Sunday, July 29, 2012


Portland is a watery paradise, what with the Willamette running through the middle of town and meeting the Columbia at the top, the Benson Bubblers burbling throughout Downtown, the fountains everywhere, and, of course, the weather. My wife Montana, experiencing her first during-work-hours Happy Hour on the Friday at the end of her first week on her new job tried to explain her exuberance and excitement.  "You have to understand," she told her new co-workers. "My old job wasn't just on a dry campus, it was in a dry town." The Texas Panhandle being what it was, "dry town" described where we lived in more ways than one.

"I wouldn't say Portland is sopping wet," one of her co-workers replied. "But it is seriously damp." The Pacific Northwest being what it is, her comment described where we now live in more ways than one. 

As drenched as we are up here, you'd think Oregonians could afford a little bit of the laissez-faire it-will-always-be-here attitude toward water that Amarillotite's can't afford, but have anyway. In Amarillo homeowners in Wolflin, The Greenways, Sleepy Hollow-- okay, really anywhere west of I-27-- take their life in their own hands if they don't keep their lawn sparkling green with Kentucky Bluegrass1 or the like. Here, lawns like that are, shall we say, frowned upon.

For Panhandlians to understand the attitude toward water here, it might be simplest to recall the one time they did freak out with (entirely appropriate) over-protectiveness toward their water supply. That was when T. Boone Pickens threatened to pipe Lake Meredith, 500 playa lakes, and the entire Ogallala aquifer to San Antonio or somesuch place. Amarillotites freaked the hell out over that particular threat, as well they should have. And that's the way my comrades and fellow travelers in Portland react to any perceived threat to their water.

Exhibit 1: A recent "I, Anonymous"2  focused on dogs drinking from the Benson Bubblers.  In Texas, public water fountains-- even in schools-- are generally considered to be public health hazards which would be drunk from only by the sorts of people who might eat rotting meat left on the sidewalk in August.

Exhibit 2: About a year before we arrived here, there was a kerfluffle involving a man who urinated in the Mt. Tabor reservoir. Now, while on the face of it that's a fairly disgusting thought: There's pee in my drinking water!, I'm fairly certain that most Texans assume that whatever comes out of their tap has been pissed in by someone or something at some point. I know I always assumed that. 

So. Last week we got on the elevator in our building and heard an ominous recorded message advising west-side residents to boil all drinking water because a threat had been identified in the water. It turned out to be possible Ebola, but a second test cleared the water, and I couldn't help thinking that we wouldn't have heard about it all in Texas. 

What happened next was more interesting. Portlanders freaked the hell out. Many were upset that the city hadn't told them soon enough. Business owners fretted about lost revenue. And our friend Sonya-- whom I know from Amarillo, but who moved here in the 1990s and has gone completely native-- had a conspiracy theory . . .  As it turns out, the city has been wanting to cap the reservoirs for awhile to guard against-- it's the post 9/11 world, duh!-- terrorism.  But the reservoirs are beautiful. People don't live here necessarily because they want to be safe from terrorism; but they do live here, in part, for the beauty.  No one wants the reservoirs capped, but Sonya's theory is that the city is concocting these threats to build public support for capping the reservoirs. 

 So that's a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories are always crazy, if you can block the fact out of your mind that conspiracies really did occur in all ages and all places before now. Conspiracies were pretty much business-as-usual before the 20th century, yet we are crazy if we think they are taking place in 20th or 21st century America.  And then there was this: According to the Willamette Week,
Portland’s new westside emergency staging area got christened last weekend—with contaminated water. The city responded to an E. coli scare in a Washington Park reservoir on July 21 from a room inside a former U.S. Army Reserve center in Multnomah Village. It was the new emergency center’s first day in operation since the City Council voted unanimously to authorize acceptance of the decommissioned Army building on July 18.
OMG! This happened on the first day in operation! But that's not all!
Conveniently, the Water Bureau was the only city agency to have moved in already. “Serendipitous,” says David Blitzer of the Bureau of Emergency Management.
Are you freaking out yet?!  "Convenient!" I should say so. But the mayor wasn't too worried.
Safely ensconced in the center, Water Bureau staffers and Mayor Sam Adams drank bottled water. The room’s television was, at least for a while, tuned to golf.
He should have been watching soccer.  Otherwise, that's Portland.

Seriously, guys, the fact that it is called Kentucky bluegrass should have been a clue. It ain't called "Texas Panhandle Bluegrass," and there's a reason for that.

"I, Anonymous" is a column in the alt-weekly Portland Mercury in which people bitch out their fellow citizens, usually about rather inconsequential infractions.

1 comment:

  1. "Conspiracies were pretty much business-as-usual before the 20th century, yet we are crazy if we think they are taking place in 20th or 21st century America".

    That's the central tenet of Disinformation Theory, the idea that the most ridiculous conspiracy theories were deliberately planted by the conspirators in order to discredit all naysayers by association.


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