We settled onto the 101, and made our way up the coastline of Oregon. I will be frank. I am not fond of Oregon. It has neither the wild random beauty of California, nor the vast plains of Dakota. It can be cutesy and homely, with streams, a lush valley area full of farms and larger towns, the high desert of the inland southern portion, to the almost alpine mountainous regions near Bend and La Pine, but it just doesn’t resonate with me, not the scenery, the people nor the feel that hangs in the air. The coast is different, the rednecks and hillbillies are no less numerous, an unwelcoming bunch who demand at least three generations of Oregonians in your immediate genetic background before they will thaw, or at least not harass, but it is beautiful and wild. This is the Oregon I came to love. Trump signs abound everywhere outside of Portland. Even around the college town of Eugene the small farms and ranches declare their allegiance to hatred. No, I am not fond of Oregon, it is not my kind of place, nor am I it’s kind of people. Yet this is where we spent most of our time. Billy was born and raised in Minnesota, but his father, fond of western movies and cowboy culture had moved the family from the gentle and kind midwestern people, and the not so gentle midwestern winters, to the Clint Eastwood landscape, hot dry summers and comparatively mild winters of southern Oregon. He described to me the trip they had made from Aurora, Minnesota down to the high desert, how when they got out of the car, and walked to the house, he noticed a total lack of trees, and green and water, how he was angry to have been forced to leave the forest and the lakes. Billy never much liked leaving anywhere, for such a rebel he had no need of travel, for adventure on the road. He did not enjoy bouncing from place to place. He liked planting his damn feet and staying still in one spot, existing day to day, whether doing so was safe for anyone else, or not, whether anyone else in the party actually liked where they were or the people around, mattered little to him.
Back then, in that first year, we were not even into summer yet, the schools were not out, the roads were nice and empty, and we left the blacktop melting heat of Medford and ended up around Reedsport. The heat in Medford was of a kind I cannot stand. Dry and relentless. That year there were none of these wildfires of recent times, yet it felt like the entire region was about to burst into flame. We traipsed into a Dairy Queen, buying frozen coffee and ice cream, which was tepid liquid in the time it took to get to the camper. Billy refused to put on the air conditioning. He was of the irrational belief that air conditioning made engines break down, that as soon as we turned it on, Beastie would stop trucking, and we would be stranded on the road. So we boiled. Kids opened windows, trying to get a cross breeze travelling through the camper. His strange ideas on how to keep cool did not end there. In hot weather he would not throw open windows wide in our little tin can, instead he would fuss, cracking windows just a hair, making curious statements about airflow and how opening them only a small way would draw cool air through like water through a thin straw. It was poppycock, and we often melted. I’d go outside, find a tree and some shade, and hope for a breeze, sitting there with my guitar across my knees, my ice tea with no sugar in it, and watching the world go by, while he would be inside the metal camper fussing over inches of window openings.
Oregon never really cools down in summer, until you are right onto the coast. The cool sea air rushes at you, rescuing you from the heat. We pulled into Coos Bay, somewhere near the boardwalk. I opened my window and let the air rush in, Billy could bitch all he wanted. Shut the hot air out, windows closed in summer was absolute insanity. The cabin instantly cooled down. I ignored his drumming on the steering wheel, I ignored Social Distortion turned up too loud. I ignored the protests and the scowl. I was overheated and I was going to open my window, and Billy might pout, but he wouldn’t hit me. I could do as I wanted without fear of being hurt, and was enjoying my freedom. I was missing the cactus and the bleached light of California. I missed the adobe style houses and the frenetic highways. Everything seems more interesting in California. California has possibilities. Oregon is just stagnation and judgement, country values that smother people like me, and towns where nothing has ever happened, and never will, for anyone. Oregon is somewhere to escape from not to.
The sea to our right, the small town came into view. We were looking for camping and confusing signs which contradicted each other pointed uphill towards state parks that never appeared despite putting ten miles on the clock. We still had no real maps, no idea of where we were going, so just drove on through up the 101. I am not fond of bridges. Never was, never will be. I don’t trust them. As you pass the town of North Bend, to the north of Coos Bay, its name written in red lights, most of which are burnt out, leaving the sign blinking as if auditioning for a David Lynch movie, but just past that incongruous neon sign, there are a couple of bridges. One of a suspension style which seems to be continuously being fixed or painted, the other a smaller more sturdy looking affair of concrete and steel. The bay stretches out to both sides, on one side, swampy pools of water which lead to the immediate bank and some nice houses some of which you can presumably only reach by boat, to the other, the busy day to day work of the docks and the boats and the freight and wood yards. Seagulls swoop aggressively, and often the fog sets in, hanging in low curtains over the bay. The first longer bridge clattered alarmingly as we pulled over it.
The children were chattering, arguing quietly. The girl decided she wanted Jamie’s chair. She wanted to swap. It was mainly because currently Jamie had a better view out of the window, and was looking particularly comfortable in his fort of sleeping bags, and had a box of granola bars. She had finished all of hers already. She had finished her cans of fizzy water too. Jamie gave up some bars and a couple of cans, he loved his sister, but refused to give up his seat. I turned around. It was my turn to scowl. “Hey, seats were chosen at the start of the trip, you wanted the bigger chair, he got the table! No swapsies, buttercup!” She nodded and smiled back at me with those large soft doe brown eyes, her rosebud lips turning up at the corners. “Sure thing mom,” she patted my hand leaving hers on top of mine. She didn’t like bridges either. We pulled into a rest area and I hauled up the shades so she could see out better. I think something in me knew I would not have her for long. I think something in me knew on such a fundamental level, that it would catch me and take my breath away, bringing tears to my eyes. I grabbed hold of her, and hugged her tightly, kissing the top of her head. She was slender, always wore a quizzical look on her face like she could not quite grasp what was going on around her, one eye slightly closed, lips pursed, exasperated. She was funny, rarely serious, unlike her stoic, measured, quiet, restrained monk-like brother, in fact she was silly to the point of irritation. Hands were paws, dogs were pupsters, she always trusted too easily, was hurt in return by other girls who could not quite understand her, as she could not understand them, and sometimes would melt down in a puddle of screaming, weeping, head banging, kicking, spitting fury. It could be nothing, it was always nothing to us, and everything to her. A book moved, a slice of cheese placed on the bread not next to it. Things being done in the wrong order. I loved her so deeply, so totally, so fiercely protectively that I thought I’d never survive. She was a force of nature, like the wind or a rain. I was living in the eye of her storm. I was wrong.
The rest area led to the beach. We parked up, and I led the children down to the sea. It was busy even in early summer, dogs flying around while disinterested owners failed to pick up their shit, picnickers and retirees. “I think we need a kite, guys,” I announced, but they were gone, running and falling and digging. We could not stay long, we had to get up the road, find somewhere to park up and lay our heads for the night and the day was getting long. I hastily threw together a lunch for them to eat as we moved, boiled a kettle and made myself tea, and Billy another coffee, corralled the children, and safely strapped in, we made out of there. We were headed to Washington state.