There's much more to the country than just rifles, septic tanks and creepy, freeloading deer. Read on...
BOOZE HALLS: We met up with a few compatriots at Ye Olde Dingheiser Pub on the edge of US 26 outside of Manning. I figured a record skip would greet us followed by every angry drunk in the place looking up from their Budweisers. This would be followed by a severe beating, preventable only by a jukebox with "Tequila" queued up. Instead of finding the Hell's Satans on the other side of the door, the Dingheiser was all but empty. An older lady in a tie-dyed tanktop was working the bar. Two guys that looked a failed experiment to crossbreed J.R. Tolkien characters with NASCAR fans were sitting up front (sorry, just reporting the facts here). Instead of hitting us over the head with pool queues, they chatted with one member of our group about, of all subjects, the seldom used service tunnels that run underneath the University of Oregon.
The Dingheiser is one part sports bar and one part backwoods tavern. A U-shaped bar like none I've ever seen sits near the front windows allowing the bartender to basically walk down the middle or it. I don't know the advantage of this over more conventional bars but it looked cool, as did the stuffed beaver hanging over one of the pool tables. In the corner was a wood burning stove with two cardboard stand-ups of Captain Kirk and Spock. Over the bar was a sign warning drinkers they would be charged .25 cents for every f-word uttered. I guess they weren't collecting that night.
Long story short: I'd happily trade the Starbucks in my neighborhood for the Dingheiser. It's a cool little place and I'm glad to report the staff and regulars were willing to put up with out-of-towners, especially since that lady in the psychedelic tanktop could have totally kicked my ass.
STOCK CARS: We were rolling through Banks looking for a store that would sell us shotgun shells at 7:15 on a Saturday night.
Yeah, the opportunity to write a sentence like that doesn't come up every day. I assure you that these shells, had we found them, would have been used for the express purpose of blowing holes in a copy of The Pelican Brief and a few of John Grisham's other legal tomes. My host had just gotten through the Bar Exam and, really, what better way to celebrate? We tried the local Thriftway, the only business still open at that hour that wasn't a tavern. Surprisingly enough, they didn't have any up for grabs in the housewares section or the still-open liquor kiosk near the meat department. Now with time to kill we headed back to the parking lot where we heard the distant rumble of...
...STOCK CARS! The lights were up and the crowd was roaring down at the Sunset Speedway, a few blocks down Bank's main drag. We headed over, grabbed a Bud and moseyed over to the a section reserved for racing fans in motorized wheelchairs (the grandstands were full). We arrived in the middle of the pre-qualifying matches which ran four laps apiece. The organizers kept things going at a fevered pace. Immediately after the checkered flag flew on one race, another round of cars rolled out on the other end of the track and up to the starting line.
So this is what Bo and Luke headed off for once they left Hazzard County. Unlike NASCARs, funny-cars or boxcars, stockcars run on mud-lined tracks. Those sitting in the front rows are bound to get dirt in their beer as we soon learned. Many people in the audience brought eye protection while others around us happily munched on nachos in the perpetual dust haze. During intermission a water truck rolled out to rewet the track to help make the dirt stay put.
Had we come prepared we could have stayed until the final races. Instead we hung around long off to watch several cars spin out and a few come-from-behind wins. I'm sad to say Cake's "The Distance" was running through my head the whole time. I kept trying to replace it with any given song by AC/DC but it didn't work. Lousy brain.
CELESTIAL BODIES: The country has a lot more of these on hand than the city. In addition to the "Big Dipper," I was able to spot the "Small Dipper" and the rarely seen in Portland "Forgotten Wok in the Pantry" and "Seldom-Used George Foreman Grill."
THE WONDERS OF VERNONIA, OREGON: You may have seen the billboard with the cartoon character on US 26. It points motorists north towards Vernonia, a wonderland of camping, hiking and vaguely-alluded to "shops." With an afternoon to kill I drove out that way in search of Ramblin' Rod's old airstrip. Apparently, the kid's show host was an avid pilot and owned a runway. I never found the airstrip and decided to keep driving towards Verononia. It's a nice haul that leads under several old rail bridges. Once I got to Vernonia I found a pretty typical small town. The only things that stood out were a store devoted to chainsaws and an "autobody shop" more interested in selling Marilyn Monroe paraphernalia than doing tune-ups. Vernonia also has a pretty neat deer sign:
I hope you enjoyed this batch of 100% true facts about the communities that can be found 35 minutes west of Portland. If you head out that way, keep your eyes peeled for chickens. Them's mean bastards.