2008.10.08 Lisa travels U.S. 20

Written by David Green.

By LISA KLOK OUELLETTE

Newport, Oregon wasn’t supposed to mean much to me, and it probably never would have if it weren’t for history. Not the brand of history that deals with the founding of America, the Emancipation Proclamation, or the Rough Riders, but personal history.

My husband and I decided last spring that we needed a vacation, and we also decided that the vacation should take us to the west coast, a three-week tour of all the landmarks we dutifully learned about and answered multiple-choice questions about in our high school history classes.

But more than standing in front of the granite likenesses of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, I wanted to see U.S. 20, the road I traveled so often during my stay at the Observer. The road I could probably navigate blindfolded if need be.

U.S. 20, after all, had provided me with a number of feature stories for the paper. I had managed to learn a great deal about a strip of pavement in a few short weeks: the cabins that used to be on the edge of town, balloon rides, the contents of semi trucks, the boom and decline of Fayette, and the discussion of whether a new traffic light should go in. With a little research, I was writing stories for weeks, and the agony of finding a feature was averted. But more than dodging the writing bullet, I had also become quite interested in how much significance, how many stories, just one road could have.

It was also the road I traipsed about much of the time as I went on my endless pursuit of news and lunch. Stepping outside of the Beaverson Realty office, the highway was the first thing I encountered as I made my way to see Tom Spiess for a quote, to the post office to stare into our empty box, or to Ned’s to enjoy a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee.

And when I first visited Fayette in David’s blue van, I remember taking U.S. 20 silently, awkwardly back to the Morenci office, neither of us quite sure what to make of the other. Later it would be the road I traveled with my husband (then boyfriend) on the back of his motorcycle, spit flying behind me.

I saw a lot of your road, though not all of it. We detoured for a while through South Dakota and Wyoming, but we eventually met up with the black expanse through Idaho and Oregon. I won’t lie, Fayette is a metropolis compared to other towns found on this stretch of the highway. A town like Fayette would be a welcome relief from the places you find on U.S. 20 between Idaho and the Pacific, towns that consist of only a two-pump gas station and little else. Usually we missed these towns, only realizing that we had even gone through them after they were nothing more than specks in the rearview.

And eastern Oregon is a miserable place to be, which explains why no one is there. The landscape could be described as high desert, nothing but sage brush abounds. It is not the place to be stranded.

But eventually, if you stick to your original mission, you’ll end up in Newport, Oregon, the end of U.S. 20, and the beginning of the Pacific Ocean.

Living in Michigan, my parents always chose to take the family to the Atlantic coast for vacations, so I wasn’t prepared for the wonder of Oregon. I wasn’t prepared for the authenticity. I expected yuppies and condos and miniature golf courses with fake volcanoes around every corner, but the Oregon coast has none of those things, or if it does, they are well hidden.

You’ll be happy to know, or at least I was happy to know, that at one end of a very long road was a town not so different from the one I know in the middle. That’s not to say the towns are identical. Instead of farming land, the people on the coast “farm” fish, but the men in cargo pants and sweatshirts making their way to the docks lined with weather-beaten fishing boats are not so different. There was nothing fancy here–no yachts, no five-star restaurants, no gas stations with flower boxes beneath the windows. No one had anything to prove. It was just calm, comfortable and real. Charming, but charming without pretense.

And so it wasn’t really the distance I had traveled that made Newport matter, but its similarity to the place I once knew, and the people I continue to hold dear.

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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