Progressive Oregon

Back at the beginning of the twentieth century there was such a thing as a progressive Republican, people like Theodore Roosevelt, and those folks get much of the credit for a wave of progressive legislation that swept the country.  It was in this era that radical rights like the recall, the referendum, and the initiative were extended to the people in many states.

California and Oregon were two, and although California has lost much of its progressivism under a series of more modern Republican governors, i found more evidence of it in Oregon during my Portland expedition.

The first shock occurred when i pulled into my first Oregon gas station and a friendly attendant beat me to the handle of the pump.  Oh hell, i thought, i’ve inadvertently pulled up to a Full Service pump, where the gas will be more expensive.  But hey, i realized, i’m treating myself to some luxuries on this trip, so why not?

And then i looked around and saw that everybody was getting his gas pumped, whether or not he deserved it…and we were not paying extra for this service.  What i nice touch, i thought, as the guy cleaned my windshield and i tried to remember the Old Days when all gas stations had attendants who provided this service.

Don’t know what these guys are paid, but at least there are more “entry-level” jobs for young men.

I stopped for gas again before i crossed the border back into California, just for the luxury of having my gas pumped, and this station was doing little business at the moment so i had my attendant to myself and got into conversation.  Told him what a wonderful luxury it was to have somebody help me with the gas.  He laughed and said that some visitors were annoyed that state law prohibited them from spewing highly flammable liquids around.  We agreed that people get offended too easily nowadays.

Another more dramatically progressive aspect of Oregon came to my notice gradually as i developed an increasing sense of being undercharged every time i made a purchase.  I’m not sweating the pennies much anymore, but something was wrong.  Then i started paying more attention and realized that when i handed the clerk an item priced at $4.95 and he rang it up, the register showed my total bill as $4.95.  And yes, when i handed him a five, i got a nickel  back.  There’s no sales tax!  Regressive as sales taxes are, i thought all states had them, at least on everything but basic food.  Nope.  Not in Oregon.

In an earlier post i’d feared that i might have to call Portlanders cleaner than San Franciscans owing to the paucity of street trash there.  Now i can speculate that no, they’re not cleaner but rather, since the state treats them better, they simply act nicer.


Which brings me to the last point – the homeless.  Or well, the indigent street people.  I have to tiptoe around the edge of political correctness here, but it sure did appear to me that Portland not only has fewer homeless but also a better class of them than San Francisco.

I mean, they’re better dressed.  They act nicer.  They don’t lie around passed out in the gutters.  Fewer seem to be mendicants, and those tend to be very low key and have neatly lettered signs.  When i was out looking for some duct tape for a temporary repair on my Segway, the helpful clerk in their version of a 7-11 had directed me to the approximate location of an Office Depot some distance away, and as i was rolling slowly along in the suggested neighborhood looking for this store, i spotted a beggar.

Ha!  Beggars are always locals.  He’ll know.  So i rolled up to him, courteously dismounted, and offered to buy some information from him – a dollar for the location of the nearest Home Depot.

He was articulate, he was knowledgeable.  He gave me the precise location, and i gave him two dollars.

At the Home Depot i told the first clerk i encountered that i was having a problem with the handlebar assembly on my Segway and needed some duct tape to effect a repair.  He agreed that you can fix just about anything with enough duct tape.

And led me to the tape selection.

At the bank of cashier stations, there was a bit of a delay as the woman ahead of me at the only open register involved the clerk there in an increasingly convoluted transaction.

Another clerk leaped to open a register for me.

I could get used to this.  Naw, then i’d just be spoiled.

Here’s some public art in a little plaza behind the University Place Hotel in Portland.

sculpture behind the University Place Hotel



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  1. Rick C.
    Posted 9 September 2014 at 06:18 | Permalink

    Wow. I mean, I’m stunned… When my lease is up next summer, maybe I should consider moving to Oregon. Being surrounded by generally nice people might be hard to get used to, but I’m willing to tough it out.

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 9 September 2014 at 06:55 | Permalink

      I’m so gregarious that people everywhere are nice to me, but i was really impressed with the folks in Portland. Then again, i told all of ’em i was up there doing a photo essay on their bridges, which was flattering and appealed to their civic pride, so of course they were nice.

      • Rick C.
        Posted 16 September 2014 at 08:47 | Permalink

        Ha! Good point. Be nice to people (and especially, flattering) and they are more likely to be nice back. And some would call that altruism… I call it good, common sense.

        • Matte Gray
          Posted 16 September 2014 at 11:00 | Permalink

          People love it when you pay attention to them in a nice way. During my last stay in Amsterdam i wrote a blog post about the visit every day, and toward the end happened to check my readership statistics. Yow! My numbers had doubled! Then i looked at the detail and saw that at that point i was getting more hits from the Netherlands than from America, the Dutch being so keen to read what i was saying about them.

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