July 5-11, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Oregon, Ho!

By Peter Byrne

On a dark night in June, my partner, son and I boarded a sleeper car on Amtrak's Coast Starlight train. We traveled to the Crater Lake area of south central Oregon for a week of swimming, hiking, fine dining and spiritual rejuvenation. I planned to ignore newspapers, to purge my mind of political obsessions.

On the train north, I glanced for a few seconds at the California Rail News, a free newspaper. I learned that Union Pacific, which owns the tracks that Amtrak rides, privileges freight trains over passenger trains, often sidelining people for hours while commodity containers speed by. Due to high fuel costs, shippers are abandoning trucks for trains, increasing the index of passenger misery. Intent on finding serenity, I barely read the article about how Sacramento politicians are waffling on funding a bullet train and fixing the state's once-excellent rail, a system torn up by the stockholders of General Motors and Chevron after WW II. Nope, I went to sleep cuddling my still-innocent son, confident that a stress-free vacation lay ahead.

As the price of housing booms in California, many homeowners have moved to Oregon, equity in hand. The state's population increased by 6.4 percent from 2000 to 2005. Housing prices are shooting up, and speculators abound. Note to possible ÈmigrÈs: If you are moving to south central Oregon, you better pack a lot of food. We were there for a week and could not find a single vegetable except fried onion rings. There was not a chunk of unfrozen meat to be bought. There was no fresh fruit, no fresh bread, no tofu, not a croissant or almond biscotti in sight. Worst of all? Not even a Peet's! We ate convenience food and put on lard, fitting in nicely with the locals.

I tried to remain spiritually pure, but must admit to slightly perusing a newspaper that had a photograph of ultrareactionary corporate flack Ann Coulter posing in a bathing suit after she grossly insulted Bush-bashing widows of 9-11 victims, labeling them as ungrateful harpies. And then there was the bookstore in the one-gas station town of Chiloquin. The unshaven proprietor told me he had voted for George W. Bush twice, but is "now disappointed in him." He then inquired if I listened to his favorite radio shock jock, Michael Savage. I mumbled something about fascist homophobes and walked away.

The only laugh in that part of Klamath County was seeing a dime store named Bi-Mart. Well, there was the fish hatchery where "prize rainbow trout" are trained to bite bait. Then they are released into wild streams for sporting fisherpeople to catch.

But the owner of the scraggly lake resort where we stayed was refreshing. Right off the bat, he announced that he never watches television, never reads newspapers and loathes the corporate sludge running the country. I enjoyed talking to him, although there were a few unsettling notes. When I told him that we had hiked to the Umpqua hot springs, he frowned, "Were all the people naked?"

I mumbled, "Not all," but, in truth, we were all naked as blue jays. A huge percentage of the dozen or so cool people in south central Oregon were at the springs recognizing each other with relief.

When we took our leave of the corn-dog-serving resort, the owner asked me if I could "get behind a cause." I said sure, expecting outrage at the county government or OSHA.

"Those fucking abortionists!" he snarled.

Driving north we visited some great waterfalls in Toketee, but I have to tell you: Do not ever go to Oregon in June, or you will be tortured to death by mosquitoes as hungry as Bush vultures feasting on Iraq reconstruction contracts!

The flag at the post office in Toketee flew at half-mast. My heart pounding with emotion, hoping against hope, I inquired if the president had died. Nope, just another local soldier exploded in Iraq.

Finally, we arrived back at Klamath Falls to catch the Coast Starlight back to civilization. Oops, it arrived 10 and a half hours behind schedule, so we had to hole up in a crummy motel with severe earthquake damage that would have caused it to be shut down in any sane state. The trip home took twice as long as it should have because the train was constantly sidelined due to freight priorities. We did OK in the expensive sleeper car, but those families traveling coach had no food, no clean toilets and only one movie to watch: about a man who believes he is a dog.

We kissed the ground of Sonoma County upon return.

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