Back to Bend – Around the World Day 42

My last post on Bend, Oregon might have been a little narrow-minded in the way the people who have lived there for a long time thought about how their town has exploded over the last couple of decades, so I went back to Bend yesterday evening to see old friends and enjoy the downtown area. I would like to give my opinion of that area of the town that does not involve the jaded view that comes from people when their town get crowded. Instead, I would like to look at from the point of view from the business owners who look forward to the busy tourist seasons that bring people to their stores, and how the downtown area caters to those people.

I visited two great locations while there, one to get a drink at, and the other to have dinner at. The first one was a Mexican restaurant called Hola!, and even though the food there looked good, I was really only there to get a margarita. It is almost impossible to find a good margarita in South Korea, so when I have the opportunity to have good one while I am in the United States, I do not turn it down. Hola does a great job with their margaritas, and it even comes in pitcher form. That can be dangerous, but when you share it with three different people, it is fine. We went for the blood red margarita which did not come with the usual off yellow color, but was still delicious. Also, being a Mexican restaurant, they served us chips and two different kinds of salsas. The strange thing about this side though was they used home made potato chips instead of corn chips. They were good potato chips, and it was good salsa, but the combination of the two didn’t really work for me, but I was able to forgive that fact considering the further north I get from Mexico, the weirder the Mexican food gets.

For dinner, I wanted a good hamburger because I have not had one yet all during this trip, and once again, it is an item that is not easily come by in South Korea, even though they are easier to find than a good margarita. I, of course, instantly thought of the many brew pubs that are found the downtown area of Bend. I first went to the Deschuttes Brewery because it was right down the street from where I was, and I remember them having really good food there. But I showed up to one of the major tourist destinations of downtown Bend at 6:30 on a Friday night during the height of the tourist season. I would have starved to death before I ever got a table in the place, so I went down to the other brewery that I knew had great food and was a little more off the beaten path, the Bend Brewing Company, and let me tell you it made all of the difference.

I found a place at the bar, and order an Exploregon, which they market as a hoppy lager. I usually enjoy the hoppier beers, such as IPAs, but the heat that Central Oregon is experiencing lately, made me want to have something a little lighter. This was the perfect choice because it still has a little bit of a bite like an IPA, but gave me that refreshing feeling that I was looking for in a beer. The food there was really good too. I was able to find that hamburger that I was looking for. But the nice part of the evening was that our beers were comped for us because the friend that Christine and I were meeting down there was also in town, but used to live in Bend for over ten years. She was really good friends with the bartender, and he was happy to see one of his old regulars back in town. It was nice to see that some things remained even through all of the growing pains that the town had been through over the years. This bartender was also really excited that things had picked up over the summer. He talked about how it was his favorite time of the year because it got easier and easier for him every year as business continued to grow.

The Bend Brewing Company has gone through a lot of change too since I first walked through their doors. There used to be two large buildings crowding it on either side. They were bought and torn down by another company who wished to create some housing, but the last recession put an end to that idea, and the lots remained empty while Bend Brewing Company continued to do great business. Apparently business had been really good lately because those two lots have now been added to the bar’s grounds. They now have a parking lot, and nice patio that looks out over the river behind its building. It is nice to see that the growth has helped companies that treat their employees well, and create a great product.

After dinner, we wandered down the river and were able to catch a live band that was set up for the entertainment of anybody who decided to come down to the area for the evening. There was an added bonus of them being a Grateful Dead cover band, and we caught two songs of their set, which means we watched about a half an hour of it. They were pretty good, and the lead singer sounded exactly like Bob Weir, so much so that I had to look twice to make sure that it wasn’t him. They had set up a booth where you get one of the many craft beers that Bend has to offer, and another booth that boasted Oregon’s newest industry, marijuana. It created the perfect atmosphere for the perfect evening. So even though there are many people who are angry about the growing pains that the town is going through, there is still a corner of Bend, the downtown area, that has been able to hold on to that small town atmosphere and create a beautiful place to hang out, and meet friends both old and new. It will be hard to keep people away when the town has a place like this to boast about, and maybe it is the duty of the ones who do not like it to try to figure out how to live with it and grow along with it. The fact is that it isn’t going to change. Too much has been set in motion that it would be impossible to go back to the way it once was. I know change might be a scary thing, but it could also be the answer you are looking for. Embrace it and maybe the change that is made is one you are more comfortable with.

Bend Sucks! Move Somewhere Else – Around the World Day 39

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.