ATTENTION Washington, California, Idaho, Utah, Canada, et al: The Pacific Ocean is OPEN.
Traditionally, Memorial Day is the start of “the season” and, equally traditionally, it runs through Labor Day. I’m not so sure that holds true now as much as it used to since we’ve gotten more mobile and have the ol’ I-net to keep us connected for business, education or “reality.” To me, it seems to run from Spring Break to about mid-October. At least from traffic on our little piece of shoreline. But tradition is - well, tradition.
Life for we “locals” changes during the extended summer. Lots of little things visitors don’t see. For one thing, when driving Highway 101 through the downtown of any Oregon coastal community “in season,” locals learn to drive only in the right hand lane. That’s because there are always - ALWAYS - tourists who will try to make a left hand turn off 101 to get to the ocean. Typically, they do so at the intersection where the big “NO LEFT TURN” sign is posted. Above the painted arrow. Next to the flashing light.
If you live here all year, you spend some of your time researching alternate driving routes to get around town. May mean 10 or more stop signs from one end to the other but you stay off the main drag as much as possible. So, for half the year, local commutes to church or shopping - or the bar - take us a bit longer.
Locals hit the grocery stores during earlier hours in the summer. That’s because tourists who shop, do so later in the afternoon. After a day in surf, sand, wind and sunburns. We don’t usually shop Monday-Wednesday since many restaurants are closed those days. When visitors find those doors locked, grocery stores get crowded as people line up in late afternoon at Safeway and Fred Meyer for the usual vacation health foods - chips, Ding-Dongs and beer. Others travel in RV’s so they do much of their own cooking.
In our part of the central Oregon coast, the license plates we see most are from Washington and California. My guess is that’s because Oregon is the only West Coast state with an “open beach” law. Took the late Gov. Tom McCall two terms in office and all his political capital to get that mandate on the books despite voter and legislative opposition. Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Red Lion and many other “biggies” have tried to bust through. So far, the Oregon Supreme Court has rejected all comers. And McCall is revered for his perseverance.
Washington and California people either understand that or have unknowingly taken advantage of what Gov. Tom labored so hard to get into law. In those two states - and all but one other on the East and West coasts - unfettered access to the ocean is available only with city-county-federal land ownership or other designated public space. Hotels, tribes and folks with deep, deep pockets have bought up most of it and locked the rest of us out. Not so Oregon. Doubt it ever will be.
The next most seen license plates in our neighborhood are Canadian - British Columbia and Alberta. Lots of ‘em. Especially when their dollar buys more in the U.S. than at home. We’ve met many in the winter. Oregon is “snowbird” territory for them with December-January temperatures here 30-40 degrees warmer than their native land. I’ve found them - on the whole - to be friendlier than a lot of American tourists. And generally better stewards of the areas where they recreate or park their RV’s.
You don’t need a calendar to know when Memorial Day arrives near the Pacific. Just watch prices at gas stations. We pay more per gallon than anywhere else in the state year ‘round. But, end of May, add 20-30-cents per gallon. And don’t give me any B.S. about “refinery shortages” or “drops in oil reserves” or “prices at the wellhead.” In the local paper, some weeks ago, the largest wholesaler on the coast was asked why our prices are always higher - especially in the Summer months. His ballsy answer - “Because we can.”
Summer on the Oregon Coast is also a time to “get-out-of-Dodge” for a lot of locals. Many rent their homes May-September and head inland. Or South. Income at home to offset expenses on the road.
Nothing brings strangers to the Oregon coast more than weather forecasts. In Spring and Fall, it’s the ones with blue skies and temps in the 60's-70's. In the Winter, nothing swells the local population like a really good storm prediction. Thunder, lightening and high winds - coupled with a good Oregon wine and a fire - seem to be magnetic to lots of folks East of the Cascades and in the Portland area.
November through March, you see lots of empty storefronts or seemingly permanent “Closed” signs on the coast. Two reasons for that. First, some operate on a part-time basis like candy, small restaurants or novelty shops with their wind socks and kites. Tourists come - they open. Tourists go - they close.
Second, we get a lot of folks who’ve saved money for retirement so they could go into business turning a hobby into a second career or even something entirely new. Living the American dream. Unfortunately, when the summer is over, so is the income it takes to stay in business 12 months a year. A lot of ‘em don’t plan for that or find year-round expenses higher here than they’re used to. Happens a lot.
We locals have a few other little secrets for living with the seasonal interlopers. I can’t share ‘em all. Local privilege, don’t you know. Besides, we all take an oath when we start paying local taxes.
But the “OPEN” sign is out. Y’all come. We’ll deal with it.