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.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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