Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ubiquitous Eugene

One of the things that I missed most when I moved away from Oregon a few years back was the Friends of the Eugene Library annual book sale. This is a big event in Eugene. 70-80 thousand books, thousands of people trying to buy them. I went to the sale for the first time while I was a freshman in college and subsequently went for the next three years. I always spent twenty dollars, no more. Doesn't sound like much, but considering the pricing structure (buck a book) it got me a nice set of of literature.

Since I've been away, the event has only become bigger. I had planned to show up at 1:30 in the morning to get a pass to enter early, but after some friends of mine ditched me, I decided to just to show up at 9 with everyone else. Turns out this was not that bad of an idea. I got in line at about 8:45 and still managed to make it inside with the first group they let in. I broke my $20 rule, but not by any significant amount ($26, the extra amount going to some more expensive cookbooks and large coffee table volumes). Some of my best finds included a 1960s edition of "The Circus of Dr. Lao," a copy of Mao Tse-tung's guide to guerrilla warfare and a copy of "The Portable Carl Jung."

Overall, a well spent morning.

After taking my purchases home and cataloging them (yes, I catalog my book collection. No, I do not have a girlfriend. Yes, I do think these to things are interrelated) I decided for a little excursion to CD/Game Exchange, one of my favorite music shops in town (near the corner of 11th and Willamette, in between a hobby shop and a RPG haven, in case you haven't indulged). While I prefer House of Records for general purchasing, CD/Game Exchange is great for just filling the holes in my ever growing (and paycheck-depleting) music catalog. All of their used music is between $5 and $2.50, and they offer a decent price for trade in. I finally managed to pick up the last Mission of Burma album I needed to complete my collection of their early works ("Peking Spring" in case you're interested, which I could not imagine that anyone other than myself and at most three other people would be). While it might be possible for me to download all the music I want for free, as so many of my friends remind me whenever they see my 1,000+ music collection, I still enjoy the tactile pleasures of actually owning a physical copy of my music. And when you get down to it, I seem to listen to more music and know more about music than any of my download happy friends. I can't really explain that (other than the possibility that I'm an obsessive geek and they are normal human beings with functional social lives) but it does seem to be the case.

Next, I took a short walk through downtown and found myself surprised to find hundreds of people wandering around. Naturally, the first thought that occurred to me was that I had actually wandered into an alternate dimension where downtown Eugene isn't a comically unprosperous dead zone full of failing businesses, the kind of place where bad urban planning ideas go to die. The second thought, brought on by reek of body oder mixed with patchouli, was that the Saturday Market must have started operating again after its winter off-season. This turned out to be the correct notion.

The Saturday Market is the defining Eugene experience for me. A tightly packed clusterfuck of tie-dye and homemade crafts, populated by a oddly assorted mixture of second-generation hippies and middle-class gawkers, the Market is the only ongoing business venture in Eugene that is able to get people to come downtown on anything resembling a consistent basis. You can buy anything from homemade soap to skirts made out of neckties and get a pretty decent lunch as well (grilled portobello mushroom burger, anyone?). Just across the street is the Farmer's Market, which runs concurrent to the Saturday Market (as well as Tuesdays during approximately the same spring-early fall schedule). There is also a pretty lively protest in front of the courthouse that shares the unfortunate corner space to all of these events. Current Protest Effectiveness Level: None. Current Protest Subject Matter: Take your pick.

After the Market, I spent a little time at a Perugino, a mock-pretentious European style coffee shop on Willamette between 7th and 8th. Not my favorite kind of place, but convenient for the purposes of meeting a friend of mine for a couple of games of Go (yes, I play Go. This also might be related to my current relationship status. I prefer not to think about it too much). The reason I tend not to prefer Perugino to other spots in town is that, and I'll admit I feel bad saying this, their coffee isn't all that good. Sure, they pull a decent shot of espresso and can make great lattes, but the house coffee (which is still how I judge a coffee shop in the end) is generally a pretty bland Sumatra or an uninspired house blend. And at $2 for an 8 oz cup, it can't help but feeling like a rip. I don't pretend to be an expert on coffee by any means. However, I've had great coffee and I've had bad coffee, and in my experience Perugino falls somewhere in between. The atmosphere also doesn't jive too well with me, though this is even more of a personal call. A mock-European cafe in the middle of Eugene feels phony to me. Espresso Roma, which serves some of the strongest, most bitter and foul tasting coffee in town, is still in my opinion a better coffee shop simply for being such an organic part of its environment. Right next to the University of Oregon campus and sucking in the ideal crowd for this kind of business, it practically bleeds coffeehouse atmosphere. Local roaster Full City, with its two locations in town, serves better coffee than Perugino at a lower price and without the pretentiousness. Still, good pastries and solid lattes, so I can't complain too much.

My day ended with a film premier at the DIVA (the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts, an art gallery/community art education center on the corner of Broadway and Olive). The film in question was "Depraved," a gruesome little 30 minute revenge thriller that I can't really judge with any kind of objective criticism, considering that I wrote it and the director is one of my best friends. Writing excessively violent horror film scripts that somehow actually get zero-budget productions made out of them is my own personal contribution to the Eugene entertainment scene. I won't say too much about the film (I'm too self-conscious to be a good self-promoter) other than to say that the 70+ capacity room was packed for a small half-hour indie film, and that if you want to learn more about the project you can look it up at the production company's website: