity to Seattle, Portland, Canada, the Pacific and the universities, art, music, and culture.
Mendocino is beautiful and honestly, I would consider living there – but it suffers from the same issues as a lot of towns on the bottom of this list – too far from a city, not close enough to warm oceans.
Manisa was exotic and cool but the summers were sweltering and the real attraction was being close to Izmir. Three things I did love about Manisa – the hiking, the wild horses in Niobe, and the Messer Festival.
I feel lucky to have grown up in Big Bear Lake. I also recognize how limiting that was. It’s a beautiful place. If I were to live in Southern California again, however, I would be more towards the San Diego area.
I liked Sefrou but it’s a bit too big and a bit too small. If I were to go back to Morocco, I would pick a city or town on the coast that was either bigger or smaller. The biggest draw to Sefrou for me would be friends and family who are there.
Raleigh was another city I appreciated and enjoyed. Simply too far from the beach and the whole Southern approach to history including confederate monuments etc gets under my skin.
As for these last places (below), I guess I’ve said all I needed to say about them. I have no desire to visit or live in any of these places again. Reedsport is the only one that I ever loved – but it broke my heart and I have no desire to ever go back. I also loved being a farm kid in Myrtle Creek, I loved our property but not all that went with it, not the community, not the people, not the horror of my experience there.
Since leaving Turkey (and even while I lived there), I’ve watched a beautiful country on the verge of an amazing future start to dismantle itself, create sectarian conflicts, and become something ugly through extremist religion and ideology. What does that have to do with Reedsport, Oregon?
During the election of 2016 and the aftermath of that disaster- I watched this little town do something similar. A beautiful little place filled with good neighbors became a place where one kind of person was welcome and another kind wasn’t. But that comes later…
I found Reedsport, Oregon when I realized that I didn’t have enough or earn enough to find a house with a yard that wasn’t too far from the beach in California or Washington. The two areas I would have preferred to settle would have been the San Francisco Bay Area (extending east to Sacramento, North to Santa Rosa, and south to San Luis Obispo) or the area from Olympia, Washington to Bellingham, Washington. I just didn’t have the income or savings to rent a house in those areas and starting a business seemed unlikely given the startup costs.
So, I focused in between. Reedsport sits about 20-miles south of Florence, Oregon and even though it was in the same county as both Myrtle Creek and Canyonville – it was far from both. I found a nice little 3-bedroom house with a big back yard for $675/month. It was an older house, but it was near a good grade school and in a friendly neighborhood. Reedsport was mostly a retirement community but had a health food store, a good coffee shop, and a quirky vibe that I liked. It was a fishing town with the Umpqua River going through it and a big Elk preserve nearby. The Oregon Dunes extended into it on the coast and the little village of Winchester Bay was just a couple of miles from our house. I was in love with Reedsport, to be honest. It was a little slice of heaven.
Now, to be fair – there’s a lot of poverty in Reedsport. The education level is on the lower end of the spectrum. The winters are long and grey and rainy. And…people tended to be white, conservative, and a bit on the racist side – which wasn’t obvious at first (the racist part) but came out as we drew closer to electing a racist president.
My credit was good. Between Ebay and online work – I was earning more than enough to pay the rent. The landlord looked at my application and instantly approved it “Most people around here don’t have a credit score anywhere near that, ” she said. I was surprised – it wasn’t that good, really. Somewhere in the 700 range.
So we packed up our estate sale accumulations and moved from the squat house in Sacramento to a place with our names on the lease in Reedsport, Oregon. My wife took a job cleaning in a hotel and I started working for Banker’s Life Insurance – which didn’t suit me at all. I got certified, made a little money, and then said ‘fuck this’. Selling bad life insurance to senior citizens wasn’t something I could do. So, instead of that, I jumped back into buying and selling.
I opened a little antique shop on the main drag in Reedsport. My rent was $300/mo and I caught all the travelers driving down the Coastal 101 Freeway. I became a regular at all the estate sales (and garage sales) and soon began to run estate sales for other people (which is where the money really is). The little town paper ‘Coffee Talk’ announced it was shutting down and I began putting together an alternative. As soon as Coffee Talk sent out its last issue, I was at every advertiser they had offering a new paper Reedsport.info. I was able to create a website version and figured out how to print a weekly version, where to distribute it, and within a very short time – I was earning more from the ad revenue than I was making in my antique shop.
I needed a bigger shop and rented a big abandoned storefront in Reedsport’s dying downtown. There was not much there. The only book store in town was closing down and was right across the street from me. I bought his shelves, his fixtures, his neon ‘Books’ sign, and everything else I could get. It was fire sale prices. In my little newspaper, I was a big advocate for marijuana after Oregon legalized it. I suggested that Reedsport could enjoy a huge benefit from bringing in dispensaries and catering to weed tourists. This didn’t win me any fans. I had several advertisers threaten to pull out if I continued to make jokes about ‘Weedsport’ – so I toned it down.
On a whim, I decided to enter politics. I ran for Umpqua Port Commissioner, a county level post. I got nearly 40% of the vote without really doing anything. It was becoming increasingly clear that my ‘liberal California’ ways were not loved by most of the folks in Reedsport. My wife (thankfully) had left the hotel job and gotten a job as an educational assistant at the elementary school. She began the process of getting certified to work with special needs children. We were doing pretty good, actually. Our daughter was in kindergarten, our businesses (and her job) were earning us a nice income, a brewery had opened up across the street from my shop, and the little downtown was coming back to life. This was late 2015 and early 2016.
That’s when things started to get ugly. My wife is Muslim, technically, I converted so I am too, but I’m not a religionist on any level. First the Trump rhetoric started on the campaign trail. His hate talk towards Muslims activated people. His racist talk made people feel it was okay to be racist. I began having more and more old white men come into my shop, see that I was a small town white guy, and start saying hateful, mean, violent, and racist things about President Obama, about Muslims, and about immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, and Jewish people. They just assumed I was part of their club – I shut them down the best I could and generally raised the prices from where they might have been. Great thing with an antique shop is that your prices are generally set 200% above what you really want – I would only let these guys give me a large profit for the stuff they wanted. Their racism cost them.
I became hyper-alert and anxious because I was living in a town where my wife and my child were targets because they weren’t white or Christian. I didn’t need to worry about my 5 year old getting harassed for saying “Allah” in kindergarten, but that time was coming. I knew what small town bullying looked like. I watched with disbelief as Trump got more and more support. My fellow townspeople loved him! They actually carved chainsaw statues of him and put them up on the three roads coming into town. To me it screamed “We’re racist here!” One of the guys who worked for the state highway department began driving around with a huge confederate flag flying from the back of his pickup truck.
I was an early Bernie supporter. My “Feel the Bern” signs didn’t bother anyone too much though a couple of old guys felt the need to explain that I was supporting a ‘Jew Communist’ -but when Hillary got the nomination – the ugliness of 2016 really came out. “Hillary = WWIII” “Lock the Bitch Up” – these were actual signs I saw people put out in their yards or bumper stickers on cars. I was never a huge Hillary supporter, but of course I was going to vote for her because the alternative (Trump) was so much worse. There were a few signs that went up supporting her that I saw on my drive to work one day – on the drive home, they had been stomped, broken, or thrown in the river. This happened multiple times. I was still trying to do business in this town, so I didn’t put Hillary signs up in my shop – but I did start selling bumper stickers that said “Vote Neither in 2016 because WTF….NOOOOO!” – I would have made a killing selling Trump hats and stickers, but I refused.
The town was filled with Trump signs and Trump supporters. More and more old white people were saying things to me like “When he gets in there, the (N-word) are going to have to pay” or “He’s going to lock that (N-word) Obama up”. I lived it, on the ground as a white person at Trump ground zero – I know why they voted for him. People voted for Trump because they are racist. Period. You don’t vote for a racist because he is a good business person unless you are a racist. And by the way, he’s a terrible business person.
You know the story, Trump won. I had seen the dirty souls of the people around me. I no longer felt like my family was safe. I listed my shop and my newspaper for sale and hoped that a buyer would come along. That buyer did show up and right around the same time – our landlord informed us she was selling the house we had been renting. It was all the confirmation I needed.
I couldn’t leave fast enough. We closed the deal on the shop and paper, had a huge sell off garage sale at our house, and I packed a trailer and shipped it to Hawaii. Honolulu may not be perfect – but it’s filled with a diversity of people and racism isn’t a big problem like it is on the continent. Hawaii is the least violent place in America, and Hawaii voted 70+% against Trump. Plus, and this is true – Hawaii had always felt like it was home to me – I finally had enough money to get my family there and give us a start.
I made a quick trip to Honolulu, landed a job as an archaeologist, rented a little apartment – and then went back to Reedsport for the last time to pack up my family and bring them to Hawaii. In a way, this was the conclusion of the trip I’d started back in 2008 when I left Honolulu to see the world. I’d come full circle.
To be honest, the whole thing with Reedsport really broke my heart. I loved that little town. I loved the location, the outdoors, and the untapped potential. I liked living in a friendly small town (before Trump). We had a lot of friends there. Our businesses were doing good. I’m not sad that we came back to Hawaii – but I’m sad that things went they way they did. The fact that a government worker was allowed to drive around flying that confederate flag and the awful Trump statues proclaiming ignorance and racism – and making the families there who weren’t white, Christian, straight, or Republican feel like they weren’t welcome. Those racist old white dudes suddenly feeling like it was okay to throw the n-word around in public – all of it – it makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it. There are some great people in Reedsport. It’s a cute little place with a huge potential – but as much as I loved it – it wasn’t worth having my family in a situation where we were at the mercy of heavily armed bigots. On a strange note – the David statue has been converted to a Trump statue by the new owners of my old shop and now sits in front of their shop without the city offering any protest.
Incorporated in 1919 near the confluence of three rivers – the Umpqua, the Smith, and the Scholfield, the City of Reedsport is located on the beautiful Oregon Coast on Highways 101 and 38 on the banks of the Umpqua River – the largest river between the Sacramento and the Columbia. Located in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area, Reedsport is in close proximity to over 17 freshwater lakes and is just four miles from Winchester Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Reedsport is the home of the Umpqua Discovery Center a Natural and Cultural Interpretive Center. It has a population of about 4500 people.
Reedsport is located in Douglas County on the central Oregon coast at the intersection of Oregon Highway 38 and U.S. Highway 101. The City is approximately 195 miles south of Portland, 87 miles southwest of Eugene, 70 miles west of Roseburg, 25 miles north of Coos Bay, and 21 miles south of Florence.
As a child I had to go through Portland a couple of times while taking Greyhound Buses from Myrtle Creek to see my grandfather in Tacoma and then in high school I rode with a friend who used to drive up to Portland from Redding to buy pounds (you know what I’m talking about and if you don’t then never mind). So I didn’t have a great impression of Portland. Bus stations and bad elements.
When I moved there from Florence, most of my good friends from Bellingham and a couple of them from Redding had moved there. One of my best friends was living in a van in a neighborhood between where two of my other friends rented houses. I moved into the neighborhood with my VW. It was pretty rad. A bunch of my friends were musicians and we had frequent jam sessions and drinking bouts. I got a job tending bar at a pretty funny gay bar in Southeast Portland. If I had been gay, my love life would have been busy…but as a straight guy living in a van, I still did alright.I was looking for a place to rent but didn’t have to hurry as it was only September and Portland was laid back and cool. This was a pretty radical city and nobody worried much about George W. Bush as it was obvious he was a one term president. We drank, we made music, we built shit on computers, we had fun. Then it was September 11th, 2001 and everything changed. We all gathered at my friends’ Tony and Ray’s place and watched with horror – we knew it was going to mean war. I went to Fred Meyer and bought some spray paint – I painted my sheet to say “No Retaliation. Enough Dead. Drop Bread not Bombs”
I hung it up next to the freeway and then parked some distance away to see what people’s reactions would be. A couple of guys in big trucks stopped and ripped my sign up. I understood their fear and anger, but over the next weeks watching the American flags get waved, seeing the ‘Merica’ mentality take root, and understanding that the open minded and progressive 90’s were never coming back ripped my soul apart. I saw ignorance and racism bubbling to the surface. I wanted no part of it.
I bought a ticket to Hawaii and parked my VW van in my mom’s back yard. I had $180 in my pocket. I’d never been to Hawaii but I figured I could find a way to make it work and I hoped that with a population that wasn’t dominated by white people, that maybe the unhealthy patriotism sweeping the mainland wouldn’t be as oppressive and ugly.
Two years later, I came back to Portland following a flight attendant I thought I’d fallen in love with on Oahu – I got a job as a stock broker and rented a room in Ray’s house for six months – but that wasn’t the life for me. I found a publisher for Rough Living:Tips and Tales of a Vagabond and quit my job as a stock broker. I was good at it, but my breaking point came when our analysts told us that it would be easy to sell Krispy Kreme stock as we moved into war with Iraq because people were freaked out and needed comfort food. I moved on doing what I called my ’50 Book Tour’ – fifty was the number of author copies my publisher had given me. I loved Portland – it was cheap, had great food, a hip and progressive community of smart people, and plenty to do. The winters in Oregon however bummed me out. I drove up to Bellingham where I sold books, did author talks, and then took a job on a salmon boat so I could earn enough to get back to Hawaii.
Portland is the largest city in Oregon and the 25th largest in the USA. It has a population of about 650,000 people. It is divided up into four quadrants Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Portland is a city of cool hipster neighborhoods and great food. It was once a blue collar port town with a reputation for being a haven for organized crime but in the 1960s a bunch of hippies and counter-culture types began to move in. During the 1990s and 2000s, it started to become a bit of a high tech hub – with spillover from Seattle and Silicon Valley. Intel is based in Portland. Portland sits at the point where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge and is characterized by many bridges. Portland is home to the world’s largest bookstore Powell’s Books.
I first went to Florence, Oregon in 1999 just before the excitement of the World Trade Organization Protests in Seattle. My hippie aunt and uncle had a cabin on a remote lake there. It was summer, the weather was perfect, and I stayed in the little boat house at the end of their dock. It was a true hippie heaven with a composting toilet (on the end of the dock) and the gentle lapping of the waves against the dock to put me to sleep.
A few years later, they had moved on and I had just returned from an epic adventure in Asia where I climbed sacred mountains, walked the Great Wall of China, learned to scuba dive, and had many more extraordinary adventures. A ticket to Canada was cheaper than a ticket to the USA so I flew into Canada, hitchhiked down the West Coast stopping to see friends in Bellingham, Seattle, and Portland and then finally made it to my mother’s house in Redding where my VW bus had been sitting in her back yard.
I quickly left Redding and began to make my way up the coast thinking to go back to Seattle or Bellingham – but my bus had other ideas. It broke down in Florence. I didn’t have any money. Okay, I’ll be honest – it didn’t break down, it ran out of gas and I didn’t have any money to fill the tank. So I had to get a job. My hippie relatives were no longer there, but I’ve never been afraid to work so I looked for a help wanted sign and applied for the first job I saw.
I was a dishwasher at a shit-hole restaurant called Fisherman’s Wharf in a small Oregon coast town. I slept in my van and sometimes went out drinking with the locals. A regular at the Wharf offered to rent me her single wide trailer for $350/month. I went for it. It was in a decent trailer park with a pool and a bunch of seniors living in their RVs. They liked starting jigsaw puzzles on the tables around the pool…and I liked finishing them.
I liked Florence. It was trashy in an Oregon Coast kind of way, but it had a hippie commune vibe. Turned out that a strange guy named John Patric had set up shop there after World War II. He wrote a book called Yankee Hobo in the Orient. I decided it was time to write about my adventures as well, so I took my stories from Asia and the Northwest and incorporated them into what had been “Our Time is Our Own” and came up with “Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond”
I sent out my stories to every magazine I could and I sent out my manuscript to every publisher I could find. I tried to emulate my heroes and hang my rejection notices as badges of honor, but ultimately, I figured there must be something wrong. Maybe I’d do better up in Portland where many of my friends had migrated to from Bellingham and Seattle.
I collected my last check from the Wharf, filled my gas tank, and moved out of my single wide. I said goodbye to my puzzle starting friends in the RV Park, the Oregon Dunes, the Siuslaw River, and the Lane County Historical Association. I moved Northward to Portland. It was late summer in 2001. The world seemed like it was going to hell in a hand basket – but at least we were aware of it. George W. Bush had stolen the election but at least he wasn’t being given a free hand to reshape the country. We were still free…
Florence is a cute coastal city on Route 101 in Oregon between Coos Bay and Newport. It is home to the largest sand dunes in North America and surrounded by beautiful lakes, the Pacific Ocean, and plenty of pine trees. The closest major city is Eugene, Oregon. Florence has a population of about 8500 people. It has some great thrift and antique stores and a cute waterfront town. Sadly, the Fisherman’s Wharf is no longer there…but there is now a great farmers market weekly.
I have fonder memories of Myrtle Creek than my siblings do. I think it’s because I’ve blocked out much of the horror and mayhem. They refer to the place we lived as ‘The Death Farm’ and honestly, that’s pretty much what it was. My mother’s new master didn’t find the ranch of his dreams in Canyonville, but not far away in beautiful Myrtle Creek, Oregon he found a place that when I remember it – really was a slice of heaven (if only you could have removed the adults from it). It was an 18 acre ranch with a beautiful 10 acre pasture in the front that sat next to gorgeous Bilger Creek – a small stream that flowed year round. It had a sweet well and as many as five springs that flowed sweetly from the old growth timbered mountain behind – which made up most of the other eight acres. There was a small barn, a wood-shop, a garden, outhouses, a wood shed, and – a decent (when we moved in) double wide trailer with a covered porch that looked out over the pasture and stream. There were wild deer, quail, rabbits, trout, pheasants, and chucker. To pay for it, he more or less made mom trade all the property she’d gotten out of the marriage with my dad and also rented our childhood house to his scumbag friends so they could take over the mortgage – they didn’t pay the mortgage and she lost the house, he and mom didn’t pay the new mortgage and they lost the farm too. Plus she lost lots in Big Bear, 10 acres in Ennis, Montana, and all the savings she had. It was a costly marriage for all of our lives.
The problem with the farm was that the drug addict/alchoholic/violent tempered cowboy who was in charge of our lives wanted to have wolf dogs and farm animals. So, we had chickens, goats, cows, geese, a horse – and we had the wolf dogs which broke their chains and killed all of our farm animals – and then got shot by the neighbors. Everything died on that farm except for us. I learned to shoot, to survive in the wilds, to forage, and to hunt on that farm – it was a necessity. Our so called parents were in the town bars more than they were in the home – so we mostly fended for ourselves. I remember nice church people bringing us food and even Christmas presents one year after the asshole smashed the Christmas tree and presents because we little kids cried because we wanted to open presents on Christmas Eve (which had been our family tradition) instead of waiting for Christmas Day (his family tradition). So, not all of my memories are fond of that place but I spent a lot of time learning the outdoors and growing to appreciate nature, and learning how to be alone – skills that all served me well in life. I finally abandoned my younger sister and went to live with my long lost father after finding the asshole cowboy standing above my mother after he had broken her back – I had just come in from hunting pheasants so I used the gun to make him leave her alone. My mother begged me not to shoot him, so I didn’t – but probably should have. In any event, I couldn’t stay there any longer. My dad had come back into our lives that year after a near 5-year absence with a big shopping trip to a warehouse store where he bought me my dream machine, a Commodore 64 computer but he balked at actually spending the money to buy me the floppy drive and monitor I needed to go with it so I had to learn how to code my own games in BASIC and used an old black and white TV as my monitor. So, off to my father’s I went (back in Big Bear Lake)– I felt guilty leaving my sister, but she didn’t want to leave our mother – even though I begged her to. I missed the nature of Myrtle Creek. I’d had a little gold mining setup in the creek, a tree-fort filled with books on the back lot, and a dozen hide outs that were all my own.
On the positive note, I had a great art teacher and a great English teacher at the middle school there, Coffenberry Jr. High. On the down side, the math teacher beat me and several other kids so severely with paddles that I was withdrawn from his class and was compelled to testify against him in court. I had liked math up until that point – but the beatings ended that particular love affair for years. On another positive note – my mother eventually escaped from the monster. He went on to marry another monster and the two of them abused and stole from senior citizens until they were caught – several seniors (including his own grandparents and great grandparents) had died under their care and had been compelled to bequest the two of them all of their property and money. When he was caught – he ended his own life with a shotgun – so, he got at least part of what he deserved.
Myrtle Creek, Oregon
With a little over 3500 people, Myrtle Creek has twice the population and half the charm of nearby Canyonville. The South Umpqua River flows on one side of the town which disconnects it from nearby I-5, which has done the town no good. There is virtually no reason why anyone should ever want to go to Myrtle Creek in my opinion – but in the past few years there have been several little farm businesses, an innovative hamburger shop and a few other positive improvements in the place. And, it’s a very pretty place if you can get past the poverty, addiction, and domestic violence.
After a super ugly divorce in Big Bear Lake, California – my mom was ready to go as far away from my Dad as she could – my dad seemed happy to be a single guy without kids encumbering his rock star lifestyle – so no one stood in the way of mom marrying a super tall alcoholic doucehebag wanna-be cowboy who was barely out of his teens. We left our last happy childhood home for the last time. This time there would be no return. He decided that the best thing to do with his wealthy new bride was to move her and her three kids as far away from where her family could interfere with his fucked up, violent, and drug fueled life choices. He moved us to Canyonville, Oregon – which, to be fair, is a pretty nice little Oregon town – but which for all of us became the gateway to hell. While he looked for the ranch of his dreams, we were all crammed into a tiny little house with a half dozen dogs – the house had been a drug dealers before we moved into it and it wasn’t uncommon for bikers and other shit-bags to come waltzing in the door looking for ‘Jim’ at all hours of the night. Guns were a regular part of our lives at this point. The shithole biker bar next door “The Snake Pit” was where mom and her new boss (because she just did whatever he told her to or he would beat the shit out of her) spent the majority of their time. We met a whole new class of bikers – not the friendly Hells Angels of Big Bear but the drug fueled and violent Gypsy Jokers.
On the positive side – we had a cherry tree and Canyon Creek ran behind the house. We would go down and catch crawdads by the bucketfull and cook them up with butter and garlic. I used to get old fashioned milkshakes from a place with a cow on the roof. Canyonville itself is set in a beautiful part of Southern Oregon and when we weren’t witnesses or victims of domestic violence and substance abuse – we swam in country swimming holes, hiked through beautiful pine forests, and spent time on the ranch of a family who saw the hell we were in, but werent willing to involve themselves further than letting us spend time with them. We were there for a bit less than a year (4th grade) …and then we moved to nearby Myrtle Creek – which I will write about next. Here is a bit about Canyonville, Oregon that is outside of my experience.
Canyonville has a population of about 1800 people (honestly, I thought it was larger) and sits in an area known as the ‘Banana Belt’ in Southern Oregon. It is classified as having a ‘Mediterranean Climate’ though, I’ve lived in the Mediterranean and Canyonville both and would beg to differ. Winters are cold, wet, grey, and rainy. Canyonville is the third oldest city in Oregon and was a stopping point of the Applegate Trail (part of the Oregon Trail migration) It is where the North Umpqua and South Umpqua Rivers meet and is a great spot for fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation. Canyonville sits alongside Interstate-5 which runs from Canada to Mexico and is the main north/south interstate on the West Coast of the United States. Canyonville is most famous for President Rutherford B. Hayes once having lunch there. Today the 7-Feathers Casino is the big draw in Canyonville, but it was not there when I was a kid. When I was a kid, the biggest part of the economy was logging and mining at the nearby Hannah Nickel Mine in Riddle, Oregon. Ranching, farming, and resource extraction were the lifeblood of Canyonville in those days. These days, I’ve heard that it is the casino and meth production.
Back in 2016, I finally had the chance to take my wife and daughter to The Enchanted Forest. A wonderfully quirky and crumbling roadside attraction that still doesn’t charge you college tuition for a few hours of theme park enjoyment. As we sit here on Maui where even the worst attractions cost you $30 per person, I have a great appreciation for this place looking back.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve driven by The Enchanted Forest theme park – just south of Portland next to Interstate 5 – it’s a roadside attraction that has called out to me for my entire life…The theme park, built by highway worker Roger Tofte was built the year I was born – and being a west coast kid who used to answer the question “Where are you from?” with “I-5” – it seems to have always been there – which for me it has…finally, earlier this year, I decided it was time to stop – as we walked through the slightly decaying concrete ‘amusement’ park – I felt a creepy sense of familiarity that told me I must have come there as a child…it was like walking back into a house you had lived in which had gone from bright and shiny new to moldy and falling down…the rides were a half step up from a county fair and the concrete storybook and Alice in Wonderland structures all felt like stepping back into the Disneyland of the 1950s – homemade attractions painted brightly but faded.
The log ride is the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest (not a region known for amusement parks, I am afraid) and the western town and English village are fun. The whole thing is fun, actually – I don’t want to sound like a wet Nelly in my description. And the price is right – that’s for sure. Right around $10 to get in and then additional fees for the rides. We were there early in the season and the park was not fully staffed or crowded.
The history of the park is part of what makes me love it. A highway worker bought the land for $4000 and built it one bag of concrete at a time. It’s the kind of thing that would be impossible now, but in the 1960s we weren’t living in such a regulated society and people could decide to build amusement parks, castles, or ski resorts and do it on a dime…if Walt Disney tried to build Disneyland today…it just wouldn’t happen. Roger Tofte built the park and continued to build. His children, and now his grandchildren continue the work. What started as a hobby…is now a 45 year old icon along the Interstate 5. It is worth the price of admission.
Enchanted Forest is the kind of place that everyone can enjoy….it’s also the kind of place that can be written about tongue in cheek over and over because I’m not sure there is anyplace on the planet filled with more innuendo…I mean look, it’s not an over the top phallus filled piece of land like The Penis Park but there is a lot of adult fun to be had in The Enchanted Forest that the kids just won’t even notice…have fun there…but not as much fun as the writers of this Portland Mercury piece had…they may have gone too far.
My Volkswagen Vanagon went into the shop yesterday for some much needed repairs – in celebration of that, I’m going to post this memory of our first camping trip in her from back in October of 2016. My goodness, how far we’ve come since then.
Oregon’s weather is always a danger when you plan a camping trip and if you plan it in October at a state campground on the coast like Sunset Beach State Park- the danger is magnified quite a lot.
Despite hot sunny days the week before, as we came close to our first planned outing in our new Vanagon (which we named Misefrou) the forecast called for rain, rain, and more rain. I’d been stowing gear in the van for two weeks and getting everything ready…I’d bought an Add-a-Room tent from Bus Depot and installed our old school Coleman refrigerator ice box. One block of ice keeps it going fr 4-5 days. It’s a great piece of gear. We had a propane burner and a butane burner – plenty of food and snacks, three heavy pendleton wool blankets, cook gear, folding camp chairs, a little teak table with detachable legs, a nice carpet to sit on in the add-a -room, games, my ukulele, and I made sure to put the girl’s sleeping bags in. We had a lantern and a couple of battery powered lights. I had my solar panel charger for our phones.
To keep things simple, I left Hanane out of the planning and told the girls to each pack a bag with clothes that could be worn in layers, toothbrushes, and a book.
I forgot a couple of things I never used to be without…my swiss army knife (with can opener) was in my other bag – so to open cans I had to resort to grinding the top of the can off on concrete – easier than it sounds and effective, but not ideal or as easy as a can opener. I also forgot to pack my sleeping bag! I didn’t bring my water bottle, which was a mistake because I didn’t hydrate nearly enough, and I didn’t bring a sponge or dishcloth for washing dishes. In addition, it would have been nice to bring a coloring book and crayons for Sophia and to buy firewood before leaving home because the tiny $5 bundles of firewood in the camp tend to burn like shit – green and not at all seasoned properly.
The add a room was awesome – heavy and bulky, not terrible to set up but not more than a 15-20 minute job. If you have the space for it and the time to set it up – it doubles the size of a van. Hanane brought sheets which was nice, but they were that clingy polyester cotton blend, I think they call it cottonelle – not a good fit for a van or camping…or even for a bed in my opinion. I like cotton linen sheets and not much else. Lucky for us, it was not raining on the day we arrived – a little cold, but dry to set up the add a room. It rained at night which was alright, we had a little fire and got an early night’s rest – for about two hours.
Sunset Beach campground does not offer much in the way of privacy between camp sites…in fact, despite the beautiful surroundings, I wouldn’t go back unless it was a group camping experience with friends and family filling an entire section of the camp – we had empty spaces around us when we arrived but the neighbors from hell showed up at about 10pm. I’d put the curtain up in front of the van so the headlights shining in when they backed their tent trailer into their space weren’t that big a deal. The man was yelling at his wife to be louder as she directed him – she said ” I don’t want to wake those people up, they are right there” of course we were already awake so I got to hear Mr. Asshole scream ” I don’t care if I wake them up” – Oh great. They had two couples in the tent trailer and someone sleeping in the car. At 2am the person in the car accidentally set off the car alarm and so we had flashing brights and honking horn in our face for five minutes while he tried to wake the deep sleeper in the tent trailer (Mr. Asshole) to shut off the alarm. Then it happened again. They woke up at 5am to go crabbing and woke us up again.
Day 2 was lovely. We hiked the coastline from Sunset Beach to Shore Acres State Park Botanical Gardens. The coastline was stunning and we had a picnic at Shore Acres. Back to camp and it was starting to drizzle a bit. We bought more wood and tried to have a fire, but the green wood wouldn’t burn hot and we decided to go to bed. The RV campers nearby had their gas generator fired up so they could watch a game and the expensive RV buses on the other side must have been searching for it as we watched their Satellite dish spinning and spinning like it was on the Mars Rover. So, we went to bed hearing bar-room cheers and soothing sound of a gas generator over the noises of nature which presumably might have still been there. The rain on the roof of the van blocked all that out finally.
It rained heavily. Hanane decided she didn’t like the upstairs bed – which is okay. It took me a while in my old bus to adapt to sleeping in a pop top. The rain stopped in the morning after breakfast. We tried to dry off the add-a-room as we packed it, but it will need to be air dried on the next sunny day. It was nice that the rain let up while we packed up. It started again as we drove off.
It was a good test run. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Sophia proved herself ready for the ukulele and for learning to play chess. Lessons learned by me:
Bring my Swiss Army Knife
Bring water bottles for the whole family
Cotton sheets or no sheets at all – also bring pillows
Make sure the campground offers privacy between sites
Camping has changed a lot since I was a kid. Campgrounds used to be full of families setting up tents, having fires, doing fun outdoorsy things, playing games, and stuff like that. Campgrounds now are filled with mostly far too expensive mobile homes, trailers, and 5th wheels mostly filled with retirees and seniors and instead of the old school camping activities…it is people sitting in their recliners watching TV in their home on wheels. I, personally, think that sucks but like the election of 2016 – there isn’t anything we can do about it.