If I Could Only Get You Oceanside

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Daniel Borgen. The Lady Chronicles By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly The drive to Netarts, Oregon, the unincorporated working man’s town outside Tillamook, is a winding, gorgeous one, filled with hills and dales and mountains and green, damp forests. You get there quite quickly if your friend, the driver during your excursion, hits the gas like a soccer mom who’s late for a PTA meeting; you probably get there at a more leisurely pace if your driver is anyone else—in total, you’re just under two hours away from bustling city life. In Netarts, odds are your cell phone won’t work—no reception—and you’ll find that to be a welcome reprieve. No urgent smart phone matters to distract you. The town redefines sleepy—I learned, in terms of coastal politics and history, Netarts is the “worker’s town,†while its next door neighbor, Oceanside, the town nestled in a hillside, is where the more “affluent†folks live; I believe it, the homes in Oceanside are big and sprawling. Netarts suits me fine, with its two restaurant/bars, its competing general stores, small cottages, and Lex’s Cool Stuff, which houses all manner of useless (but charming) trinket. Lexie is kind and will insist on feeding you goodies while you shop. It’s a little unnerving, but humor her. She worked hard on those brownies. We went to Netarts in a small group; my miniature cohort and I celebrated my friend Kody’s birthday—he’s visiting from Africa, where he does IT work I’ll never quite understand, but it’s taken him ‘round the globe and he doesn’t visit home often. Komo, our driver, and his husband, Tim, were our gracious hosts; they own a cozy oceanfront home that once housed a campground’s general store—the house is quaint, creaky, and quirky, with old cold cases turned bookshelves, dozens of nooks and crannies, the kind that might terrify you if the lights went out in the middle of a storm, and its property lines are marked with giant old logs that washed ashore decades ago. Each window facing the water offers a stunning view of the bay, which is breathtaking in its beauty. As is customary during any trip I take, I insisted on sampling the nightlife. Most friends I travel with rarely object. After white wine and hors d'oeuvres and an hour or so recounting the treacherous drive through the mountain passes (our PTA mom didn’t make any friends along the way), we decided to head to The Upstairs, an aptly named restaurant/bar housed in a beautifully restored manufactured home. I believe it is called The Upstairs because you must climb stairs to enter it, but it may be because it’s up the hill from Schooners, another local watering hole, one we didn’t get the chance to frequent this trip, but I’m told is legendary in its own right. The Upstairs is adorned with video lottery machines, a digital jukebox, a pool table, and has been updated with some impressive details—the bar itself is a massive marvel of modern woodwork, and the place is cozy and welcoming, even as every patron turns his or her head when you walk in the door. The music didn’t stop, per se, but it may as well have; but in their defense, we aren’t the most inconspicuous or unassuming group, and Komo and I have never been known for our subtlety. Moments after walking in, he marched over to the jukebox to play Ariana Grande and Beyoncé, much to the chagrin of a long-haired gentleman, who tried desperately to negotiate song choices with the bar’s new deejay. I didn’t catch his name, but he did have blue nail polish on, and he approached our table several times, asking us if we were, you know, “gay.†(He whispered it.) He knew someone “like us†from Portland, a gentleman named Lane, and he was certain we knew him too. He was there with his girlfriend, and our new friend socialized with a sense of urgency and interest heretofore unseen. This is not to say every local was preoccupied by the amount of gay strolling through their Cheers; most folks were unfazed, welcoming, as earnest as a Richard Marx song. The waitresses—one had long gray hair and was covered in Harley tattoos—hugged us and kissed us when we left. An older bearded man high-fived me when I won all my cash prizes at the video lottery machine (I have good luck at the coast). Another gravelly-voiced local told me their little community is “very open-minded and progressive.†I believe her. Our adventures were not completely nightlife-driven. Each afternoon, we’d walk the beach; we’d stroll past Oceanside—which I believe is home to a secret lesbian compound (there were so many ladies I felt like we were at Dinah in Palm Springs); we’d peruse treasures in general stores; we marveled at sea life and explored caves and searched for sand dollars. I find nothing more calming than the roar of ocean waves and the comfort of sand under my feet, even if it is windy and chilly and not Waikiki. The beach serves as my yoga, my guru; it is centering and meditative and it always feels like home. I encourage you to stand at the water’s edge and embrace your smallness. The day we left, we took one last walk along the beach, and we stopped at The Upstairs for a snack and adult beverage before hitting the road (our driver drank tea). We said goodbye to our new friends and promised to visit again soon—and it was then realized something very important: Indiana really doesn’t worry me so much after I spend a weekend in a place like Netarts, Oregon. The title of this column is taken from an old Decemberists track, one of my all-time favorites: Oceanside. Yes, I have loved them since 2001. Email Daniel@PQMonthly.com.