“Yeah, but once you leave Portland, the people get weird.” I’ve heard that so many times (oddly enough, considering the “Keep Portland Weird” mantra), and I’ve found it to be almost entirely untrue. Except for that one town I drove through on a roundabout way home from the coast this summer (Brickerville? Rainrock? Deadwood? I don’t remember. But that place really was weird.)
This is downtown Mitchell (pictured) in Eastern Oregon. It’s the closest place to get a hotel room if you’re visiting the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (which, thanks to its rock formations and all the three-toed horse and short-faced dog fossils is weird.) Mitchell itself, however, is just like any other small American town, except, I guess, for the boarded up old cafes, the caged 800-pound bear at the town’s only gas station (”pump stop” would be a better description) and the fact that most of the people left in the area are unemployed, which, come to think of it, is probably not that weird at all these days. Other than these minor details, Mitchell is a normal everyday little town.
Hugh, the guy who has the 800-pound black bear, is a great guy. He took me inside the cage while he wrestled with Henry (the bear) and let me feed him apples (Henry, not Hugh). The co-owner of the Little Pine Truck Stop and Cafe, across the street, showed me around the place when I asked about it, and he told me all about the nearby Painted Hills (pictured) as if I were a relative who drove a long way out to visit. (He and his wife moved out here from the Midwest and built a house on 40 acres because he wanted something really, really isolated). The owner of the old Hotel Oregon, where I stayed, chatted with me from behind the reception desk long after the rest of the guests (were there any?) went to sleep and her work was obviously done. She showed me the room with the bear hides on the walls. And we talked about how the hotel is haunted by a six-year-old girl whose mother drowned her in a bathtub years ago. I slept well that night, knowing I was in a good little all-American town.