It has been about fifteen years since I first drove through the town of Bend, Oregon. Back then it was a small town at the base of the Cascade Mountains and thriving in its high desert environment. Not a lot of people had ever heard of this town set in the heart of Oregon, and the people of Bend never thought anybody ever would. They had a couple of breweries that sold their beers to the locals, and you could find a taste from one of them as far away as Portland. But during that fifteen years, something happened and the landscape of Bend has forever ben changed, but within that change is the people who always lived there while they watched their city change from a mountain community into the budding city that it is turning into today.
When I first rode through the streets of this town there were only 50,000 people living there, but according to recent reports there is over 90,000 people living there today. It has nearly doubled in size from those earlier days. What had brought so many people to this place? It can’t be the college there because the branch of OSU didn’t take its first freshman until the year 2015, and nobody moves to a town because of a community college, no matter how good it could be. It can’t be because some company decided to locate there and started to bring in people from out of town in order to run it because the number one industry in Bend, Oregon is still tourism. It can’t be the low cost of housing and cost of living because with the sudden influx of people, housing has risen to ridiculous heights which has caused the costs of food and basic needs to rise as well. There is not much in the way of living that would bring a person to change their lifestyles to come to this place to live.
It has to be the fact that this is just a beautiful spot in the United States. There are mountains all around for people to stare at. It has a great downtown area that has been around since the 1920s and has a feel of a European market. The Deschutes River lazily rolls through the center of town, giving people a place where they can swim or take an inner tube out on to so they can slowly travel the expanse of the city. If the numerous breweries bore you with their outstanding beer, then there is still wine that is brought in from right over the hill from Willamette Valley. The city attracts some great chefs that have opened great restaurants all over the place. There are a variety of outdoor activities from skiing and snowboarding at Mount Bachelor in the winter months to riding bikes, fishing and camping during the summer months. For many people, it is the perfect place to open up shop and settle down.
But that is not what I am here to tell you about. I am here to tell you what I saw on a bumper sticker while I visited this town the other day, that “Bend Suck, Don’t Move Here.” This bumper sticker was obviously from one of the people who had lived through the growth and could remember the quaint town that they once belonged to. They could remember a time when they were able to make a living in the town and did not have to worry about a bunch of people coming in from all the different places in the world and transforming their town into the image of what they thought it should look like. For these people, Bend is going through some growing pains. It is like many places in America where the people who lived there sucked out all of the energy and worth of the place before tossing it away like a used banana peel to go off to find another place to suck out the worth there. They do not care about the community that much and look at it as a place where they can make some monetary gain even if that means the destruction of the people who have grown up there and find identity within its boundaries.
Now, I do not claim to be a resident from Bend. I only get to visit it from time to time, and it is one of my favorite small cities in the United States. I would love it if I got the opportunity to live there someday, but would be just as happy to see it a day or two every year. I do understand the pain they feel as they watch their town transform right before their eyes. I got to see the boom that happened to Denver, Colorado in the early 90s when it seemed as if the city could not build fast enough to accommodate the people who were moving there. I have watched the attitude of the place change from one that was laid back to one where a fight between the east coast and the west coast ravaged to see who could gain control of the city. I watched as the same people claimed that they loved the mountains just outside of the city and then not treat them with the respect that they deserved. I went from a place where I could stretch out to a place where I felt confined by the limited space I had. It disturbed me even more this last summer during my visit as I watched the boom start all over again. The city I grew up in does not even look the same anymore as changes are constantly happening. I see the same thing happening with Bend, and I understand the people’s pain because when the bust comes and the people are forced to find another town that they can exploit, then they are going to be left with the mess they left behind.
The best way I can explain the way they feel comes from a time a few years ago while they were still early into their expansion. I was sitting in a bar in downtown Bend with a couple of friends who lived there. An obvious tourist came into the place and asked the crowd for directions to some other bar. Someone from the back of the bar looked over at him and said, “Yeah, what you want to do is go south from here and keep on going until you reach California.”
I guess the lesson to learn from this is to love these places for what they are, but do not try to grab on to the magic that they create because you can’t if you are an outsider. They know what it is that makes their place great even though they might not be able to explain it to you. What your vision is to make it great is not what is meant to be there. Let the city live, and breathe, and grow at its own rate, and do not change it into something that it is not.