By Jason Cox
Almost everyone I’ve met in Salem falls into two “never” camps: Never left their hometown, or never intended to end up here.
The latter describes me, but I’d call it more of a happy accident.
I had no idea how poor Salem’s reputation was among Oregonians until I got here. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Internet:
“It’s often forgotten that this patch of flat, grassy land along Mill Creek, originally valued as a suitable site for a grist mill, is also our state’s capital, despite Oregon voters twice choosing Eugene instead.” — Willamette Week
“It’s boring. Plain and simple. A ton of elderly people and others high on crystal meth.” — Some dude on the Internet
I followed my wife here so she could attend law school at Willamette University, and we landed just as the economy was entering a years-long tailspin, the effects of which I wrongly blamed on our new home.
Coming from the South, I blamed the scarcity of barbecue and soul food on a soulless community. (It turns out the Northwest just doesn’t do this kind of thing much.) And speaking of food, we’d find a new restaurant, only to watch it close. I complained about the lack of nightlife, despite the fact that we rarely partake in it. I bitched about having to drive to Portland or Eugene to watch a band I’d heard of play.
Because we had friends in Portland, we spent most of our social calls there, making it hard for us to make connections in Salem — another logical fallacy that was ultimately our fault. The last governor even refused to live here.
But enough trash talk. The meth problem is true enough, but that’s a larger issue.
Since everywhere has its upsides and downsides, let’s review what makes Salem great:
- You can buy a nice house without selling off your first-born for a down payment.
- No traffic unless you’re crossing the bridges at rush hour (and that’s your fault for moving to west Salem).
- Super nice and fun people — but you have to go find them. Just like everywhere else.
- You can take selfies with the new governor, who unlike her predecessor is not too cool to reside in the governor’s mansion.
- Speaking of politics, if you enjoy participating you can get involved in almost any cause you can imagine at both the state and local levels. You can even make a career out of it.
- The dining scene has grown so that there’s more good restaurants than there is time to visit them all. (Add to this a decent variety of ethnic foods as well.)
- And you don’t have to wait an hour-plus for a table on the weekend.
- An impressive parks system for a city our size, plus you get the grandeur of the state’s Capitol Mall.
- Enough wineries to tour for a week and not see the same one twice.
- Minor-league baseball! OK, so the stadium is in Keizer and I don’t like baseball, but that’s not Salem’s fault! I’m a football fanatic. And Oregon’s two Pac-12 teams are a short drive away.
- Proximity to many other great places: Portland, Eugene, the beach, the Cascade foothills and gambling are all within a 90-minute drive tops.
- Less rain than Portland!
- Yes, we have craft beer, craft whiskey, micro roast coffee and probably even artisan meth if you look hard enough. (Don’t look hard enough.)
I joke about how people ended up here — but speaking of anecdotes, I’ve also noticed lots of very talented Salem-area natives who may have left to attend school, learn a trade, etc., coming home to open restaurants, create art or otherwise contribute to the local culture and economy.
It’s a lesson that no place is static, and to paraphrase Tower of Power, what’s passe yesterday might become hip today.
The lack of nationally-known entertainment is still a problem. For the foreseeable future I’ll be regularly traveling to Portland, Eugene or the casinos for a show. But hey, we’ll always have the state fair. (Dear Portland: Don’t you dare touch our fair. Kisses, Jason)
Jason Cox does not engage in the “Salemite vs. Salemanders” discussion, but will discuss other inane topics on Twitter at @jasonrcox.
Editor’s note: Jason Cox is married to public servant Alana Cox, which makes him the very cool son-in-law of our friends Tom and Elsa Guiney. He’s a former journalist now working for a labor union and is one of a handful of Tennessee Titans fans in Oregon.
Tomorrow: “Cartwheels and headaches” by Nike Bentley