Ah, electricity. Invisible and unappreciated until it’s gone.
O is for . . . Oregon everything!
Of course O is for Oregon. But it’s more than that. Driving along the roads in this state, one is likely to see big green, yellow, orange or black letter O’s on the windows and bumpers of passing cars. You may even see flags bearing the letter O, but these O’s don’t just stand for Oregon. Oh no. You see, we don’t have a pro football team in this state, so people are crazy about our college teams, specifically the University of Oregon Ducks–green and yellow–and Oregon State University’s Beavers–orange and black. All it takes is the one letter to show their loyalty. Fans put it on their cars, their clothes, their foreheads and chests, anywhere, just one big O. Of course folks in Oregon forget that there are other states with names that start with the letter O. Oklahoma and Ohio for example, have state universities, too. But here, O stands for Oregon.
I went to San Jose State, so I don’t care who wins the football games, but I like the black and orange colors better, so if I were going to buy a sweatshirt . . . No, I don’t dare. Once, while I was walking Annie on the Bayfront, a drunk staggered by and said, “Hey, an orange dog. Yay, Beavers.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him Annie is tan, not orange, and neither one of us is into sports.
O. Around here, everything starts with the letter O. It’s alphabet soup with too many O’s. For example:
OCCC–Oregon Coast Community College (as opposed to CCC–Central Coast Chorale)
OCA–Oregon Coast Aquarium
OCCA–Oregon Coast Council for the Arts
OCP–Oregon Catholic Press
OMTA–Oregon Music Teachers Association
OPB–Oregon Public Broadcasting
ODFW–Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
O–kay. You get the idea. There are more, but I’m drawing a blank. Help me out if you can think of other O abbreviations.
B Childless by Marriage–B is for Baby
C Unleashed in Oregon–C is for Crate
D Writer Aid–D is for Deadline
E Unleashed in Oregon–E is for Ear
F Unleashed in Oregon–F is for Fur
G Unleashed in Oregon–G is for Gunk
H Childless by Marriage–H is for Harley
I Unleashed in Oregon–I is for I-5
J Writer Aid–J is for Job
K Unleashed in Oregon–Key is for Keys
L Unleashed in Oregon–L is for Lick
M Unleashed in Oregon–M is for Milk-Bone
N Childless by Marriage–No is for No, I Don’t Know Children’s Songs
O Unleashed in Oregon
P Writer Aid
Q Unleashed in Oregon
R Unleashed in Oregon
S Unleashed in Oregon
T Childless by Marriage
U Unleashed in Oregon
V Writer Aid
W Unleashed in Oregon
X Unleashed in Oregon
Y Unleashed in Oregon
Z Childless by Marriage
More than 2000 other bloggers have signed up for the challenge. For more information, visit a-to-zchallenge.com You might find some great new blogs to follow. I know I will. Visit Writer Aid tomorrow to find out what P stands for.
Torn between Oregon and California
The thing with living distant from your family, whether it be in another state or another country, is that, if you have a loving relationship, you will always be traveling back and forth. Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings and funerals all draw me south, back to California. in the last 17 years, I have made at least 40 trips.
The airport is so far it’s not worth the trouble to fly, and it’s not an easy drive. Hot in summer, snow, rain and wind in winter, traffic year-round in the Bay Area. Last Thanksgiving, I drove through intense rain and wind that left trees, signs and roofs scattered all over western Oregon while I struggled to keep my car on the road. When I thought the hard part was over, I ran over a bicycle in the middle of the 680 freeway, shredding my tire. When I arrived at Dad’s house, I declared “never again.”
Not only was the drive horrendous, but I was missing work, had to leave Annie at the kennel and generally turned my life upside down. But as long as I live in Oregon, and my family lives in California, I will do it again and again. I love my family, and most of them are not free to come to Oregon.
When my mother was dying, I wore out the I-5 freeway driving back and forth. Now my father is ill. I always knew that someday I’d need to rush down to help Dad. That time has come. I’m into my third week in the house where I grew up. I’m cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, taking out the garbage, buying the groceries and driving Dad back and forth to Kaiser hospital. He’s 91 and facing open heart surgery. We talk for hours and he keeps showing me things I’ll need to know if the worst happens. He keeps saying things like “when I conk out . . .” But we have spent magical hours going over old photos and sharing memories. We have laughed together. This time is a gift in many ways.
It’s not all fun. I miss my work, my dog, my WiFi, but none of that really matters right now. My father may die soon. Every time he falls asleep in front of the TV, I check to make sure he’s still breathing. He was sick in bed all day yesterday while I tiptoed around and prayed a lot. He’s a strong man, but nobody lives forever.
Meanwhile, I’m loving the California sunshine and easy access to the rest of the family. Between crises, I’m sleeping soundly in my old bedroom. This house is warm and cozy, not dependent on woodstoves to heat it. As I sit in my mother’s chair by the living room window writing in the glow of a pink and blue sunrise while my father sleeps, for the first time in years I don’t feel divided between two states. But I can’t stay here. I live in Oregon now.
I don’t know what the next few weeks will bring. We hope for a successful surgery and strong recovery that will allow Dad to live on his own again. Whether or not that happens, when my father doesn’t need me anymore, Oregon waits for me like a patient lover who will never give up on me, even though I leave it again and again.
Writing my way across four states
|Pondering the river during Fishtrap poetry workshop|
Hugging the open mic in Yachats
Just Your Average Oregon Coast Storm
A super windstorm hit the coast Sunday and Monday. You might have heard about it on the news. Sunday night, a 98 mile an hour gust blew off part of the roof at Izzy’s restaurant in Newport. I can’t believe it didn’t blow mine off, too. Pieces of trees and yard decorations were flying all over. The wind chimes were doing somersaults. Meanwhile, I was packing for my trip to California, wondering if I could really go.
On Monday morning, it was still raining, still blowing, with reports of damage and road closures. My route was clear so far. I checked the reports over and over. I prayed. I asked my Facebook friends if I should go. I loaded the car. Once the dog was sitting in the driver’s seat, it was hard to change my mind.
I got as far as Lost Creek State Park, about a mile and a half from home, and decided to get off the road. The wind was blowing from the south so hard it was like trying to drive against an invisible wall. The rain slammed against the windows so thick I could barely see. This is nuts, I told the dog as I pulled into the parking lot and stared at an ocean that was all froth and fury.
We can’t go, I decided, but somehow when I came out of the parking lot, I turned south toward California instead of going home. The rain had eased a tiny bit, and I decided to keep going.
I had to take Annie east down Highway 34 to the kennel in Tidewater. I saw just small debris going, but 15 minutes later, coming back, there was a tree across the road. No cell phone service there. Several men had already parked and were cleaning up the tree branches with their hands. When they got one lane cleared enough, we drove over the rest of the tree and went on.
Back on 101, I turned south again. Wind, rain, water on the road, rivers rising nearby. Gripping the steering wheel so tight my hands hurt, and my accelerator leg hurt, but I couldn’t relax for a second. Speed limits meant nothing; we had to drive much slower than usual just to keep from sliding off into the ocean. I kept thinking: where will I have to stop, how will I rearrange this trip, I’ll never travel on Thanksgiving again.
I finally got to Florence, praise God, houses, stores, stoplights. I found the restaurant where I had planned to eat lunch, the Hot Rod Inn, with old cars literally sticking out of the roof. But it was closed! For sale. I drove on, hoping to eat at another place south of Florence. It was closed, too, for lease. Nuts!
The thirty-eight miles to Reedsport took forever, water blowing across the road like waves, car losing traction every hundred yards. But I made it to Harbor Lights, at the intersection of 101 and Highway 38. Got soaked on the way in. I highly recommend this restaurant. Specials in colored chalk on the blackboard on the far wall, display case with pumpkin muffins, carrot cake, Marionberry crisps, lava cake, yum. Meat lovers can order wild elk or boar, and there are eggplant sandwiches for the vegetarians. I had a mushroom burger on chiabatta bread, oozing mayonnaise. Heaven. Perfect French fries, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.
I talked to a guy there who was worried about the road north to Yachats. Just rain and wind, I said, but it could change with the next gust of wind. It turns out we both went to San Jose State.
As I paid my bill, the waitress wished me a nice evening. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon but dark as twilight when I ran out to the car, getting wet again, and started my eastward trek along the Umpqua River away from the ocean.
I saw more elk than ever at the elk preserve, most of them close to the road, most of their land under water. Usually there are crowds of camera-bearing tourists taking pictures. Not this time. Too wet and wild.
The rain began to lighten up after Elkton, a few more miles down the road. I looked around and remembered how incredibly beautiful western Oregon is. I cranked up the radio and made it to Yreka at 6:00. Clear, light wind, temps in the 50s. After all these years going back and forth, this motel room feels like home.
I had put a call out on Facebook, asking my Oregon friends whether or not to go. My friend Pat, from Massachusetts via California, said don’t go. My friend Sandy said, too late, that newscasters were telling people not to drive if they didn’t have to. My Oregon friends said check the weather and go if it’s not snowing. My friend Lauren said she had just driven to Eugene from the coast against 60 mile an hour winds. Go, she said, we’re Oregonians.
Exactly. We pull our hoods over our heads and go.
Somewhere up ahead, there’s sunshine.
Just South of the Airport
I woke up this morning to the sound of a plane flying over my house. UPS? Fed Ex? A private plane heading to Portland or Silicon Valley? A couple years ago, I would have guessed it was a Seaport commuter plane doing its 4:45 a.m. run to Portland. That airline, like several others, tried flying out of Newport and couldn’t make enough money to stay. In the 14 years since Fred and I moved into our house a half mile south of the airport, we have watched Harbor Air, Sky Taxi and Seaport come and go. Each time, they left the airport a little more modernized for the mail transports, charter flights, and Coast Guard helicopters that continue to fly there. With new lights, expanded runways and fences to keep deer and elk off the tarmac, Newport Airport can accommodate the biggest jets, but it just can’t support regular flights that would let us avoid the three-hour drive to the Portland airport. Imagine being able to walk up the road with my suitcase and hop on a plane. Unless I buy my own plane, it’s not happening.
I write a lot more about the airport in my book Shoes Full of Sand, available at Amazon.com and at https://suelick.com/front-page/blue-hydrangea-books
Playing with the Toledo symphony
The wind blew a percussive bass into the microphones, soft cymbals in the breeze blew under my shirt and riffled my sheet music. Children called to each other, birds sang a descant, and dogs barked tenor harmonies. Behind and below me, the train shuffled like blocks rubbed against each other. As I reached the finale of my song, the whistles blew and the whole orchestra came together. Shortly after that, the umbrella fell to the side, the tip hat blew across the stage and my music stand wobbled like a late-night drunk. The clouds turned dark, threatening rain. But I sang on as nearby listeners applauded and vendors selling their photographs, quilts, bird houses, plants, baked goods, and jewelry, held onto their wares lest they blow away. As I walked the street after my performance, many said they had loved my music. I never get enough of that.
This was the Toledo Wednesday Street Market, which happens all summer in Toledo, Oregon, a lumber mill town built on hills so steep that when I dropped my red steel water bottle getting out of the car, it rolled almost all the way down to Main Street, acquiring a new scratched and dented look. There was no way I could catch it; I could only watch and hope it ran into something before it fell into a storm drain or got squashed by a car. From now on, I’ll look at its scars and remember Toledo.
Once upon a time, Toledo was a happening place, the county seat and the main port of call for boats traveling up Yaquina Bay. Today, things are a lot quieter. It’s not unusual to be the only person walking down Main Street, but the city fathers and mothers have done their best to dress up the town. In summer, huge baskets of pansies and other plants hang from poles and fences. New restaurants and shops have opened, along with the many antiques shops. Artists welcome visitors for gallery tours, and Sam Briseño, who makes magical metal sculptures, has scattered colorful benches on the downtown sidewalks. Click the City of Toledo link for a list of events planned throughout the year.
I have been singing in Toledo one Wednesday every summer for years, thanks to host Frank Jones. It could be raining and cold, dry and hot, windy or not, but it’s always fun playing with the Toledo orchestra of natural sounds.
The street market continues every Wednesday during the summer from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with different musicians every week.
BLTA and Fries
DEC. 30, SOUTH BEACH, OR–After yoga class, feeling fit and flexible, I cruise over to Flashbacks for a thoroughly un-yogic lunch. I can hear the music as I get out of the cars. Beatles. The Rubber Soul album.Through the windows I see two middle-aged women, their brown hair in upswept dos. There’s nothing left in their red baskets except grease and salt.
I push through the door, pass the grab-a-toy game, and gaze at the much-erased and rewritten specials board: Cheeseburger, fries and medium drink, $5.95. Shake of the day? Pumpkin. Soup? Chicken noodle. Pie? Apple.
A waitress clad in a red Flashbacks tee shirt approaches, menu in hand. Before she can lead me to window area, I ask if I can sit in one of the corner booths by the ice cream counter.
Ah, my table. It’s warm, private, and the red vinyl seat isn’t torn yet. “I Love Lucy” posters hang over my head as I take off my coat, open my book and settle in.
I remember when this place was new. About 10 years ago, I interviewed the original owners for the News-Times. They had a vision of an old-time 1950s diner where all the kids would hang out. The juke box played more Elvis than ’60s music in those days. Yellowed copies of Popular Science graced every table for pre-dinner reading. The waitresses wore poodle skirts, and every now and then they’d stop everything to do a dance number.
Ah, those were the days. But the owners had another restaurant, The Chalet, at the other end of town, and running both was too much. Plus Flashbacks soon gained a reputation for miserably slow service. It was a great place for meetings because you had plenty of time to talk, but if you just wanted to eat and go, not so good.
The new owners have dropped some of the 50s kitsch and speeded up the service. They also added pizzas to the menu, but it’s the burgers and ice cream dishes that make it worth the trip. As the only place open for dinner every night in South Beach and located within walking distance of two hotels, Flashbacks is well situated to survive in this tourist-based economy. With the new college opening up the hill next year, things will only get better.
Today, it’s Christmas vacation. I watch as skinny young girls peruse the ice cream tubs. “I want some of that and that and. . . ” Lilly, a tiny efficient waitress, dishes up ice cream, tosses on sprinkles, sprays whipped cream from a can. She mixes trays full of milkshakes, served in big glasses with the leftovers in tall tin cups like the old days. In between, she runs the cash register and waits on regulars like me.
I order my usual, the BLTA. That’s a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with avocado. It comes with a ton of crispy fries that I wash down with iced tea. I read my book and spy on the other customers.
A father tells his little boy, “I hear they have a game where you can drive a car.” I nod to myself. They do. Three of them in the next room, which is set up so the tables face a mural of a drive-in theater like the one that used to sit across the highway. Beyond that is a glassed-in room full of video games.
I’m not doing a commercial here. Some of the dinner items aren’t so good, and there’s something odd about the pizza sauce, but Flashbacks is a great place for boomers to take their kids and grandkids. Mom-types like me sit there singing with the jukebox while their embarrassed offspring play games until the food is ready. The kids don’t care about the Three Stooges or the Beatles or Elvis, whose pictures cover the walls, nor are they excited by the life-size cutouts of John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe on the way to the restrooms, but the folks enjoy the memories.
My BLTA tastes especially delicious today. Mayonnaise oozes out the sides, and thick slices of bacon hang over the edges of the bread. Soon my hands are covered with mayo and avocado. And the fries, oh the fries, crisp on the outside, soft and hot on the inside. I read and eat and observe.
At the table across the way, two kids drive the cardboard Corvette convertibles their food came in across the red-and-chrome Formica table. A fat guy wearing pajama bottoms pays at the register. An attractive woman with hard-soled boots and tight jeans clomps up behind him. A mother and daughter study the ice cream. Bubble gum or mint chocolate chip? The owner rushes out of the pizza kitchen, wearing an apron, a black scarf tied pirate-style around his head. “How ya doin’?” he says, not stopping on his way to the grill.
The phone rings, muffled video games jingle from the back room, conversation murmurs like the nearby ocean, and I sing “Under the Boardwalk” with the jukebox as I read, sated and content.
It’s going to take a lot of sun salutes to work this off, but I don’t care. Live in the moment. Ommmm.