Why do we love Eugene, a place that, though not as quirky as some believe it is, has enough at-bats to at least qualify for the national quirky title?
I was asked to speak to the Eugene Chamber of Commerce recently about this place – and that’s the question I raised.
Sure, we love it because of the usual stuff: trees and water and buttes and bike paths and the Hult Center and the University of Oregon and people. But mainly we love it for another reason:
Because it’s ours.
It’s the place 143,000 of us call home. The place we feel compelled to defend when we’re on a plane and someone says: “So, where ya’ll from?”
The place that defines us. That we’ve invested in. That we believe in, even if, at times, it isn’t easy.
I love Eugene the way parents love their teenage children. We’re not always thrilled about their behavior and attitudes. But, darn it, they’re ours and we wouldn’t trade them for the world. On most days.
Like other places, Eugene isn’t perfect. We’ve yet to learn the art of compromise. We need a downtown revival. And we think too small. But at times Eugene is perfect.
Here’s what I love about Eugene: that it’s big enough to have an internationally known music festival and an airport, but small enough so – as happened last month – the guy across the aisle from you on the plane is your across-the-street neighbor back home.
I love that we get free samples of other places without actually having to buy the whole product. You want California? Sit out on the Oakway Center’s courtyard on a warm summer night, listening to jazz. It’s California without the smog and crime and Botox. You want Arizona? Once or twice a year we get a heat wave, but it comes and goes like a good visit from a relative.
I love that people care passionately about this place. Our challenge is to find compromise between those who would – if I can dip back to a couple of ’70s songs – pave paradise to put up a parking lot and those who would let it be.
I love that it’s not pretentious. We aren’t distinguished by loud, power-hungry politicians or in-your-face wealth. At the Butte to Butte race, there’s Andy Vobora, one of LTD’s head honchos, happily helping load buses. At Humble Bagel, there’s Mayor Kitty Piercy holding one of her monthly one-on-one sessions with whoever shows up.
I love Eugene for its convenience. And for how quickly you can get to other places from it: 75 minutes to the coast, an hour to the mountains, 15 minutes to Fern Ridge.
But, finally, I love the idea that though Eugene isn’t as weird as some people think – run through most neighborhoods and you could be in Anywhere USA – it’s still spiced with quirkiness.
We’re Ducks. Our football uniforms look like the lids of pickup tool-chests. And every Saturday we offer a market that promotes time-travel to the ’60s, some obviously making the trip so often they qualify for frequent-flier miles.
One of the city’s notable historical moments involved a waffle iron. A fire department crew runs the Butte to Butte in full gear each year. And we’re named after our founder’s first name. (Thankfully Skinner’s name wasn’t Bob.)
Yeah, we’re quirky. Recently, when I bought my Register-Guard at the airport newsstand, the clerk asked me right on the spot: “Are there sections you don’t want that we can recycle?”
Wow. I’ve never experienced point-of-sale recycling come-ons before – but it made sense. I gave her a couple of sections I wouldn’t be reading and walked off, thinking: only in Eugene.
Sometimes we say that phrase with wonder, sometimes with despair. But, in either case, this place is ours – until we pass it on to those who follow.