Published Friday, August 1, 2008 in The Register-Guard.
It sounds like a country music song to say you don’t know what you have until you find yourself without it, but here I am. I haven’t left Eugene yet, and already I’m missing things that I recognize in Eugene and very few other places on earth.
• When you’re turning left, people will stop for you, make eye contact, smile and even nod to acknowledge either your worth or their generosity — you never know which and it hardly matters, because they’ve made room for you. (I had a former roommate visit from Chicago and he returned from a shopping trip convinced that several women had “hit on him” from behind their steering wheels, only because he was so unaccustomed to the eye contact between drivers.)
• No bugs. Need I say more? When we first came to Eugene, we marveled that nobody had screens on their windows, and yet they were open. I had lived in places with windows you didn’t open and windows with screens, but never before a place with neither. Someday we can be sure that bugs will learn what a perfect place this is for them as well as us, but meantime, enjoy the weather without a meshy go-between.
• Seventy degree summer days. Not the nights, mind you, but the days! The idea that some summer days can seem almost chilly means you can take nothing for granted, which is an unquantifiable asset for any summer.
• Instant diversity at Saturday Market. Where else do people stand on corners to protest the protesters? I’m so glad the folks who want to defend our beleaguered president or attack the (supposed) hoax of global warming recognize that there will be plenty of people with time on their hands down at Saturday Market. Apparently, people who are bored are easily swayed, so they love to foist their ideas on the sandaled masses. More power to them!
• Ungentrified neighborhoods. Consider the idea that the best metric for civic involvement may be the disparity of incomes for immediate neighbors. Putting a back-to-the-earther next to a stock broker keeps both honest in a way that no law can require. This is diversity in action. It happens in Eugene, like very few other places on the planet.
• Comfort food. Especially The Glenwood, but many places in Eugene seem to cater to (literally) our desire for comfort and food and preferably both at once. Say what you will, when you’re away from home, comfort is what’s missing. Whether it’s “mac and cheese” or meatloaf of a Yumm! bowl, there are foods that mean home and they are easily missed.
• Basketball hoops in the street. I had a neighbor put a regulation basketball hoop on the sidewalk, making the street where I live a de facto basketball court. His sons had everything they needed but the free throw line. The family’s kids have grown now and the hoops don’t get used the way they did when I was a (slightly) younger man. I miss it.
• A place people genuinely love. I’ve never lived in a place where more people came here on purpose. It’s almost a local cliché to hear about people who built a spreadsheet and solved an equation for The Best Place and Eugene was the answer. (I was one of those in 1995. The only box not checked on my list was “grandeur.” I wondered how residents of Eugene were regularly reminded of their smallness, without mountains or oceans within sight. That was before I watched the clouds roll in.) Ibrahim Hamide, one of City Club’s Turtle Award winners last week, spoke of coming to Eugene and feeling “smitten.” I know what he means.
• A place willing to be loved. Before arriving in Eugene in 1995 (the same week we lost the 503 area code), I had never loved a place before. I admired it in others — envied them even. But I never expected it to happen to me. Call it an “occupational hazard” of “ironic detachment,” but I never expected to fall head-over-heels for a place. It happened, and I’m grateful. Especially when I find myself away from home, maybe for the very first time.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) is traveling, but sent this column to tell us what he misses, and what we might miss, if we weren’t here. He blogs wherever he is and you can track him down right here.