How to Love the Oregon Coast, Barnacles and All

A writer makes peace with the problematic reality of a tourist destination.

By Casey Jarman July 17, 2018 Published in the August 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Jack Dylan

grew up in Florence, Oregon—the kind of coastal town everyone else visited to get away from it all. For eight or nine months out of the year, it was a very sleepy place. On a clear day in February, you might walk a mile on the beach and never pass a soul. And on Bay Street, the town’s four-block riverfront main drag, you’d see the same assortment of scruffy, half-drunk locals—with names like Pepper and Barnacle—out in front of the Beachcomber Pub. Pickup trucks with Confederate flags cruised by, hippie burnouts talked paranoid politics at the coffee shop, teenage skaters got chased out of the Safeway parking lot. This was life.

But tourist season always turned things upside down. The beaches filled with kites and sandcastles—why didn’t we think of that?—and the dunes grew loud with the latest motorized monstrosities. Bay Street would clog with slow-walking, well-groomed families in their newly acquired Day-Glo shirts, all licking ice cream in unison. The hole-in-the-wall shops us locals barely knew existed—packed with sand globes, seashells, shark jaws, and fudge—suddenly found their customers.

Tourists and the coast are some Circle of Life shit. The timber and fishing industries were decimated long ago (though they left a lot of heartbroken people in their wake). So we need you. Partake of our saltwater taffy! Bathe in our chowder! But here’s the thing: you’re probably not seeing the coast. To really see it, you’ve got to stay until last call, or maybe wake up at 8 a.m. and hit a greasy-spoon diner with the old-timers. You’ve got to go in the dead of winter when everything rusts and floods and rots, when everything gets covered in mold and moss. It’s still beautiful, but it’s a hard beauty. The people who stick it out year after year are a little bit crazy. And you don’t really see the coast until you get to know them.

Casey Jarman is a freelance writer who has called Portland home for a dozen years. He is also the author of Death: An Oral History. As a teenage skateboarder, he was often chased out of the Safeway parking lot.
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