Along The Oregon Trail
August 17th, 2016
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Eastern Oregon isn’t that much different from northern Nevada and southern Idaho, in that you are constantly being reminded that you are still in the good old USA. American flags are flying everywhere—from flagpoles, fence posts, hay derricks, construction cranes, drilling rigs, truck antennas—you name it. It’s like driving through a Donald Trump rally, which is one reason why I just kept on driving. But then I came upon a highway rest area, which is where I discovered that the state of Oregon is different from its neighbors in that it has found a solution to what is undoubtedly the greatest single issue facing humankind at this time. I’m referring, of course, to public toilets.

Here’s how it works. You approach the privy in a hurry, the result of something you ate back in Vernal, Utah. Instinctively, you look for the men’s room—because you are a man wearing pants and not a skirt wearing transsexual, nor a child molester in drag. However, both doors feature unisex symbols, so you are free to take whichever one isn’t locked. That’s right! Public toilets in Oregon can be locked from the inside! How come North Carolina hasn’t thought of that? So I felt perfectly safe and at home inside, no matter that the rest room had no urinal. I also felt safe because unlike the roadside porta-potties of Nevada, Oregon restrooms aren’t perforated with bullet holes.

Back on the road, I felt even safer, because in Oregon it’s against the law to drive a vehicle while operating a hand held device. Amazing! Back in Utah, cell phone use while driving is customary–if not compulsory.

By and by I stopped for gas and was startled when the station attendant came running out. In Utah, if a gas station attendant approaches your car, you can rest assured that he’s aiming to sell you a new set of shocks or a tire or a fan belt or whatever else he can talk you into buying. But, no! Gas station attendants in Oregon are there to pump your gas. In fact, it’s against the rules to do it yourself, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. I’ve been told that it’s a government “make work” project, but that doesn’t make much sense because the attendant already has plenty of work to do; for instance, selling pepperoni sticks designed to keep one’s bowels moving smartly between rest areas. It may also be that Oregon doesn’t want amateurs topping off their tanks, which causes air pollution and may result in a spill. Whatever the reason, you are obliged to just stand there and do nothing as the attendant runs your credit card, punches a button, and inserts the nozzle.
When it’s done, you can thank him—or her—but be careful not to tip. That’s right! Tipping an attendant for pumping your gas is against the rules in Oregon. Amazing!

That said, I made the mistake of tipping an attendant in the bustling seaside resort of Lincoln City. Turns out there were cars stopped at every pump, and the poor guy was running back and forth and around in circles trying to keep up. As he pumped my gas, I couldn’t help noticing that he was clutching a fistful of dollar bills in one hand. What else could they be but tips? So I handed him another, which he quickly added to his wad before dashing off. Had I been conned? Who cares? One dollar is a heck of a lot less than what I might have paid that attendant in Wells, Nevada, who—every time I pull into his station—eyes the right rear tire of my Pathfinder and makes a frowny face. And if you should need to use his bathroom, you have to ask for the key, which is chained to a Chevrolet V-8 engine block. By the time you’re finished dragging that thing to the rest room and back, the air will have gone out of your right side rear tire. Luckily, the attendant will have a replacement in stock. Luckily for him, not for you.

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-Richard Menzies