Local attorney Drew Senter and his wife, Jennifer Senter, a teacher at The Donoho School, traveled to the Pacific Northwest last month with their daughter, Noelle.
“That area is incredibly beautiful and full of variety,” Drew said. When he says “variety,” he means it.
One day, he and his daughter built a summertime snowman while watching downhill skiers traverse Mount Hood. Less than 24 hours later, they spotted surfboarders catching the waves at Short Sands Beach.
From the mountains of Ranier and St. Helens to rock formations to tide pools, the scenery was captivating. “Waterfalls and old-growth trees abound,” he said. “And the Columbia River Gorge is one of the greenest places I’ve ever been.”
At Bonneville Fish Hatchery, they saw 50- to 70-year-old sturgeon swimming in clear pools. While on a sunset walk along the Oregon coast to Haystock Rock, they saw tufted puffins.
In addition to these sights of nature, Drew made a few other interesting observations about the area and its people:
The food is amazing: The whole farm-to-table craze is nothing new for folks who live out that way. They may even be the ones who initiated it. “Camas, Wash., is a hidden food gem,” Drew said. “Even the fast food restaurants use all local ingredients.” Halibut fish and chips quickly became the family’s favorite meal. “Our eventual rule-of-thumb came to be, when in doubt, get the fish and chips.”
Tax is included in the price: In grocery stores or gift shops, the price tag says it all. No additional costs at the register. It’s even that way in restaurants. “The price on the menu is the price of the item,” Drew said. It’s a concept he considers “refreshing,” even though the potential to hide a tax is possible. “If a tax increase occurs, the customer won’t see it on the receipt,” he said.
Homelessness is a serious problem in the area: Drew had seen documentaries about it, but had never experienced such a large number of visibly homeless people. “Tent cities are almost everywhere you look,” he said. It created quite a contrasting scene — busy downtown business districts with campgrounds in the middle of them. Drew doesn’t know what the solution is and he isn’t making a political statement. “It’s just hard to miss.”
Gas stations are full-service: The first time he stopped for gas, Drew got out of the car as he usually does with credit card in hand. An employee immediately arrived to take over, but Drew tried to wave him off. The guy insisted. “This is Oregon,” he said. “All gas stations are full-service.” Drew handed over the card and stood back, watching as the employee assisted customers at three other pumps, before returning to finish with him and provide a receipt. The next time the family stopped for gas, Drew knew what to do. “I rolled down the window, and stayed in the car,” he said. “I imagine Oregonians enjoy this a lot in the winter.”
Everyone has a dog: “Not everyone, of course, but almost everyone,” Drew said. “I guess 70 percent of the Oregonians we saw did.” As a result, the area boasts dog-friendly restaurants and stores. “It may be why so many of the residents are fit,” Drew reasoned. “Because they’re always walking their dogs!”
Hipsters are wearing baggy pants: “I’ve always been told that fashion trends come from the West Coast and move east,” Drew said. “If our small view of Portland was any indication, get ready for a relaxed pant look.”
Portland is weird (and that’s how they want to stay): Road signs, refrigerator magnets, T-shirts and more declare “Keep Portland Weird.” There’s even a website dedicated to that goal — keepportlandweird.com. Usually when traveling, it’s Drew’s Southern accent that makes him stand out, but in Portland it was his lack of weirdness. “My lack of funk and tattoos,” he said. “Not being a hipster.” It did make him wonder though, “If everyone is weird, isn’t weird normal?” That is why Drew believes that, in maintaining his usual conservative style, he was doing his own part to “keep Portland weird.”
It’s a logical point — in a weird kind of way.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.