Life in a Dormant Volcano, p. 7: Ashland and the Unsinkable Molly Brown
July 26, 2004
I’m in Ashland, Oregon, at the Standing Stone Brewpub. This will be a good test of battery on this thing (old laptop). I’m really wanting to splurge and buy a laptop with wireless net, the works. We’ll see if I can save any money this summer.
This restaurant suffers the same curse of all brewpubs. The brewing process requires a massive amount of room, and as a result, a large dining area to support it. The product is almost always a family friendly, strip-mallish feel filled with booster seats and middle-aged people with their t-shirts tucked into pleated shorts. Even here in edgy Ashland, with a beautiful patio overlooking the hills surrounding the bisecting creek, I’m a few tables from a party of baby boomers and their 20-25 children sucking down Shirley Temples.
Ashland suffers a problem that is common to all arts communities/tourist towns. (Ooh, good beer though.) It’s a gorgeous little tucked away town straddling a creek and housing the world famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival with a full Elizabethan theater drawing tourists from around the globe. But Ashland is two cities.
Half of Ashland: residents are in their 20s, likely barefoot, braless, tattooed and pierced, and probably have a manuscript or two tucked away at home. Excellent restaurants and bars, I assume, and a fun if lazy nightlife. Sedona, Bisbee, Santa Cruz, Telluride, you’ve been there.
But it’s impossible to ignore the contradictory other half – the hungry half – of Ashland that seems to be cannibalizing the city to support itself. There’s a slew of junk stores, overpriced bistros, information kiosks frequented by white-haired snobs and rich urban bikers getting a tiny bit of culture. Even on a Monday, Ashland is selling itself to stay alive. There is NOTHING here but tourism. No industry but Shakespeare and serving food. How frustrating for the people who live in these hills, to watch their rent creep up as the trendiness soars. Their local restaurants jacking up their prices and filling up on weekend afternoons with tour van passengers so they can stuff their faces before the matinee of King Lear.
Then again, I’ve only been here a day, and technically I am a tourist, although I prefer “vagabond.”
Since here, I have had two conversations about Arizona (one Flagstaff, another Tucson), a cup of coffee, some pricey ravioli and now a beer. There’s a great, adult-focused comic book shop that I stupidly threw some money at (my checking account was overdrawn until I dipped into my savings account). The tiny coffee shop served up outstanding Organic house blend (everything is organic here. Organic or lesbian). Right next door there were a half dozen younger folks drinking beer at 10:30 a.m. just as Ashland began to stir to life.
I stopped into a record shop that was selling off it’s merchandise with the advertisement “I’m retiring.” When asked why he wouldn’t sell his store, he replied, “Because you’d have to have your head examined if you want to go into the music business now.” Tower Records bankrupt. His distributor, formerly rolling in money, going bankrupt. Downloading cutting into album sales and the record companies oblivious to the problem and doing nothing to satisfy the fans. “I’m just really not into selling music as a secondary product. I don’t want to sell Felix the Cat clocks and spiked wristbands and crap.” That and the music appealing to him less and less meant it was time to get out after 30 some years. Three dollars off all CDs, and four off DVDs, but I was already broke for the day. Just like everyone else.
I skipped the staff 70s party last night, opting to finish up a short story and drink four beers, then capped off the night by cracking a couple of stored up, unread comic books trades. Rabbit came home about 7:30 a.m. after giving disco partiers rides back from the RV campground to the dorms. He was on duty last night. When he came home this morning he asked if he could have a beer. 7:30, but he just finished a night shift. “It’s beer o clock for me,” he said and grabbed a Pabst tallboy that I found yesterday under my car’s front seat.
3 p.m. in Ashland
I’m at the Grizzly something roasting house. I’m sure the coffee I’m drinking is organic. I just came from The Irish Pub, the last bastion of local watering holes in Ashland, I’m told by the bartender. He just gave me a Caldera IPA, made by a friend of his. I have a nose for sniffing out townie bars. Mostly it’s just going somewhere that looks dark and a little sad.
“It’s a slow Monday,” the bear-like bartender told me, when I looked up from reading Stephen King’s Carrie. “Usually Mondays are less busy because the Shakespeare doesn’t run. This place is all local though. Pretty much the last place in town.”
He’s been here since the 1960s, when he came for his freshman year at Southern Oregon University. He lives on a substantial tract of property overlooking the valley, and comes down less and less. “This whole area has been completely redone.” Too bad, but good for the town, he guessed. He’s the second person I’ve asked who has no idea about local restaurants. Gosh, they don’t really know. It’s been a while since they’ve eaten out.
It’s expensive enough to live in Ashland (a quarter to a half million for most houses) not to mention eat out here. The bartender mostly stays at home now. He was about to tell me something he heard about Crater Lake, but was called away to shoot pool. He’s gray-haired and was wearing a faded Hawaiian shirt that miraculously fit his enormous torso.
The locals slowly poured in around two or so as their acceptable bar times came to term. There were two dogs, one part rottweiler and part something else. Another was a springer spaniel whose pony-tailed owner found her in a grocery store parking lot. No microchip, no tags, no record at local vets, no answers from classified ads. He figured she was a fugitive from a tourist RV stopping for groceries. The drivers realized probably at about Eugene that the dog was gone. Her name is Molly, taken from an opera, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” written by a friend of a Colorado resident who survived the Titanic. Captain of Industry John Jacob Astor died in the disaster. Molly lived. Just before I left, her namesake got a biscuit and her owner got a brown beer. Wealthy tourists didn’t dare come in.
There are six people and five laptops in this coffee shop.