Our first stop in Oregon was Eugene, home to the University or Oregon, Monthly Review’s editor John Foster, MR editorial board member Brett Clark, and Peter Ogura’s amazingly compact but well-stocked Black Sun Books. We checked into the Campus Inn, a cheap but clean and comfortable motel close to campus and not too far from the Hilyard Community Center where the talk was held. Again the event was well-attended and books were signed and sold. I was pleased to meet a lot of young people, many of them graduate students. Sometimes a radical speaker attracts old radicals, but change cannot be made unless young people become radicals too. John Foster, Richard York, and some other professors are helping to train a new group of radical scholar/activists, and this is a good sign.
Eugene isn’t a town where folks dress up; it has a reputation as a haven for hippies, anarchists, and other countercultural types (Ken Kesey lived here!). But I wore my blue blazer and dress slacks. I never “dress down” when I give a presentation. Mainly it’s a show of respect for the audience. I remember teaching workers in a union hall in Johnstown, PA. There was another teacher, recruited from a a neighboring college. He showed up dressed in ripped jeans and proceeded to open a brown bag and eat his lunch, right in front of the class. Students were outraged at such disrespect. The same thing happened when I was with the United Farm Workers. Some of the young volunteers would dress in rags, never bathe, and keep their rooms a mess, thinking perhaps that this made them more like the poor farm laborers we were in the union to help. This used to drive me batty. If you went to a farm worker’s home, he and his family would look their best. They respected themselves and their guests.
I think I gave my best talk in Eugene. I don’t use notes, and this gives a spontaneous feel to my delivery. I have a good ability to fluidly add examples as I think of them and to go off on a related tangent but return to the main theme without a break in the flow. I have been working on my cadences and changing volume as the material warrants it. Learning by constant experience the tricks of the speaker’s trade. My one problem is getting long-winded in my answers to questions. And also knowing when to shut the whole thing down. I’m sure as the tour goes on, the need to maintain physical stamina will automatically force me to conserve my time.
The next two stops were close to Eugene. The first was in Corvallis, about an hour north of Eugene, and the second in McMinniville, an hour northeast of Corvallis. Oregon State University is in Corvallis, and it is a beautiful university, more impressive in appearance than the University of Oregon. We took a walk through campus, enjoying the flowers and trees and learning that Linus Pauling, the only two-time Nobel Laureate (both were won without co-winners), graduated from the college in engineering. As I mentioned in my reading at Grass Roots Books, the novel A New Life by Bernard Malamud is set in Corvallis. Malamud once taught at the university, as does his protagonist Sy Levin. Levin falls in love with the wife of another English professor and is fired. Malamud captures well both the futility of teaching bonehead English and the beauty of the surrounding countryside. At one point Levin drives to the Pacific Coast, no doubt on Oregon Highway 126, which ends at Florence, where I am writing this now. We hiked about twenty-five miles along the coastal dunes during the past four days.
At both the Corvallis and McMinnville readings, some people seemed surprised that not many towns have attractive and viable downtowns as do both of these towns do. Corvallis is bigger than McMinnville and has more to offer either a visitor or a resident, but both were pleasant to visit. We stayed at an Econolodge in Corvallis, cheap but serviceable. The clerk gave us a larger room at the same price as a smaller one when I said that we needed a good internet connection. Only the rooms to the front of the building had access to the motel’s wireless service. We are always surprised when clerks are unyielding about rates, knowing full well that they are not very likely to be filled for the night. The fixed costs remain, so any money from a customer is a gain for the business. At two motels in Florence (Lighthouse Inn and Old Town Inn), we couldn’t get a price break even though we were staying for four days and the weather was not very good. We stopped at the Landmark Inn, where two of our friends from Estes Park once worked, and the owner was more than happy to knock a few dollars off the price for a four-day stay.
We go to Portland tomorrow for a stop at Laughing Horse Books. But before I go, I want readers to know that Corvallis is the grass seed growing center of the United States.