Eugene Such a Bright Light You Scarcely Notice the Gloom

Article excerpt

Byline: Ken Metzler For The Register-Guard

To Henry Schulte, c/o sunny Florida, USA

Dear Hank:

When you asked about Eugene - how's life here, and what about those gloomy winters? - I wondered how to respond.

What gloomy winters?

What have you learned from your three Northwest-residing daughters - Daisy and Julie in Eugene, and Margaret in Seattle?

Some consider our city a fairyland, as defined by a recent joke: "Eugene? Fifty square miles sur- rounded by reality.'

This reality-free zone is a long-standing lumber-industry community dominated by an intellectual three-ring circus called the University of Oregon.

Hank, as a retired journalist and professor, you understand college towns. Collegiate high jinks annoy citizens everywhere. In the 1850s our first institution, Columbia College - headed by an outspoken pro-South president - burned down twice. Arson was strongly suspected.

In the 1960s and '70s, anti-war rioting at the UO burned buildings and set off bombs, some real, others virtual - such as dirty words in a stu- dent newspaper or a student-produced obscene cartoon. The virtual bombs provoke more citizen outrage than dynamite. So does the presence of a controversial professor or guest speaker.

Eugene residents fight and argue incessantly. Why so?

To explain Eugene I'd erect a giant cement question mark atop Skinner Butte, a city-owned, 270-foot knoll that faces downtown. I'd do it at midnight. Citizens would awaken the next day to celebrate our spirit of inquiry - truth and falsehood grappling on the open forum, to paraphrase 17th century writer John Milton.

A question mark on city property? Outrageous.

So, after endless torrid debate among our citizens about the sinister meanings of the Big Question, I'd add another icon - a giant exclamation point. It would celebrate Eugene's fabled vitality and creativity. Questions and exclamations define us.

Confusing? Eugene is unique!

Here, real estate developers publish anonymous cartoon advertisements lampooning the Eugene City Council's alleged `no-growth' atti- tudes.

Here, when residents move away, they sometimes publish scurrilous letters detailing our failings. By one such account, we allegedly tolerate anarchy, left-wing activism, homosexuality, abortion and Democrats - but scorn nuclear families, Christians, capitalists, country music and Republicans.

Other cities elect beauty queens; we choose a Slug Queen, honoring our moist winters.

It takes scores of Eugene resi- dents to change a light bulb - half to quarrel (fluorescent? incandescent? white? colored?) - the other half to poke fun or express `shock and outrage,' which is a cliche here.

Eugene is a spectacular beauty displaying a spitfire personality. It's Yellowstone Park. Listen for volcanic rumblings of fiery discontent beneath the surface. Beware the torrid pools of outraged opinion. Enjoy the spewing geysers of hot air and the scalding water of self-righteous fury.

Hank, you'd love it here. Gloomy winters? Remember that rain and mountain snow create the swift-flowing rivers that have hosted your rafting adventures here.

Eugene's most significant volcanic eruption since Civil War times exploded in 1964. …