Saturday, 13 September 2014

Trains and Tall Buldings 3: Dispatch from the Central Oregon Coast

Many American cities with "city" in their title aren't recognizable as such*. This seems especially true in the Northwest, where a "city" suffix guarantees a post-rural town that's been swallowed by (or is currently being swallowed by) growing sprawl. Sometimes this takes the form of a dual-downtown situation, where the historic, old downtown is preserved, (with various levels of care) and serves as a destination for tourists, or prospective urban transplants.** Then, a mile or so up a road that more often than not serves as an inlet to multiple cul-de-sacs, there's a huge parking lot with a flagship store (Wal-Mart, if the town is poor, a Safeway/Haggen/Costco if not, Whole Foods or Trader Joes if they have attracted a lot of post-citydwellers) and several other chains-- a Subway, McDonalds, Starbucks, Dominos, etc. I first noticed and identified this in Stanwood, where I lived on return to the states, but have noticed it in growing small towns all over Western Washington. The idealist in me says (dammit!) the old, walkable, local downtowns should be enough for any town, but the pragmatist in me says (well, I guess) this is a decent compromise. More on that, probably at some future post, but this is the context needed for my trip with Rachel and her family to Lincoln City, Oregon.

Located halfway down the coast, at 8,000+, Lincoln City has the third largest population (after Astoria and Newport) of Oregon's coast. When we first drove into the north end, there was the mile-up option, two large parking lots with strip-malls about 40% full of business. A McMennamins. A Safeway, a Grocery Outlet, "the 60s Diner," something called the Dapper Frog, and a pizza place. Lots of Space-For-Lease. 

We got to the beach house, overlooking the pacific ocean. It was serene, spacious, gorgeous. This seems to be a feature of all Oregon coast beach houses.
The first day was largely beachlounging, eating, getting settled. The next day we piled into a couple of cars and drove through Lincoln City to Newport, Oregon***. Lincoln City is an interesting case, as for the longest time it was a series of much smaller towns. The result, as you wind down 101, is a series of your classic, historic downtowns connected intermittently by sprawl or woods. I'm a bit miffed my vacation has to ends when it does, because I want to walk around Welcoma and Taft, especially. The town itself probably couldn't sustain this many centers of eating, drinking, and trinket-buying, but in summer, Lincoln City can grow up to 30,000 people due to tourism. Which is it's #1 income source, natch.
It'd be a great spot for a school of some sort; it seems uniquely positioned to make for a sweet little college town. But that's not the business I'm in.

Twenty miles south is Newport, the largest town on the Central Oregon Coast, an hourish east of Eugene. After noodling our way through the Nye Beach Neighborhood, we disembarked at Bayfront, which serves as both an active fishing port and Newport's crown tourist destination (the aquarium, wax museum, waterfront, and undersea gardens are all there). 

I got the feeling both Nye Beach and Bayfront serve as Old Downtowns for Newport; the mile-up strip mall option wasn't one parking lot or series thereof, it was the whole stretch into town, a la Highway 99 in Washington. Bayfront promised the unique-to-Newport.
As such, I wanted to fall in love with Bayfront. I didn't. I mean, it was fascinating**** but . . . inevitably, things sold to tourists and tourists end up being useless; people buy the things they truly need in or near the places they live. Resulting in blocks and blocks of shirts that say things like "If You Like My Bumper, You'll Love my Headlights!" or "If you're not fishing, you're doing it wrong." 
I mean, a block of these stores, fine. Or you know, one really good one. Two decent ones at different ends. . . but in Newport, next to bars that advertise themselves as "a haven for the riff-raff, the ne-er do-wells", bars that probably had to slap "historic" into their name just to remain, across from the docks where fishermen haul in the seafood that serves one of the many Coastal Chains, are rows of pastel butterflies, of sub-Hot Topic/Spencers storefronts that you wonder who, how, why?
Not to say I wasn't charmed at points. The Seafood was damn good. The fascination factor kept my head swiveling, and the town makes no attempts to hide it's grime or industry. In Seattle they'd probably set up a toll system to eat your fish and chips above a dock of Sea Lions.

*the obvious, glaring exception being New York City. Haven't been to either Iowa or Carson Cities, but impressions have not been of huge metropoli, foster-wallaces notwithstanding.
**"You know, it's such a shame to leave Seattle, but I could actually see us living here. . . this is such a cute cafe and look! That bar has a sign for live music. Plus, we can do most our shopping at the farmers market for the three months that it exists."
***There are more Newports than any other town in the English Speaking World. It's just that catchy! (And functional!)
****Fascinating is still better than the Grey Hell that is going through Lynnwood, or Oregon City. Fascinating is better than the grinding depression of Hoquiam, Wa, or even, arguably the Endpoints of Gentrification that a handful of Seattle's neighborhoods are rapidly becoming. But we can ask for more from our communities than single-mode identifiers OR a sub-gonzo journalistic licking of blood-stained lips.

1 comment:

LeAnne LB said...

Get in the business of making college towns, Graham! :)

We were on 101 a lot in CA recently. It would be fun to blog a whole highway route.

Also, I love the sea lion photo.