Eugene Can Grow (Up) This Week

Hey, Eugene! Would you like to be a big town? Would you like to have more than enough to do on almost any night of the year? Would you like our national reputation to no longer include the word “sleepy”?

Any place that wants to be a big town must first stop being a small town. We’ve all been to small towns and some of us have loved them. Some would be happy for Eugene to go back to the time when everything here was small and manageable. Unfortunately for them, attractive towns usually shrink only when disaster strikes.

Bigger doesn’t always mean better. The “better” part is really up to us, and how much kicking and screaming we do as we adapt. Eugene will always do more screaming than most places — our voices compete with drum circles — but we can aim for nearly no kicking.

Small towns keep things manageable by offering its residents just one thing at a time. One civic issue, one gossipy rumor, one community event — everybody waits their turn. Big places leave that single-file mentality behind. What was a march becomes a dance.

You know you’ve entered a big town when busy street corners have multiple panhandlers. One is stationed near the traffic light, hoping to intercept each car as it rolls past. Another roams between stopped cars during the red lights. Even when it comes to small change and energy bars, there’s enough to go around.

I haven’t seen any of this two-to-a-corner congestion in Eugene, but we may be on the verge of it. We’ve passed that verge on more positive indicators, at least in summertime.

Our community entertainment calendar has never been fuller than it is this week, and it’s never mattered more what we do about it. This is a call to action, people! We can step out and grow our town this week, or we can turn inward and shrink ourselves.

The Oregon Bach Festival is in full swing. It’s nearing its golden anniversary, but the festival is in a tender place this year. Matthew Halls is in his third season as artistic director and Janelle McCoy is in her first year as its executive director. Helmut Rilling is not slated for an appearance. A new generation of leadership is in place.

When a rookie quarterback takes the field, the role of the Autzen audience is (literally) amplified. McCoy and Halls need our support right now. There are no second chances for making a good first impression.

Selling out marquee performances for the Oregon Bach Festival is seldom a problem, but what about the more intimate interactions? Will the afternoon organ recitals be filled to the chord-soaked rafters? Will guest performers be recognized and greeted around town?

That’s up to us. But don’t stop there.

Tonight’s First Friday Gallery Walk will attract more walkers than usual, as well as many more people who are downtown for other reasons, wondering what’s going on. Watch the march become a dance.

Thousands of athletes and fans are here for the Olympic trials, showcasing Eugene as Track Town USA. Only a few tickets remain to get inside Hayward Field for the next ten days. Hotels began filling up almost a year ago. Eugene residents are moving in with friends so they can rent their houses to attendees.

Olympic organizers four years ago were most agog at the free Fan Festival staged beside Hayward Field. They’d never seen a town display so much enthusiasm for the sport. Eugene has not yet been promised the Olympic trials for 2020, but overflowing crowds at the Fan Festival will make our town’s offer hard to refuse.

This is where you come in. And go out, and then come in again.

It’ll be crazy for a week or two — much less manageable than usual. Enjoy it.

More drivers won’t know where they’re going. You may have to wait for a table at your favorite restaurant. Try not to scream, and certainly don’t kick. We’re hosting thousands of visitors, who are making up their minds about us. Meanwhile, we’re doing the same thing.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.