To get to my accommodations in the unincorporated town of Temmile, I took two flights: DC to MSP, MSP to PDX. I landed around 8pm, went to the wrong rental car place (twice), and was routed, terrified, around the shipping containers and dark warehouses that surround the airport. A downpour at night is not the ideal circumstance under which to get to know an unfamiliar car. It is today, 5 days in, that I fully grasp the fevered imaginings of Subaru engineers and their total misunderstanding of the way people expect to use windshield wipers.

After 4 hours of white-knuckled driving, I pulled in. There was a lockbox on the door that had not been mentioned in the listing, and I howled with grief as the sleet soaked me. I eventually got in, and after taking a moment to towel off, was presented with my second wind. Of course. I felt like I’d had 3 cups of coffee, and it took 2 more hours of a favorite history podcast to bring me back down.

I eventually slept. A heavy, dreamless sleep.

I hadn’t spent much time in central Oregon until this week. I’m in this particular location because it’s a sort of midpoint from which I’d planned to strike out in multiple directions. And even though weather has thus far prevented me from going as far I’d have hoped, my travails here have still proven informative.

My self-imposed brief is purposely restrictive, melding essential aspects of location, amenities, climate, and culture to foster a successful business model while also creating conditions for personal happiness. Here are some reflections from my dozens of hours on the road and conversations with locals.

While this area has no shortage of picturesque vistas and the requisite fog-draped mountainsides, many of the communities on either side of highway 5 feel depressed. I was struck by the number of people with sodden jeans carrying plastic bags of belongings, hoping for a ride as the wintry mix came down. People in the grocery store sized me up as an outsider and did not disguise the once over as their eyes evaluated my appearance. Employees at the gas stations and shops I’ve interacted with have been kind, but palpably subdued. This could be a result of the largely grey weather, or a sign of the times. Nearly all of the jobs in the towns I’ve explored are low paying retail and service gigs. The surrounding areas are predictably farms, which most people would find charming, but as an animal rights activist, my heart hurts to know the eventual fate of the faces that turn to greet me when I pass by.

One thing that has not changed are the semi trucks, hauling the impossibly long felled trees that represent one of the few industries remaining in this area, and like so many other job creators of years gone by, does great harm to the environment [more on that here]. But I suppose if I’m looking at places that are heavily wooded, it’s something I’ll have to get used to seeing now and then.

I had two main objectives on this particular trip: attend a meeting to draft a business strategy with the folks in downtown Klamath Falls (the business plan is general, not necessarily rooted to that location), and to visit Bend, which is an attractive, self-contained (meaning it does not rely on another area for resources, commerce, retail, healthcare, etc) region that manages to feel like a small town. Both Klamath Falls and Bend have thriving downtown business districts,

Both trips were thwarted within 50 miles of the endpoint (after over 100 miles driven each time) by snowy conditions. Oregon has made the daring (but right, I reckon) decision not to use salt to treat the roads in winter. As a result, there are lots of areas when chains are required, and even then, the roads are not considered safe. There were multiple signs saying “DANGEROUS CONDITIONS/PROCEED WITH CAUTION/DRIVE AT OWN RISK”. I’m okay driving in snow, but part of being okay driving in snow is knowing when things are too dangerous. I decided not to buy chains, and slowly made my way back to Tenmile, twice.

Although it was disappointing, these setbacks were hugely impactful. I might have to alter one or more of the components in my business plan, most notably, the distance from a major metropolitan area. I’m realizing that what I want is the feeling of separation, but not actual distance from the heartbeat of a city, especially since this is where I’ll be living.

PS: I’ve been chronicling most of this on Instagram, if you’re interested if following this process!

I’m also thinking that winter might just have to be a slow season if this venue ends up being set up in a place with snow, even if it’s right in a bustling town.

So the options going forward look like this:

  • location is wide open again: considering Puget Sound, Bellingham and surrounding areas, Northern Oregon, but also going back to reconsider upstate New York, California.
  • closer to regional airports and cities
  • supporting infrastructure (good grocery stores, healthcare, county maintenance) important
  • potential to have an off-season

Another thing I’m realizing (mostly due to the similar angle of light) is that I really miss a lot of things about Los Angeles, and I’d like the opportunity to be there more frequently. Whether that means finding an already-extant org that could use my services or creating my own event, I thought I’d just say it out loud. I miss the mountains and dusty deserts. Heck, I even miss the valley. I miss my friends and the canyons, and the sense of being in a place full of colleagues. DC does have a way of making anyone not involved in the government/military/surrounding complex of industry feel useless and quaint, like a wagon maker in the age of jet packs. “But what is your day job”, they ask. You should see the way people’s faces fall when I have to say “No, I don’t play with the NSO”. Their eyes glaze further when I say I mostly teach and write.

These are lessons I never would have learned had I not come here and seen for myself. The impression is that Oregon is a place where people prize independence and doing things on their own, in the manner in which they see fit. In most of the small towns up and down the 5, this does not translate into a sense of opportunity for someone like me. It feels instead like I’d be totally on my own. After less than a week, I can confirm that this is not what I’m after. I’m a lifelong city cat with an appreciation for some aspects of country life, but what I think this venue needs is to be anchored in a town, with easy access to a hub of commerce, transportation, and culture.

Good to know.

I fly back to DC Saturday morning, after a Friday spent in Portland with friends and outrageously good food. Thank you for being on this journey with me.