On Thom’s block, south of the campus in Eugene, a huge sidewalk maple (at least I think it’s a maple). Somehow it hadn’t made an impression the several times we’ve been up there. The crown of the tree is big, but you can tell it’s been cut back over the years so it doesn’t overwhelm nearby houses. The trunk, though, is massive, as demonstrated here by various two- and four-legged organisms.
From atop Skinner’s Butte in the middle of Eugene, looking south across downtown. Kate and I drove up Friday to spend today with Thom–his 20th birthday. Amazingly, I don’t think we once went into dramatic retelling of “the night you were born” stories. Instead, we spent most of the daylight hours outside. It’s been rainy up here lately. We heard a woman at one of the drive-up coffee stands on Franklin Boulevard say she woke up, saw the sun, and thought it was a UFO. The sunshine and warmth lasted all day, and besides Skinner’s Butte (named after the city’s founder, Eugene Skinner), we walked along the Willamette, saw a bald eagle hunting the river, and took a short hike up a high ridge south of town. A great day for us. Too bad we don’t have more time up here–we need to head back south tomorrow. It’s always a fun trip, though.
Monday night. Kate drove up to Eugene today. She’s at Thom’s house tonight. Scout and I are staying home. Scout to be Scout–a 10-hour drive is not a dog’s best friend, and Thom’s lease says no pets. Me, to take care of some work and shop and cook and otherwise get ready for Thanksgiving. I envied Kate the trip up to Oregon; it’s a long drive, but I like the way the route unrolls. But she’s off all week and it made more sense for her to go. I did the next best thing to driving up there; Before she left, I sat down and drew a map of the route and the key attractions: exits she needed to take, the locations of key towns, rest stops, features like Starbucks, In ‘n’ Out Burger (America’s favorite evangelical grilled-meat joint), the general characteristics of the road like the winding section once you get into the mountains north of Redding and the five passes you cross once you’re in Oregon. Drawing the map made me realize just how many times I’ve been over that road; I can picture so much of it, including beautiful Hilt, the very last town on your way north out of California.
Tonight: A spinning class at the gym. Dinner (some pesto spaghetti left over from the other night). A long walk with The Dog. A little Monday Night Football. An episode of “The Wire,” which, if I were to write about such things, I’d praise. And now this, and then bed.
(The picture? From late last week. An odd, persistent overcast that broke just enough at sunset to cast a striking light on the bay while I was out with The Dog (on right) at Chavez Park. That’s Alcatraz in the left distance, Thus concludes this November 20, 2006, slice of life.)
As mentioned a few days ago in this space, I went with Thom, who’s going to be a sophomore at the University of Oregon this year, up to Eugene in search of a house to rent for him and a couple of friends. One part of the job was easy. Unlike Berkeley, where there are comparatively few rental houses on the market, Eugene seems to be full of places to let.
We got to town Tuesday evening with a list of four places to check out before dark. None was just right — either a little far from campus or a little sketchy looking (in one of these places, the tenants had changed the locks and the landlord couldn’t get in for an apparently unannounced showing). Wednesday morning, we checked Craigslist and the local paper, the Register-Guard, which had about 80 houses listed for rent and about half a dozen that were big enough and close enough to campus to look at.
One of those was the house above, on Potter Street, about a mile south of campus. It’s on the plain side but looks like it has been well taken care of; it’s got wood floors, a big, largely junk-free backyard and a full basement with a washer and dryer. That’s what we could tell from the outside. We called the agent from the street in front, found out there were no applications in for the house yet and that we could see the inside the next day if we were still interested. To apply, we needed to get paperwork not only for Thom and his roommates but on a cosigner for each.
“Paperwork” meant giving Social Security numbers, driver’s license info, two pieces of ID (including one with a picture), and agreeing to a credit check for each applicant and cosigner. The challenge was that of the three roommates, only Thom was in Eugene at the moment. One was in suburban Portland and the other was on a family road trip to Utah and Colorado from his home in Wyoming. But having a deadline — we wanted to be back in Berkeley on Thursday night — helped. Using email, cellphones, faxes, and the walk-in printing setup at Kinko’s, we managed to put together complete applications for everyone by the time we met the agent back at the Potter Street house at 11 a.m. Thursday.
The house looked like it would be a good place for the three guys. We drove to the agent’s office and dropped off the applications, checked out a couple other houses just in case Choice A didn’t come through, then hit I-5 and drove home. Friday morning, we got a call from the agent: Thom and his buddies got the place. I didn’t expect it to feel like an accomplishment, but it does.
Up Interstate 5 again today for our unofficial first visit of the 2006-07 University of Oregon school year. Gas is three bucks and up everywhere you go, and if there are fewer people on the road than during the late cheap gas days, or if the ones who are out there are really driving smaller cars than they were before, I still need convincing (I’m the one to talk, driving a ’98 Dodge Grand Caravan — Grand, mind you — that at its most economical got about 26 miles to the gallon. One hundred and forty thousand miles into its career, it does well to get 23 miles per gallon, though the way we tend to drive on I-5 and like roads — 75 or 80 if people will let us by — doesn’t help matters).
Anyway. Thom and I are up here for a couple nights. Our mission: Find an off-campus place for him and two of his buddies to stay for the coming year. So tomorrow and Thursday, we’ll be looking at places and saying to each other, “Can’t believe they think they can get $1,500 a month for that dump.” Hopefully, we won’t be the payers of that $1,500. Wish us luck, wherever you are.
On the radio (KWVA, the University of Oregon station): Tom Heinl, a Eugene guy. The line "a couple of Certs and then back to work" caught my attention. You can listen to it on Heinl's site (hit the MP3 link on the right).
I've been workin' my fingers down to the bone
Seven nights a week at the old grindstone
And that don't leave a lot of time for recreation.
Yeah my wife left town, she didn't take me
But I don't gotta work till a quarter to three,
That's just enough time for my halfday vacation.
I'm smokin' those cigarette butts from a neighbor's truck
and drinkin' some cooking sherry,
One last beer, I put some ketchup in there,
That's a poor man's bloody mary.
And I'll probably pass out on my big old couch
Round about "Perry Mason"
A couple of Certs and then back to work
From my halfday vacation.
Well the alarm clock rings at 6 a.m.
I'm eatin' coffee right out of the can
I gotta have my fun before the noonday comes
That's when I go back to work for the man
And I'm watchin' my soaps and I'm drinkin' some Scope
And eatin' my wife's medications
A couple of Certs and then back to work
From my halfday vacation.
Yeah there's a party at dawn and baby I'm on my halfday vacation.
One last trip up to Eugene on Interstate 5. Someone asked me this morning how many times I’ve made the drive, which is about 1,030 miles round trip. Including today: Seven. At Thanksgiving, I did the trip twice in seven days, driving north on Tuesday, south on Wednesday, north and 40 percent of the way south on Sunday, and back home on Monday.
But the trip might not be as long as it sounds. I mentioned Interstate 5. It’s not an all-out raceway as it is from the Bay Area down to Los Angeles, but it moves right along going up the Sacramento Valley and doesn’t force you to slow down (too much) once you get into the mountains in the north. That’s all by way of saying that 500 miles and change might be a seven-and-a-half or eight-hour drive if you keep your stops short.
I’ll let you do the arithmetic. I’m going to bed.
Thom called this morning to report that he woke up to a snowy landscape outside his dorm in Eugene, Tingle Hall (one of the best dorm names ever). The proof:
Eugene’s pretty far north; something like 44 or 45 degrees, so well above the latitude of Chicago. But it’s low, only about 400 to 500 feet above sea level. And like the rest of the climate west of the big western mountain ranges (up there the Cascades, down here the Sierra), the proximity to the Pacific is a dominant factor. So: Snow is unusual up there. Not an extraordinary rarity, as it is in the Bay Area (though it does snow up in the hills here, and the same storm that’s making winter up in Oregon is supposed to drop snow here at elevations above 1,000 feet today and tonight).
Thom and I drove up to Eugene from Berkeley on Sunday (with his dorm-mate Sam, who rode up with us after getting stranded in the San Francisco airport on his way back to school from New York. A 500-mile trip, and a lot of the Oregon stretch that had been alien territory is becoming familiar: the four low summits between Grants Pass and Canyonville; the Seven Feathers Casino (free and not-too-awful coffee at the tribe-owned gas station and mini-mart), the two sharp mountainside turns at Myrtle Creek (they get your attention because the I-5 speed limit drops to 50 mph there). I’m starting to have a Eugene-trip routine: We drop Thom’s stuff off at his dorm, go to dinner, then I head back south. As when I made this trip in November, I got as far as Yreka (home of my favorite non-existent bakery) before my brain said, “Enough.” I got a room around midnight in the Best Western at the bottom of central Yreka exit ramp. A sign that I’m becoming an I-5 regular: The clerk recognized me.
Off again now to return to Berkeley. Stay tuned for pictures of 24-hour drive-thru coffee and the 70 mph dog.
Kate and I have just finished Week One of our Empty Nest era. Kate said today that sometimes when she hears the front door open and close here, she finds herself thinking it might be Thom. The other day, when it got to be 4 o’clock, she had the impulse to call home from school and check in with him.
Me, every once in a while — just looking at Thom’s car or his room or sometimes out of nowhere at all — I’ll have a sudden "he’s not here" moment that fits right in with other times I’ve really missed people; it’s like a blow to the solar plexus that comes with no real weight behind it; I can feel my breath catch for an instant, just enough to get my attention and register the sensation. Then it’s back to picking up my underwear or taking out the coffee grounds to the compost.
So. That’s our first week. We talked to Thom tonight. What was his take?
Beyond details like classes (there’s a heavy emphasis on grammar, of all things, in his Journalism 101 class), how he managed his meal-plan points for the first week (he bought a pack of Nutter Butters at one point because "every once in a while, you just need to have some peanut buttery goodness"), and the fact the floor he’s living on is fairly tolerant of a wide selection of musical tastes and volumes, he offered this summary: "I’m making a bomb-ass transition to college." (For the uninitiated, that is a good thing.)
So: a little perspective on our parental drama. (And, I can’t help thinking: Man, am I glad I’m keeping track of what my kid’s doing in Oregon, as opposed, say, to al Anbar Province).