TheGayTripper at a street corner in Salem, Oregon
Oregon, United States

8 Weird Differences You’ll Notice Living in Oregon

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Living in Oregon is a popular idea. In fact, it’s consistently among the top three states for relocation.

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By now we’re all aware of the “Portland is weird” stereotype. It’s as common as some French stereotypes. But I’m going to avoid the more subjective points on the state and focus on a few of the actual, strange, little differences you’ll come to appreciate about life in Oregon.

You’re not allowed to pump your own damn gas

Blogs about moving to Oregon are a cottage industry. And among the many GIFs of Ron Swanson, you’ll learn that pumping your own damn gas is usually illegal in Oregon. And if you grew up anywhere other than New Jersey, this is going to be a little unnerving. So, let me help you with a step-by-step:

  1. Pull up to the pump
  2. Roll down the window.
  3. Wait in your car, wondering why you can’t pump your own damn gas.
  4. Someone in a yellow safety vest uncaps your tank and asks what you’d like.
  5. You contemplate this question – unaware that people bought anything other than the cheapest kind.
  6. You say, “Just a tank of regular, please.”
  7. They say, “Okay” and take your credit card.
  8. They come back and confirm that you want a full tank.
  9. You say, “Yes” – worried that you’ll be missing your daughter’s piano recital or whatever because you can’t pump your own damn gas.
  10. They come back and ask what your ZIP code is.
  11. You scramble to find your new ZIP code, having recently changed the billing address on all your credit card accounts.
  12. They give you a receipt and screw your gas cap back on.
  13. You drive away knowing this is what fascism in America looks like.

As a public works program, I support gas attendants. But was surprised to see the pump handles in Oregon don’t have vapor seals like those in California (adding fuel to the California-Oregon rivalry). The attendants are smelling fumes all day – and the fun probably wears off when the fumes do.

So, when can you pump your own damn gas in Oregon? If you’re in a county with less than 40,000 people OR if you’re a motorcycle enthusiast. Knowing where those counties are is up to you. And GOD help you if you’re found pumping in a county of 40,001 people.

Road sign for a cannabis dispensary
Two of Oregon’s many mainstays: a dispensary and Dutch Bros. drive-through coffee.

There are more dispensaries than gas stations

That statement is almost not an exaggeration. By my latest un-scientific count of the Salem-area, there are some 40 dispensaries and 60 gas stations. And the hardest part, of course, is deciding which dispensary to visit. Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order, based only on their names:

  • 420Ville
  • Hotbox Farms
  • Electric Lettuce
  • Spacebuds
  • 69BlazeIt
  • The Bake Shop
  • Pottonmouth
  • Canna Daddy’s
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I only made one of those up.

Both medical and recreational cannabis is fully legalized in the state, with the latter incurring a 20% tax. That tax is often baked into the final price. So, for tax-free weed you’ll need a medicinal license. Afflictions currently covered include: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, herpes, government-created nanorobot infection, and depression. I only made one of those up.

You pay the price you see

Except for weed and alcohol, you’ll almost always pay the price you see – as Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax. Municipalities can impose fines as they like and there are some sneaky taxes on prepared food, lodgings, etc.

Oregonians freaked out when lawmakers legalized self-service gas stations in rural areas – now known on social media as the Oregon Gas Crisis of 2018. So I’m imagining a sales tax would be apocalyptic in comparison. Oregon is just one of four states in the continental US that doesn’t impose one – and California has the highest sales tax. May the CA-OR rivalry continue.

Wow, look at that tasteful cropping of a major brand that isn’t sponsoring me yet.

Drive-through coffee is a thing for some reason

There’s no drive-through cannabis yet. But coffee? Oh yes. I’ve found Salem’s scene to be a surprisingly car-centric city with Dutch Bros. leading the way in coffee culture. Everyone and their mom runs a drive-through coffee place. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of this, but I’ll pin at least part of it on Portland’s Motor Moka.

In 1992, a Portland coffee place called Motor Moka started America’s first drive-through coffee service. That’s it. But fun story, Starbucks CEO and venti asshole Howard Schultz came by the store and told its owner, “I just want you to know, we’re not going to hurt you a bit.” Thanks, Howie.

Motor Moka is mostly defunct now, but it sounded pretty metal.

You can get beer, wine, and weed delivered

In my day, you were expected to drive to the liquor store (or dispensary). And it was uphill both ways – and you could pump your own damn gas. But, Oregon has made an industry of Postmating beer and wine to your door (you can even throw in a pizza). This isn’t exactly new in the US, but Oregon has oiled the skids to make it über easy.

But you’re expected to return the bottle

Coming from Iowa, bottle deposits aren’t a new concept, but Oregon’s bottle bill was the first in the nation. Originally introduced in 1971 to reduce litter along beaches, the system has undergone several changes. Now, you’ll get $0.10 back on each water bottle, soft drink, alcoholic beverage – and as of recently, THC-infused beverage.

Coastline and beaches near Devil's Punch Bowl in Oregon.
The view from Devil’s Punch Bowl State Natural Area

Most Oregon beaches are open to the public

In an exercise of green-friendly gonads we rarely see today, Oregon’s turn-of-the-century governor, Oswald West, declared that all wet sand was a public highway. This protected the Oregon coastline from eyesores and overdevelopment. You may choose to ignore the next part of his Wikipedia article titled, “Sterilization and emasculation advocate”. But who among us doesn’t have a controversy section on Wikipedia?

That law was solidified in 1967 through the Beach Bill. And today, you have free access to almost all of Oregon’s beaches. Hell yes. But note, Oregonians don’t go to the beach. They go to the coast.

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A hillside of Oregon following clearcut logging.
Deforestation? Yeah, it’s the big brown patch without trees. Can’t miss it.

Deforestation: it’s a problem

Driving to the Oregon coast, Rafi and I were shocked by the toll the logging industry (aka “Big Log”) has taken on the state’s forests. The clearcutting process removes every single tree in a region. Logging corporations argue this is the most ecological and economical method of collecting timber. They’ll also argue that every tree removed is replaced.

But there’s one problem. Oregon has lost over half-a-million acres of forest cover since 2000. The trees are being removed faster than they can grow. And in the upcoming decades, this part of the country can expect 5°F to 8.5°F in warming, along with a quadrupling of forest fires. However you dice it, Oregon needs more forests. Not less. Because whatever short-term gains come from taking the trees down – they pale in comparison to what’s coming.

Welcome to Oregon sign installed by Governor Tom McCall, reading "We hope you enjoy your visit".
A welcome sign installed by Gov. Tom McCall with extra emphasis on the “visit” part.

Final thoughts on living in Oregon

For decades, people have wanted to live in Oregon and that isn’t changing. Because for all the sarcasm in this article, Oregon is a beautiful state where the real mainstays aren’t drive-through coffee or dispensaries –but clean air, green forests, and some pretty interesting people.

Governor Tom McCall – a driving force behind the Beach Bill – once said, “Come visit us again and again. This is a state of excitement. But for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live.”

But you know, I’m going to disagree with six-foot-five-inch and bear-of-a-man Governor Tom McCall because he’s dead and can’t do anything about it. Move to Oregon. Live in Oregon. And most importantly, share this blog.

And if you meet someone from Salem – tell them that people from Salem should be called, “Salemanders”.

Help other people live in Oregon. Pin this post!

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