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Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Oregon is Weird

Tillamook Cheese Factory and Multi-Purpose Enterprise.

People are doing the chicken dance in the next room, so forgive me if this post lacks focus. Actually, some of my nephews have a CD of the world's most catchily annoying songs -- the chicken dance, the new and "urban" electric slide, the so-called "Hamster Dance," YMCA, The Limbo, etc.

Actually, I'm now watching Germany play against Poland in the World Cup. As far as I can tell, the relationship between Germany and Poland in soccer is the same as the Packers and the Bears. Both respective fan bases hate each other, but the team that's not as good really hates the other team. Packer fans hated the Bears in the 80's, and that reversed in the 90's and 00's. The fans of the "good" team feel smug and postmodernally "so over" the whole rivalry, which in turn infuriates the fans of the "bad" team and whips them into even more of a spiteful frenzy. Anyway, this post isn't about Germany and Poland, although it probably should be. Did you know that 121 soccer hooligans were arrested the night before this soccer game, 20 of whom were having a "practice fight." What is that? Were they practicing for a real fight, and if so why didn't they bring practice knives?

We're at minute 73 of a 90-minute game. I have a feeling this one is going to end 0-0. What are the Germans and the Polish supposed to do with that?

This is how wars get started. Imagine a tie between the Packers and Bears. There would be mass confusion about how to feel. Pray that never happens, ok? Oh, good, Germany just scored. The natural order of things has been preserved. Poland just felt invaded all over again.

No, this post is about Tillmook, OR, home of the regionally-famous Tillamook Cheese Factory. It took a 40-mile drive up the coast on Pacific Coast Hwy 101 to get there, but boy was it worth it. First of all, the drive is absolutely gorgeous. Oregon is a haven for large evergreen trees, and they grow in packs just about everywhere. There are also cows all over the place, which is strange because in my experience cows are found on great boring wide-open plains and not picture-perfect green valleys a mile away from the ocean. It's very much like a mountainy version of northern Wisconsin, and I feel right at home here, especially when eating cheese.

There's no way to explain the climate and vegetation of Oregon, actually. The best way to learn about it is to watch Twin Peaks. Even thought that was filmed in Washington state, it looks very much the same. It's like a whole different planet than Texas exists in, and it's in the same country. God bless the USA. From the mountains, to the valleys, and all that.

We drove up the coast on Hwy 101 (or, as I called it in my head, Depeche Mode 101) and passed cows and mountains and cows and trees and bigger trees and browner cows and towns and dirty-looking restaurants and more and better cows. Eventually we needed some gas, so we stopped at a Shell in Beaver, OR. The number one thing about Oregon you probably don't know is the fact that you can't pump your own gas. That's right, there's no such thing as self-serve. When asked the reason for such a hassle-intensive and un-American practice, one local resident told us that it's ostensibly for safety and labor purposes, but the real reason is that Oregon just likes to be different*. Anyway, even though we were warned, it's hard to imagine just how stupid mandatory full-serve is until you've experienced it. Gone was all the convenience of paying at the pump, as well as the ability to call an audible in mid-purchase. And I thought the Wright Amendment and "Michigan Lefts" were dumb. I feel like anything is possible now, in terms of stupid legislation. What's next, someone scolding me for tying my shoes in public? The mind boggles.

After getting pumped in Beaver, we made our way past even more cows, mountains, treeless hills that looked like a war-zone, rivers, sand dunes, cows, and a giant WWII-era blimp hangar that now holds an "Air Museum," whatever that is. I'm imagining planes, but with Oregon being the environmental state it is, the place might be entirely devoted to different kinds of air. We drove on without checking it out because we were getting antsy for some cheese.

Tillamook, OR is a mile-or-so long strip of town located right on Depeche Mode 101. The Cheese Factory is on the north edge of the town, and so we were getting worried when we passed all this stuff coming from the south and still didn't see it. There was actually no chance of missing it, because it's a giant oxydol-white industrial complex with "Tillamook Cheese Factory" written in large happy blue letters on the side. As we drove up, I got slight flashbacks to my brewery tour of a couple weeks ago, but only slight because this place is about 1/100th the size of Anheuser-Busch, and has the clean smell of dairy and sugar rather than the dirty smell of hops and yeast. Upon entrance to the Cheese Compound, you are bombarded with a number of different food-related shops to choose from: The Farmland Cafe', a full-fledged restaurant with lots of greasy food; A Fudge Shop that claims to be run by farmers, and whose friendly counter people will gladly tell you the approx. distance you are from Portland and how long it will take you to get there; A Frozen Fun Food (not sure about the name) shop with some seriously tasty strawberry cheesecake-flavored ice cream; A gift shop with all the different varieties of Tillamook cheeses, including every cheese factory's nuclear weapon, fresh squeaky cheese curds; and a self-guided tour of the plant that consists of 2 big rooms and a bunch of big machines and disinterested workers. Yeah, the tour is boring, but it has free samples. I guess that's the default attitude one must take during every factory tour, no matter which kind it is.

We saw the factory, ate some free samples, bought some ice cream, made yummy noises, bought a bunch of cheese, bought some refrigerator magnets, and felt like my parents the whole time. I don't think I have to tell you that it was a fantastic and magical place, filled with all manner of cheese.

There were a lot of old people there and a lot of families with teenagers. I don't know what that means, but it was nice to see teenagers who didn't seem too cool for their parents. Is that a feature of Oregon? I like it.

A word of warning, or perhaps opportunity: There are no black people in Oregon, or at least none that I don't personally know. Everyone we see no matter where we go -- restaurants, cheese factories, hiking trails, casinos, grocery stores, etc -- is as white as the smocks worn by the cheese factory workers. This strikes me as strange, given the high levels of acceptance and environmental smackdownism** that I've seen. So this might be a good time for black people to move out here. It's beautiful, it rarely snows, and everybody has a sheen of love and acceptance painted over them by force when they move in. Yes, it rains a lot and it's not what you would call warm, but I definitely sense an opportunity here.

Or maybe it's lily-white for a reason. A sinister reason. Somebody needs to investigate this.

Gotta go...the Electric Slide is on.

* How is Oregon diffferent? Let me count the ways...The gas-pumping thing, lack of a sales tax, legal medical marijuana, legal assisted suicide, a Portland P.D. that refuses to cooperate with the FBI, and about 10 other things that are too complicated to explain here but would blow your mind if you heard them. I asked this Oregonian (my brother-in-law Pete) the gas pump question and was given a long flowing river of insanity. In the end, I felt glad that Dallas just has rampant crime and no city leadership.

** For example, they charge you 5 cents upfront for aluminum cans, and you get the money back when you recycle them. By that I mean 5 cents for every can. Also, I've seen a number of restaurants with signs by the napkins imploring people to take only as many as they need. I'm trying to picture either of those situations happening in Texas, and all I end up with is some wounded store clerks and a guy in cowboy boots taking wads of napkins and throwing them at people. Texans value their independence quite a bit, and Oregonians apparently just like feeling like they're better than the people in all those other states.


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