Thursday, September 22, 2005

Days 15-16 - Is this heaven? No, it's just Oregon

Days 15-16 from a hidden jewel of America – Ashland, Oregon, just a few miles north of the California border and home of the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a renowned summertime production that draws thousands to this burgh.
Oregon is unlike other states as I quickly discovered. Taxes are quite different and laws are different. Mostly, in this part of Oregon, people are much different, described as an enclave (actually holdout) of 1960s hippiedom. Many residents still dress (or undress) the part, with many women thinking that tube tops, sarongs and far too many inches around their waists are actually attractive. Many guys look like Tommy Chong (then and now) and hiking boots, not Nikes, are the footwear of choice.
My gas report tells you that the precious fuel stands at $2.97 per gallon in most southern Oregon stations. BUT … you, the driver, are not permitted to pump your own gas. Oh no, that is against state law. Instead an attendant MUST go to the pump of your choice and personally insert pump into tank and you get to announce those famous words, “Fill ‘er up!” Additionally, the attendant goes old school – checks the oil and washes the window.
Consequently, more people are employed at full service stations, which are plentiful. These stations will change oil, fix flats and do minor repairs – just like the good old days. Those convenience stations with gas offer “mini serve,” which offers pump but no wipe.
And guess what? There is no state gas tax in Oregon. In fact, there is no state sales tax, period. “The cost of what you buy is the actual cost,” our attendant told us while informing the obvious out-of-towners to stay away from the pumps.
Then at $2.97, gas would seem to be overpriced, compared to other states. That’s what the Oregon governor thinks as well, and he is asking the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, for an investigation into price gouging. The guv thinks it should sit at $2.50 a gallon in his state. I can second that emotion.
It is refreshing NOT to have to pay sales tax. Oregon draws many people from northern California and southern Washington to shop and save … BIG! It is a lesson that should be delivered to the Texas legislature who think public education funding should be shouldered by the sales tax instead of business and other taxes.
Oregon has property taxes that are high (although property values are much, MUCH higher than in Texas) and a personal income tax. But a trade-off between sales for income taxes might be more attractive with the promise of a complete elimination of one for the other, which is NOT as regressive and damaging to businesses as expensive lobbyists whisper into the ears of pliable lawmakers.
Another law of interest? You cannot be a public school teacher in Oregon without a master’s degree. Earn that and you earn a far greater wage than Texas teachers and are better qualified. Of course, most garbagemen earn more than Texas teachers.
In Ashland (pop. 19,500), motorists MUST stop for pedestrians crossing the street, regardless of when, where and how. Walkers rule in this city where Thursday (Sept. 22) was a “no drive, no car” day in town. Organizers wanted the hippies, old and new, to turn Ashland into old-time Beijing (nothing but bicycles). There was going to be a bicycle drive-in movie but I could not figure out how back seat smooching was going to happen.
Because of the influx of tourists for the Shakespeare, there are countless curio shops, great restaurants, scores of bed-and-breakfast spots, and plenty of sights to see at Lithia Park, a 100-acre facility with a Japanese garden and a headless statue of Abe Lincoln. I wisely suggested to my friend, Jennifer (a native who returned home to help care for her mother), that they rededicate the statue to Washington Irving.
Nestled in the heart of the Rogue River Valley, between two mountain ranges, it is a great place to live. It has an exotic charm to it and is quite intoxicating. Imagine driving home and see a full family of deer (buck, doe and baby) meandering through town … without fear of becoming a mantle piece. Or being able to leave your home unlocked when you go to work without fear of losing your flat screen.
But every city has it warts and in Ashland, it comes from the incredible amount of street/homeless people that seem to be everywhere. Many appear to drink from the public fountains in the park, with water enriched with lithium, a natural anti-depressant. The warm springs water throughout Jackson County, where Ashland is located, is known for such properties. The Lithia River is named for the substance. Many people come to Ashland to get their buzz.
They do nothing but beg for money and mere loose change doesn’t work. They ask for bills – the bigger the better. Even for this old-school liberal, it is disgusting. With the population of Ashland what it is, no one seems interested in thinning that herd and each person who supports these … bums (almost exclusively men) only allows the problem to linger. Then again, apparently few people believe it to be a problem.
I guess walking panhandlers truly rule the road in Ashland. It must be the law.

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