This evening’s relaxation walk was in downtown Bend, Oregon. There was a grand party in progress with everyone having a very pleasant time just milling around the various art galleries and enjoying the art and perfect weather. It seems to be mostly an upper middle class north European community of people with a sprinkling of most everything else one could imagine. There were about ten bands playing at various venues, both indoors and out, and they were all remarkably good. I would say that about the art being offered too; it was very good quality of the type that middle class aesthetically sensitive people would like to have in their homes. This is definitely not museum stuff, which has a whole different tonality; generally that stuff is of some alternate culture or intentionally abrasive (they call it creative). This Bend art was intentionally very nice! A little bit quirky and just a bit unusual but very non-threatening. I didn’t see anything at all that could be construed as remotely socially offensive. This art was intended to give mild pleasure to happy well-adjusted people. It will give pleasant smiles to normal people living pleasant lives.
I rather like the whole scene, but it is a great mental wrenching for me because I have lived a considerable portion of my adult life at the absolute center of radical chaos. Because of that background, it is strange to me to begin talking with absolute strangers and have a perfectly fine conversation. Back in Berkeley a conversation with a stranger was laden with the expectation of them asking for something. Sometimes money, sometimes signing a radical document, sometimes having a free diner at their commune, but it was nearly always something I didn’t really want to do. That was okay with me because I like to participate in unusual conversations, but it required developing a standoffish abstraction in one’s relationship with strangers. Unfortunately, that tonality tends to spread into one’s relationship with close friends too, and you end up feeling that you don’t really trust anybody, not even yourself. I found that kind of relationship stimulating for many years, but now that I am near geriatric and immersed into a new city it becomes necessary to change my social outlook a bit. It isn’t too hard for me to do because I grew up in a similar milieu, but it still seems strange.
This evening’s walk was through downtown Bend’s First-Friday monthly art walk, when the art galleries open their doors and offer wine and snacks to the droves of wandering well-dressed people. What struck me as particularly strange about the festive atmosphere is that the media is filled with reports of impending doom. The national economy is crashing and perhaps with it the whole world economy will soon follow. Remember the old saying, “When America sneezes the whole world catches a cold,” and this event seems to be much worse. If Americans are afraid to spend their money, many foreign economies will suffer greatly, and perhaps the segments of their economies that will suffer the most are those based on tourism. Many countries depend upon tourism for a major part of their income, even New Zealand, which is a long way away from the major populations of the world, and requires great time and effort to get there.
Bend is a tourist and retirement community, much closer to home and very similar to South Island New Zealand, so in a desperate economy people who might have gone on a distant adventure may come here instead. Most of the people I saw downtown this evening were relatively young for retirees— perhaps the median age was in the 50’s—and I don’t know what percentage were Bendites and what percentage were tourists. One Bendite I have talked with moved here from Sun Valley, Idaho, which is where the celebrities go to vacation. I don’t think he is that rich but he clearly isn’t poor. A crash in the economy will hit Bend in a curious way: the tourist economy may suffer, but with the coming of the Boomer retirees, the economy may glide smoothly along on retirement money. The infrastructure here is quite new, and the city has been artified with public art at many intersections, and the city is well-kept at the moment, so the town will probably get through several years without as much suffering as the whole of the American economy. The suffering here occurred after the 2006 housing crash, because it was over built for that market. But with the retiring Boomers it is bound to boom once again.
The difficult thing about predicting the future is that no one knows what’s going to happen.