“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, and there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
State 20: Oregon - November 9, 2017
We woke up in a truck stop in Coburg, OR surprisingly having had a very restful night sleep. Usually truck stops are low on our list of places to spend the night because they are noisy and attract riff raff. Fortunately, we found an inconspicuous and quiet place to park Rosie for the night next to a restored antique pickup truck in the parking lot of a diner closed for the night. Please see pictures below.
Today we would drive 9 miles South to explore the City of Eugene, OR. With a population of approximately 160,000 residents, Eugene is the second most populated city in Oregon. While the Cross Country Couple typically dislikes cities, Eugene had a lot to offer!!! From a geographical standpoint, Eugene sits at the location where McKenzie and Willamette Rivers merge, and about 50 miles East of Eugene is the Oregon Pacific Coast. The city sits at the base of the Cascade Mountain Range, and offers endless opportunities for any and every outdoor activity!
Eugene's official slogan is "A Great City for the Arts and Outdoors", but it wasn’t always such. In 2005, the city council unanimously approved a new slogan for the city: "World's Greatest City for the Arts & Outdoors". While the city has a vibrant arts community and offers ample outdoor opportunities, the locals criticized the city council’s slogan hailing the cities arts and outdoors opportunities as the “world’s greatest” as embarrassing and ludicrous! In response, the slogan was revised in 2010 to a more accurate, “A Great City for the Arts & Outdoors." Although this may seem trivial, it reveals the citizens of Eugene are active and aware of what occurs in their local government, which is a very rare and attractive quality in a potential new home!
Eugene's largest employer is the Peace Health Medical Group, which operates 3 hospitals within a 30 mile radius in and around the greater Eugene area providing us with ample job opportunities. The city is home to the University of Oregon and Lane Community College both which have Schools of Nursing. For another interesting Eugene factoid, the city was the birth place of Nike.
Eugene has a significant population of people in pursuit of alternative ideas and thinking. They have a large original hippie population, which adds to the vibrant social tapestry of Eugene. Perhaps nowhere is such culture more evident than at Eugene’s Saturday Market, and Lane County Farmer's Market. Founded in 1970, it is the oldest outdoor craft market in the United States, and draws 3,000 to 5,000 people every Saturday from April through October. The market features a festival atmosphere with live performers, food booths, and art and crafts displays by local vendors who create or grow all their own products. We almost cried when we discovered we were visiting Eugene one week after the Saturday Market had closed for the season. Nevertheless, we like to shop local and shop at small businesses, and patronizing such a venue could easily become a Saturday tradition. While we are on the topic of shopping, we could not find many big box stores within Eugene, which is so refreshing to see. However, if we did have the desire to buy low quality goods made by exploited foreign workers, and then sold to us by low payed American workers, every chain store you could want is located 5 miles away in the town of Springfield.
One of the first places we go when visiting a town is their Main Street, because it reveals so much about the community. We want a Main Street that is a bustling town's center of activity, and not boarded up and abandoned. We look to see if it is home to businesses one would expect to find in a downtown district. We want to see a coffee shop, cafe, hardware store, specialty stores and flower shop, and not banks, professional offices, fudge shops, and t-shirt stores. Main street should be a town's destination where the locals shop and socialize, and should actually be used by the locals. We have come across countless towns with cute main streets where there is not a soul to be seen. So far were getting good vibes from Eugene, and could not wait to explore the downtown. After parking Rosie, we spent over 2 hours meandering around, and it was the best downtown we had seen thus far consisting of 8 full city blocks! Eugene’s downtown hit the nail on everything we look for on Main Street. We were both so captivated by our surroundings, I am embarrassed to say I totally forgot to take pictures! I found some nice ones online to represent the beautiful fall day we had in Eugene, enjoy!
After departing Eugene’s downtown, we headed to the 5th Street Market; the city market place. In it's simplest terms, a city market consists of a variety of local businesses selling goods, services, and food under one roof. Beyond this unifying factor, each cities market is as different as you could imagine, and after exploring 20 states, we have seen a wide variety of approaches. However, Eugene’s take on a city market was very unique and totally unexpected. The building housing the 5th Street Market was 3 stories tall, with an open interior courtyard. Surrounding the courtyard were balconies with chairs and tables on each floor. The businesses in the market were filled with specialty stores, and a food court with every style of food you could imagine. They even had a store dedicated solely to items made in Oregon! My favorite store was the flower shop which you encountered as soon as you entered the building. It was quite an overwhelming experience being greeted by a wall of flowers in every color of the rainbow. Eugene’s 5th Street Market had a strong European flavor, and was reminiscent of my trip to Old Quebec City in Canada a few years back. This is the perfect place to grab a bite, hang out on a balcony, and read a good book; I might just do exactly that if Eugene ends up being our new home! Please see the pictures below.
After leaving the 5th Street Market, we did some freestyle exploration to get a better feel for Eugene, and made a very surprising discovery. Eugene had a nice suburban area actually located within the city! Typically, residential neighborhoods exist in suburbs surrounding cities with a population greater than 100,000 people. Eugene has 160,000 people, and I was looking at well maintained properties with grassy lawns, white picket fences, and tons of trees forming a canopy of shade over the streets. The reason suburban and urban coexist in Eugene is because you would be hard pressed to find a house larger than 1000 sq ft. Small house size reveals the residents likely have a minimalistic mentality, and are aware of their consumption and carbon footprint. We decided to look at the cost of a 1 bedroom apartment, as a barometer to determine housing costs. When we used to live in Connecticut, we rented a one-bedroom apartment for $850.00, and we found 3 comparable apartments in suburban Eugene for between $650 - $700 per month! Go Eugene!!!
After departing Eugene’s residential neighborhood, we decided to see what the city offered for vegan dining. Aside from pasta, pizza and salad, it is quite challenging to eat out vegetarian, but not in Eugene!!! The city has 7 vegan restaurants to choose from. We couldn’t even find 7 vegan restaurants in the Midwest! We decided to patronize a place called the Cornbread Café, Vegan Comfort Food. I have been searching for a good piece of vegan cornbread for a very long time, and have had no such luck so far! Today, I would seize the day! The café wasn’t much to look at from the outside, and the ambiance inside felt more like a casual diner in a desperate need of a redesign. However, what the Cornbread Café lacked in aesthetics, it more than made up for in quality vegan food. It turns out The Cornbread Café was featured on the Food Network's TV show; “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”, hosted by Guy Fieri, please see the pictures below.
Apparently, the sandwich featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" is called the “Eugenewich”. Well that settles it! I know what I am ordering! The Eugenewich starts with a split whole wheat bun with a spicy cashew cheese on one side, and BBQ sauce on the other. In the center on the sandwich is a slice of tofu lightly fried to crispy perfection, topped with a mountain of fried onion crisp. I can only describe the flavor as a fusion between a fish filet and a western cheeseburger. I know it sounds confusing and disgusting, but even to my surprise, all of the flavors, textures and ingredients worked together perfectly. The Eugenewich was the most unique, and delicious sandwich I have ever eaten! Lori also settled a long time craving by ordering a Vegan BLT, with a side of fries. In addition, we shared a bowl of calamity chowder, which can best be described as a vegan version of New England Clam Chowder! Of course we had a piece of their cornbread, which was to die for!!! The food was great, the service was prompt and courteous, and the prices were very fair. If I lived in Eugene, I could see myself eating here regularly! Please see the pictures below!
Now on to the negatives. Eugene has the highest grass pollen count in the entire US, and I am very allergic to grass pollen. Not a deal breaker, but I hope I can find a good Allergist! As with most cities with a population greater than 100,000, it was a royal pain to navigate down the series of endless one-way streets. As with most locations in the Pacific Northwest, Eugene gets it's fair share of rain. Nonetheless, almost everything we could want in a new home we found in Eugene, and we could see ourselves very happily living there for many years to come. Our experiences in Eugene upped the ante making Oregon a serious contender as our new home state! However, our exploration of Oregon was just beginning, and we could not wait to see what additional surprises the state had in store for the Cross Country Couple!
When we are exploring a state, we actively look for reasons to eliminate it from consideration. We have to narrow down 48 states to a select few, and we only have a week in each state to do so. We have very high standards, and are looking for very specific qualities in our new home! Unsurprisingly, many of the towns we visit are disappointing, and we can’t wait to leave! Very occasionally, we come across a gem that actually hurts us to leave it behind! Marquette, MI was once such town (Read about that HERE) and now we feel the same way about departing Eugene, OR!!! However, our journey must continue on, because we still have ½ of the country to explore! With a very heavy heart, we departed Eugene for a 128 mile drive West across the Cascade Mountain Range to the city of Bend, OR where we found a Walmart to spend the night. Tomorrow, we begin our exploration of Eastern Oregon.