Richard Hyatt: I'd rather pump my own gas

August 16, 2012 

A 5,800-mile trip that covered 14 states in 21 days took us to Oregon -- the land where old hippies go to die.

We end up in Lincoln City, a coastal village that has more coffee shops than bars and more vegetarian restaurants than steak houses. It doesn't have a Wal-Mart, but it does have a Birkenstock store.

It's an area where the sun seldom shines. The Florida coast dodges hurricanes. Out there, they fear tsunamis. Debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan litters the shoreline and a 66-foot dock washed up on a nearby beach.

Our condo overlooked the Pacific. The sight of waves pounding the rocks was mesmerizing, though the view is nothing like the peacefulness of the Gulf of Mexico.

Our trip was a marathon. We passed endless cornfields at 75 mph, sometimes with a 3-year-old sitting on a portable potty in the backseat. A lot of time was spent on Interstate 80, an east-west highway connecting New Jersey and California.

This isn't I-75 with a Waffle House at every exit.

You depend on truck stops where PA systems inform visitors needing a shower that stall 11 is clean and ready.

Nebraska and Wyoming are throwbacks to the Old West. We expected to see Jesse James buying a Happy Meal. But in Oregon you find more folk singers than gunslingers.

Our first brush with the state was in Burns, where we stop for gas. When I opened the door a large man wearing a shirt with no sleeves blocked the way.

I froze until I saw a Shell Oil crest on his shirt.

"You want me to fill it up?" he asked.

Then I remember. There's no self-service gas in Oregon.

"It's a state law," he said. "Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states that won't let you pump your own."

Voters reaffirmed the law a few years ago, he said.

What he didn't say was that consumers pay a nickel more for a gallon for gas than their neighbors. The country's first self-serve station opened in 1947 and four years later it was banned in Oregon. Supporters cite crime, toxic fumes and the fear that children are left alone while Dad pumps the gas.

It's so much a part of the culture that it is said when a baby is born in Oregon the doctor slaps their bottom and says "no self-serve and no sales tax."

You also pay nickel deposits on cans and bottles at the grocery store where many locals sport faded Army fatigue jackets like the ones they wore to Grateful Dead concerts.

Like an endless guitar solo, aspects of the counter-culture movement live on in a state that embraces the unwritten Hippie Code. But as a person more fond of T-bones than tofu, I think I'll pump my own gas.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He can also be found at www.richardhyattcolumbus.com.

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