Oh, yeah, this’ll be just oodles of fun…

A recent report about storm watching as a major new tourist attraction along the rugged Oregon coast has me just a tad bit concerned.

According to Associated Press, adventurous travelers are eagerly packing up their brie and beach towels and heading for the jagged edge of Oregon – our great soggy neighbor to the north – to observe the beauty and grandeur of incoming weather systems.

“Local chambers of commerce routinely mention the coast’s spectacular winter storms in brochures and on Internet sites,” Associated Press reported. “Hotels offer winter storm-watching packages titled ‘Romance of the Storm’ and ‘Stormy Weather Getaway.’ ”


I wish I could get all excited about this new, natural attraction, but I’m afraid it’s just another Oregon plot to get rid of all the pesky Californians who have been littering up their once-pristine state since the late ’60s.

The “Don’t Californicate Us” bumper stickers may have disappeared from Oregon autos – and foreheads – but plenty of wily, easily irritated Oregonians remain and they’re probably no more enamored of latte-guzzling tourists from the south than they were a few years ago.

And now they’re greeting us with big grins and maps to places like the Devil’s Punchbowl.

Like I said before: Uh-huh…

If you’ve never witnessed a storm along the Oregon coast, I should caution you that the experience is nothing like a rainy day at Disney’s California Adventure.

These are real storms with wind and rain and flash floods and rapid, unexpected landscape changes along with the occasional whale blown inland as far as Medford. We’re talking scuba gear to pick up the mail and frolicsome seals barking in the corner drug store.

(Hey, it could happen…)

Believe me, it’s no coincidence that people in Bandon, Ore., favor amphibious cars over SUVs.

If you’ve ever visited the tiny community of Minidoka, Idaho, you know what I’m talking about. You see, Minidoka used to be perched on the Oregon coast until one cold, blustery November where there was this big ol’ storm…

That was years and years ago, but folks in Minidoka still have a kind of dazed look and talk a lot about the cranberry harvest for no apparent reason.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Oregon. I’ve attended Shakespeare festivals in Ashland, have not one but two Pendleton shirts hanging in my closet and religiously stockpile a half-ton of Harry and David preserves every Christmas. I’ve fished along Jump Off Joe Creek and even played croquet at Chucko the Birthday Clown’s ranch outside Jacksonville. Portland’s a summer festival and a winter carnival all rolled into one and Crater Lake’s fun for everyone – even Californians with loud shirts and louder cell phones.

But if you’re driving through Oregon and the locals cheerfully suggest that you head out for the coast to watch the storms come in, you might want to think twice – at least until they open some active volcanoes for Californians to explore…

Originally published January 27, 2002

Close encounters of the mushroom kind

I made a huge tactical error during a telephone conversation with an old friend a few evenings ago. During what I believed to be some harmless small talk, I foolishly mentioned that I’d consumed a large portabella mushroom for dinner.

The aforementioned friend was none other than my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, and my brief remark about the oversized gourmet mushroom sent him through the roof.

Sapper, forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, told me in no uncertain terms that I’d endangered my home, the security of the nation and possibly the future of the human race by consorting with portabella mushrooms.

“So they took you in too, eh, bro? You really believed that was a simple, garden variety mushroom that you invited into your dining room?” he asked with ill-concealed disdain. “I really thought you were smarter than that. I mean, did it ever occur to you that mushrooms weren’t supposed to be as big as footballs?”

Before I could reply, Sapper answered for me.

“Of course not, Mr. Trendsetter Gourmet. You just scooped up that so-called mushroom and ran with it, just like everybody else who’s fallen for their insidious alien plot …”

Alien plot?

“Think about it, pal. When was the last time you saw a little can of Green Giant portabella mushrooms, or saw a portabella pizza from Domino’s? Never, that’s when, because before 1978 nobody had ever seen one. And that’s because they’re NOT OF THIS EARTH!”

(I positively love conversations like this.)

“The guy on the Internet at the sheet metal shop laid it all out for me, bro, and it ticks like a watch,” Sapper explained. “Shortly before 9 p.m. on Nov. 12 or Dec. 6 or something in 1978, no fewer than eight guys in Portland – one of them a respected grain broker – saw a group of five octagonal lights crisscrossing the skies overhead really quick and goofy-like and then they just disappeared …

“Yeah, the lights went away, but not the portabella mushrooms and now they’re everywhere and you just don’t get it, do you? How much clearer do I have to make it for you? Start with UFOs, factor in Portland where everything’s just a little bit weirder and then multiply by about 500 billion giant mushrooms just showin’ up outta nowhere like your Uncle Beauregard at a barbecue,” Sapper explained slowly, as if talking to a slightly backward 8-year-old.

“You think those big mushrooms don’t know what they’re doing, bro? First they fool the gourmets, then they fool the man in the street and then they fool Congress and the National Guard and the United Nations. Before you know it, that outer space fungus will have infiltrated every aspect of American life and taken over,” Sapper warned. “In fact, the takeover’s already begun – and at the highest levels of government, Mr. Complacent Head-in-the-Sand Suburbanite.”

I was prepared to scoff at Sapper’s latest conspiracy theory, but he silenced me with what he termed imprescriptible evidence.

“Don’t take my word for it – see for yourself. The next time you’re watchin’ ol’ George W. Bush on the TV, kinda squooze yer eyes together so he gets sorta fuzzy around the edges. Then realign ’em and see what ya got. If it looks like a portabella mushroom, talks like a portabella mushroom and walks like a …”


Originally published February 4, 2001