Greetings from balmy Ashland Oregon where the temps today will stretch all the way to the mid 70’s and the cloud cover will, well, cover the sky most of the day.
It’s an interesting change from Sonoma where the temps will hit the hundreds while we’re away. Ah, too bad. Along the drive it was astounding to see the change in topography as we sped north, from the arid brown of the Golden State to the lush green forests of the Beaver State. No jokes please, we’re woke around here.
This is our first stop as we wind our way through the PacNorWest ™. Five hours from home, it’s one of the longer drives we’ll be making. That’s a good thing as the wife (Cruella) was just about done with my bad jokes and choice of music. Apparently Gregorian chanting isn’t her thing. Go figure.
Ashland is of course home to the world famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Since 1935 the Festival has presented a variety of plays both Shakespearian and modern in their five performance spaces. The most famous of the theaters is the Elizabethan outdoor stage, a model of Will’s own Globe theater. Fortunately the modern audience all get seats, no groundlings allowed. The season runs from early March to early November.
Of course COVID hit the Festival hard, cancelling the entire 2020 season and forcing a drastic cut down of the 2021 season. Usually 10-12 shows are done per season, this year there will only be two, a new musical called FANNIE about the life of civil rights pioneer Fannie Lou Hamer which will be presented in the outdoor theater starting July 1 (too late for this trip) and IT’S CHRISTMAS, CAROL a gender bending take on the Dicken’s classic opening in late November.
Actually the real reason we come to Ashland is to eat at this place:
This is Omar’s Steakhouse and with neon like that you just know it’s going to be good. And it has been for the last 75 years. A dry martini, a fine steak, some Dragonfly Tempranillo wine, what more does a man need? A good story to go with? It’s got that too. Seems the man who started it was named Omer and that’s what the sign was supposed to say, but Noodnick Nate the Neon Man screwed up and old Omer didn’t want to offend so he just went with it.
We on the other hand just go with the mouth watering steaks and coma inducing desserts. This is old school eating. Bring your second stomach and be prepared to fill it.
Ashland is also home to Southern Oregon University, where “artsy” children are sent by their parents who have compromised in order to at least get them to go to college and not head up to Portland to live out their coffee house and poetry dreams. That and the fact you have a Shakespeare Disney World right next door might lead you to the conclusion the town is just a tad liberal. You would be correct. But it’s a small island of blue in a sea of Southern Oregon red.
The larger city nearby, Medford, for many years has been the home of Harry and David, the gift packaged fruit kings of the world. If you’ve ever opened your door to find a gift from your Aunt Gertrude containing fruits and nuts lovingly arranged in a reusable, if you use those sorts of things, gift basket it was probably from Harry and David. They are a huge company with 8000 employees but most of that is farmed out labor. They were purchased a few years ago by 1-800-Flowers and in the midst of the pandemic closed down all their stores, laid off all the store employees and went completely online. Complaints are up, mostly about the quality of the fruit and the customer service. The company’s response? Teach your Aunt Gertrude how to use a computer.
In the past several years Medford has also become a hive of intersecting healthcare companies, most drawn here by the relative low cost of living and the ease and low cost with which new construction can be achieved. Hospital chains, hospital supply companies, insurance companies, etc. all have their headquarters here. It’s a good place to get sick, but only if you have the right insurance, are willing to play the American healthcare game of Mother May I, and don’t mind if your roommate is having the buckshot removed from his ass, the result of a boys will be boys moment on last weekend’s hunting trip.
Yeah, the necks around here are as red as their politics. Plenty of Trump bumper stickers. I have a feeling there were a few Medford/Southern Oregon folks at the January 6 insurrection and there probably would have been more but early January is ski season and well the snow doesn’t last long around here. Plus they would have looked at most of those running wild in Pelosiland as posers. After all, they had their own capital insurrection a few weeks earlier. Even got an assemblyman kicked out for aiding and abetting the insurrectionists. He probably wanted to claim it was all an Antifa plot, but they had him on video telling the rioters how to gain access.
I said he was treacherous, I didn’t say he was smart.
It’s timber that wears the big tiara around these parts, as it has for over a century. And despite aggressive tax incentives, relaxed environmental regulations, and plenty of pro timber industry handouts from the state government, it’s not enough for the lumber companies. When something doesn’t go their way they simply suspend paying their logging rights fees. Such fees are the main source of income for the state. It’s the reason there’s no state or local sales tax. And if the lumber barons refuse to pay things start to shut down. Everything from libraries to police departments go dark. To make matters worse these days the company owners are less likely to be wearing logging gear and more likely to be sitting behind a multi-screen Bloomberg station deep in the bowels of Wall Street.
Wall Street real estate trusts and investment funds began gaining control over the state’s private forestlands. They profited at the expense of rural communities by logging more aggressively with fewer environmental protections than in neighboring states, while reaping the benefits of timber tax cuts that have cost counties at least $3 billion in the past three decades, an investigation by OPB, The Oregonian/OregonLive and ProPublica found.
But hey, no sales tax.
Is it any wonder The Fetid Furher, Orange Orangutan, Mar-A-Lago Minnie Mouse is so popular with the timber boys? They probably think he didn’t go far enough. Fortunately Oregon is a microcosm of the nation as a whole. Yes, there are plenty of Trumpers and Repugnicants here, but they are scattered across the forest land, coming out only when an election is near and their mail in ballots need to be postmarked. Yes, Oregon has only vote by mail. Seems to work pretty well for them. Sometimes Repugnicants even get elected. Well only one right now. He’s Cliff Bentz from the 2nd District, which is mostly farm and forest land but it does include Medford. He voted to not certify on January 6 and also is a strong opponent of Obamacare. Surprisingly he does believe climate change is real. He just doesn’t want to do anything about it if it hurts the economy.
As El Grand Hefe de First Draft says: Oy just Oy.
More on Friday from Portland, where we will try to keep it weird.