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July 04, 2007

Relief "Day in the life" in AshlandRoad Trip through the Northwest, Part 3: Portland and Ashland, Oregon
(This is part 2 of a 3 part series on our recent vacation to the northwest, with a comparison of what we saw there with life in Silicon Valley and Los Gatos)

RECAP: My 17 year old son, Brian, 16 year old daughter, Clair, and I had spent one night near Eugene, Oregon, as we trekked north toward Spokane. Then we spent 2 nights with an old Gonzaga friend of mine in Ritzville – a very tiny town about an hour south of Spokane in the middle of rolling wheat fields – and in the middle of that visit we journeyed into Spokane, saw some of my alma mater (Gonzaga University), spent too much time at a car dealership when my vehicle decided to have a battery crisis, and enjoyed some of the gorgeous Riverfront Park area.

Next the three of us made our way to Seattle, where my better half, Jim, caught up with us and where we saw schools, friends, and tourist spots for four wonderful days.

That was week one of a fabulous 10 day excursion to the north, and I discussed these (and how they related to life in Los Gatos) in earlier posts.


Flowers and butterfly - Pacific Northwest, June 2007NEW STUFF: From Seattle we headed south, stopping first in Tacoma to see an old high school friend of mine and her daughter, and then a little further south to Olympia to visit yet another friend. And then two more hours south to Portland, Oregon, where we checked into a hotel – and then headed out to have dinner with yes, another couple of friends and their family. I have to give Brian and Clair credit: they never complained about all these visits crammed into one day and for that I am truly grateful!

The next day, we did the tour at the University of Portland. I had been anxious to see this school since I have two friends with kids who either are about to graduate or just did – and these young men both rave about the school. Raving does get my attention. Additionally, my friends in Portland rave about their city too. As a mom, I was thinking “this is an easy plane ride away” from Silicon Valley. The tour of the U of P was very impressive, even if the weather was not – for me.

My daughter, however, likes the cooler weather, and so for her, it was almost like coming home. She was definitely biased in favor of the school because of the weather. And she was thrilled that it was much smaller than Gonzaga, which is growing at about 1% a year (and many of us alum wish it would just quit growing – it seems to be getting too big). Only negative: the U of P doesn’t offer Art as a major (she is thinking of a double major in Art and English).

So at this point, one of our kids is leaning toward a Seattle school and another toward a Porland one for college.

Waterfall in Ashland, ORAfter the school tour, we drove through some of Portland’s downtown. And we drove out to Reed College too, which is extremely scenic (and just as pricey). What a gorgeous campus, and what great ideals. It’s small and dedicated to great principals in eduation. Very impressive overall.

Portland is a fabulous town. The downtown is clean. The river area is stunning. The neighborhoods we saw were charming beyond all telling.

There’s just one thing, for me, that would again make this a hard place to live: that darned rain. Like Seattle, it’s about 36″ per year (compared to Los Gatos and San Jose’s 15 -20″ per year). Compared to many parts of the US (Atlanta, Houston and others), it’s not bad. Compared to Silicon Valley, it’s a lot of precipitation.

We left Portland too soon (just one night) – I’d like to go back and see more.

Next stop was Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (a year long event). Pulling in just before dinner, we had time to relax, find a good restaurant (no shortage for a town so small) and make it an easy night.

Elizabethan Theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in AshlandOur last day of vacation was a relaxing one. Our tickets to see The Tempest were for an 8pm showing and we had the day to poke around the town.

And poke around we did. First we found our way to the information kiosk, parked, and asked a few questions of the kindly volunteers who were staffing the booth. Next we visited a number of shops, and finally wandered over to the area where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is headquartered.

But little did we know that the excitement was about to begin.

Lincon Statue, Lithia Park, Ashland OR June 29, 2007We noticed a badly disproportionate statue of Abraham Lincon near some steps that lead up to the Shakespearean Festival. (The head is too big for the body it got stuck on. See pic to your right.) And some fool had placed a package next to the feet of the statue – clearly it was a bunch of batteries strung together. I was too chicken to check it out up close, but Jim looked and someone had placed on it the words, “This is not a bomb”.

Well, we live in a post 9/11 world, so Jim told someone at that information Kiosk. That person, in turn, called the cops, who in turn, pretty much shut the town down.And eventually the newspeople turned out too.

Jim kept thinking and saying “Maybe I should have just thrown that stupid thing in the trash”.

I’m glad he didn’t – I’d have worried. But still.

We felt bad for the merchants as the streets were suddenly strung off with that yello tape that says “CAUTION” or “CRIME SCENE” or “YOU’LL GET THE PLAGUE IF YOU CROSS” (well ok not the last one). For hours, though, the area got roped off with that yellow tape, and police officers made sure no one crossed the line.

IDowntown Ashland after bomb hoax, June 29 2007 know that Jim’s not a forensic expert, but he looked at the batteries next to the feet of the statue and said, “hey, it looks like batteries”. And after seeing all the shops hurting, and traffic snarled, I think he felt a little remorseful for even turning it in. What a mess it became.

Why is this someone’s idea of a good time?

The next day we read online how many things were disrupted – parties, folks who were going to see one of the shows you name it. Someone undoubtedly thought this battery act was funny, but surely it just hurt a lot of people.

We were not impressed.

That said, Ashland should not be defined by one idiot resident (or visitor). The city itself has a great little downtown, nice scenic beauty (the Rogue Valley is quite beautiful) and you can’t complain about a lack of culture. In addition to the Shakespeare Festival, there is Southern Oregon University and some community colleges too. There are plenty of places to “grow as a person” here.

Ashland, Medford, Grants Pass – they are all part of a metropolitan area known as the Rogue Valley. There are about 130,000 people in the greater “metro” area. Rainfall is not a lot different than in the Los Gatos and San Jose area (we’re at 15 – 20″ per year, the Rogue Valley area is usually under 20″ per year). It appears to be a decent winegrowing climate too. Summers can be dry and hot (not unlike the Santa Clara Valley) and winters cold – colder than in our area as there will be snow in Ashland, Medord, and Grants Pass in winter.

So how does all of this compare to Los Gatos, or to Silicon Valley?

Well, housing is far more affordable. There’s an abundance of scenic beauty (lovely mountains). It’s not overcrowded – but it is growing fast. There are universities, museums, some history, and plenty of cultural things to enjoy. People are generally very friendly. Winetasting and vineyards are present. It seems to be a place – or several places – brimming with potential. It’s probably a good place to invest.

But… winters are colder, the population is not so diverse, there are no truly “big” cities nearby, the ocean is far away (I think I would feel landlocked there).

Stairs in AshlandSo as with Spokane, Portland, and especially Seattle – I think for me Ashland is “a great place to visit”. I could go yearly and not get tired of it. But to live there? I just don’t think it would be my first choice. Too small, too cold in winter, too far from the ocean, too far from a really big city and all that it would have to offer.

In Los Gatos, we do have Shakespeare (albeit not usually this quality) – as does Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and San Francisco. We have hills, we have quaint downtowns.

We don’t really have affordable housing. We don’t have snow in winter (if you’re looking for it).

What Los Gatos does offer, that I find important enough to put up with our high housing costs (and some crowding): diversity, things to do, parks, scenic beauty, proximity to the ocean/beaches. missions, San Francisco, Berkeley, abundances of universities, great neighborhoods, low crime, excellent schools, and so much more.

So I finish this 3 part series where I began. Los Gatos is a fabulous place to live. It’s great to travel and I love the northwest, but it is so good to be home.

It’s great to go, it’s great to come home. I hope to never live anywhere else but Los Gatos.

Now if we can just make it affordable for our kids when they finish college!