Regular readers know that my writing is more regular than some of my readers. Except lately, I haven’t been so regular. No, I don’t need a suppository to loosen the sluices on some writer’s block. I’ve just been on vacation. But seeing as how I’ve posted where I live on this blog, and I don’t have a brother Ray with a vicious dog to house sit for me while I’m away, I figured I wouldn’t tip my hand to would-be criminals about my extended absence until after the fact.
And I suppose, since reading blogs is about voyeurism just as much as writing them is about exhibitionism, you’re perhaps wondering where I went. To Oregon, that’s where. Oregon, the state that Alex has so recently mentioned manages to land itself atop all those silly “places rated” lists. Turns out there are some pretty good reasons why.
Oregon’s kind of an odd, conflicted, place, because it’s divided into two distinct sections by the Cascade range, and this range divides the climate, both physically and politically. The West side of the range is wet and green and liberal. The East side, dry and brown and conservative. But somehow the policymakers manage to get along well enough (or more likely the liberals bully the conservatives sufficiently) to make some public policy decisions I think the rest of the country would do well to emulate.
- Lower speed limits. First thing you notice upon entering the state is that you better slow down if you don’t want to get a ticket. Interstates have a max speed of 65 versus 75 in neighboring states (or in some stretches of Utah, 80!?). Highways have a max speed of 55. Sure it takes you longer to get where you’re going, but it also helps you take in the lovely scenery and use less fuel. And unless you’re an over-the road trucker who can’t safely drive above 65 anyway, you’re likely not in that big of a hurry to get across the state that slowing down a bit is a big deal.
- Full-service fuel stations. The fuel you save costs ever-so-slightly more than in neighboring states, because a service station attendant is going to pump it for you; you can’t pump your own. This is intended to create jobs, but it’s also nice for travelers, as the attendants are usually helpful in providing route data, and they always cleaned our windshield.
- Concise road signs. Oregon road signs get right to the point: Speed 55; Elk; Rocks. They tell you what you need to know and don’t leave you wondering like you do with those picture signs whether the quadruped depicted is a deer, an elk, a pronghorn, or, in the case of several signs we saw in Nevada (and I’m not even kidding here—we actually saw them foraging near the road), a burro.
- No sales tax. Price marked is price paid. Sales taxes are regressive, and if anything, discourage commerce. Which, for all the genius policymakers out there, is not what you want to do if you’re trying to stimulate the economy.
- Pothole hotlines. If you notice a pothole in the road, the city of Portland has a hotline you can call, with the number posted on signs throughout the city, to have the street department come fix it. Nice.
- Slow vehicle pull-outs. It’s one thing to provide a pullout lane for slower vehicles. But the fact that slow vehicles actually use them is what makes them really terrific.
- State parks. Oregon state park campgrounds all have showers. We stayed at one that was a short walk from the campground to a lovely beach that never had more than 15 people on it, and that includes our family of five. Nevermind that while we were at this campground, a five-year-old boy also went missing. That part was a bit scary, but it ended well.
- Bike friendliness. Portland is a bike-friendly city. Duh. Lots of people ride there as a means of everyday transportation. Some of the traffic signals even have bike-specific signals to allow bikes to get from one bike lane to another. Anything that encourages people to ride where they could otherwise drive is a good thing. (Incidentally, I didn’t ride at all while on vacation—took the whole week off the bike. But I did walk rather than drive whenever I could.)
- Weird forest people. OK, this one’s not so much a public policy decision, but I thought I’d include it anyway, because I think some of the public policy fosters this culture. Or maybe the culture fosters the policy. But anyway, Oregon has some weird people. The fact that ghillie suits were displayed in shop windows in one town is evidence enough. I’ve even heard Portland described as where ambition goes to die. Free ridership is the major flaw in many liberal public policies, but anywhere you encounter self-described druids alongside off-the-grid militia types on a regular basis only adds to the charm if you ask me.
So anyway, we like Oregon, the mosquitoes that did their best to eat us alive at Crater Lake notwithstanding. Probably not enough to ever move there, but it was nice. Nice enough that we were talking about going back before we even got home. The scenery was pretty good, too.