I have been asked to comment on what I like about Central Oregon. After being here for two years my response can be reasonably accurate. From the outside vistas of the land to the inmost soul of the people, Bend, Oregon located in the center of the state, is a benign and friendly place. The weather is mild and on the cool side year around and the people are on the friendly and warm side, also year around. Yesterday, while walking the two blocks from my car at the free parking structure in downtown to Dudley’s my favorite coffee shop/bookstore, for a meeting we call the Socrates Buffet, (It’s a spin-off of the more formal group, the Socrates Cafe, and we meet on alternate weeks from the Socrates Cafe.) I only passed about ten people, and I knew three of them well enough that they said hello even before I had a chance. That is typical. At my meeting place there were about ten people I knew quite well and we had a terrific conversation about solipsism. We are almost always surprised at what a wonderful time we have at these get-togethers. Finding, that we ordinary people car create a really exhilarating conversation is a surprise for us all.
This is a small city of about ninety thousand people, and there is almost zero people for the 230 miles to the east. I mean almost zero, so fill up your gas tank if you are coming across what some call the Oregon desert. It is not quite so far in the other directions to civilization, but almost. The people here are surprisingly friendly at first meeting, and willing to talk about personal things within minutes of meeting. They are not so quick to talk abstractions, and at the huge Barns and Nobel bookstore the fifty-foot, five-high rack of magazines is mostly filled with common how-to-live magazines, and it is necessary to get on your knees to get to the more intellectual ones, such as Scientific American, or the Nation, or Harvard Business Review etc. but they are there. Back in hyper-intellectual Berkeley, my previous digs of the past half century the public has moved on from paper to electronics and there isn’t a single big new bookstore left. My new little city is quite literate and publishes a beautifully highfalutin Central Oregon Magazine, worthy of a front row in a New York book stall, and we have a fine local newspaper, The Bulletin. We also have our local TV station and college campus.
Back in the 50s Bend was only a town of some ten thousand people, so almost all of the houses and infrastructure are new and because there was so much space there are well groomed city parks everywhere. Within a few minutes drive there are lots of golf courses, skiing resorts, horse ranches, water rafting excursions and organized hobby clubs, and various kinds of high tech geek activities and hiking trails. Several times a week we just walk out the door and go hiking in beautiful semi-wilderness. Right across the street are horses, and several people I know go riding almost every day. I don’t, partly because I had too much horse riding back in the early 50s. To me horses represent unpleasant work, not pleasure. We occasionally have some apples or vegetables that go a bit wizened so we give them to our horse friends, just over the fence. They love it and we feel like a couple of kids with these big animals eating out of our hand. That’s plenty of horsing around for me these days.
My pre-Bend life has been what most people would call over-intellectual, and I lived most of my adult life in Berkeley the intellectual capital of the West, so coming to Bend might have been a problem. It was generally thought by my previous friends that I was dropping back into the Dark Ages of frozen political attitudes, but nothing could be further from the truth. The people I meet are always ready to hear the other side of an argument, if it is presented fairly, they have the attitude we used to call liberal back in the 50s, but the term liberalism has shifted these days to means something to the left of Socialism. My conversations here are shockingly more wide ranging than back in a more politically polarized city, where even listening to an opposing argument quickly gets you branded an enemy. Of course you can go anywhere and find people with rigid opinions, but those usually come out of a background of suspicion and fear. Bend is such an open society that there isn’t much suspicion and little to fear, because people are nice. I have been studying these people, trying to understand why they have these attitudes. When I ask them directly they usually say something like, “I like people.” It is a plain simple truth spoken directly, and the reason is also simple enough. The people they meet around here are easy to like.
Bend is a beautiful place because the people feel safe, so they are friendly.