I'm about to say some positive things about Salem -- the capital city of Oregon, where I've lived for thirty-four years. My usual attitude toward Salem (boring, sleepy, uncreative, lethargic) is reflected in a multitude of other blog posts.
But today was a warm, sunny late September day. I rode my maxi-scooter around town and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. That got me to thinking about how much I like some favorite Salem people and places.
Betsy at Hair Headquarters. A few blocks south of Mission, on Commercial Street, sits a small barber shop where I've been getting my hair cut since 1977, when I started to commute from Portland to a state job here. I can't imagine having my hair entrusted to anyone else but Betsy. Once she took a few months off for some ridiculous reason, like to have a baby or something. I was traumatized when I had to have my hair cut by someone else.
Betsy and I always have great conversations. Today we mostly talked about cars. The subjects are almost endless, because I've known Betsy for longer than I've been married to my second wife. In fact, almost longer than both of my marriages combined. The guy who took my place in the barber chair helped with our home's earthquake preparedness renovation. We had a nice chat while Betsy started on his own hair cut.
The small town where I grew up had a one-chair barber shop. Hair Headquarters reminds me of that wonderful atmosphere: men's magazines, few frills, good chance you'll run into someone you know. One (positive) difference: Betsy is better looking than the guy who cut my hair as a kid.
Venti's downtown. l haven't been to the new Venti's location on south Commercial yet, so my praise is directed at the Court Street location. I've been eating the Garlic-Sesame Tofu dish for a long time, starting when Venti's was in a hole in the wall-space across the street, in the Reed Opera House building.
Back then, there was no way a patron wasn't going to get up close and personal with both the cooks and the other customers. I enjoyed the repartee between the regulars and the staff. That intimacy is diluted now that Venti's has expanded. But I still see some of the same people who frequented Venti's v. 1.0 when I leave my Tai Chi class at Pacific Martial Arts (above Dairy Lunch on Court Street) and walk by Venti's v. 2.0.
The atmosphere still is pleasingly casual, quirky, and beer'y. Over the years the Garlic-Sesame Tofu dish has steadily improved. I had it tonight and say, Best Yet! The teriyaki'ish sauce is excellent. I like having a brown rice option. The broccoli, pea pods, and carrot slices are healthily plentiful, as are the bite-sized tofu chunks (big improvement over the previous tofu strips, which required cutting).
Venti's is my favorite place to eat in Salem. May you live long and prosper, Venti's v. 2.0 and 3.0 (which I do plan to visit soon).
Downtown Beanery. Yes, I have a Starbucks card. Also, a Starbucks iPhone app which I use to pay for my coffee because it seems cooler to hold my phone up to a scanner than to hand over my card.
But my true caffeinated love is the Downtown Beanery, conveniently located just half a block from my thrice-weekly Tai Chi classes. I don't know how much cosmic energy I'm invigorating myself with through Tai Chi, but I sure feel an energetic jolt every time my dearly beloved Thermos mug is filled to the brim by the Beanery baristas (who give a large 35 cent discount for using your own mug).
And not just from the caffeine. I'm energized by the Beanery's independent coffee house vibe, which is a heck of a lot more appealing than the Starbucks corporate atmosphere. I do a lot of blogging at a Beanery table, sipping from my mug, eating a muffin, enjoying the reliable wi-fi.
The Downtown Beanery feels almost like home. The staff are friendly, efficient, and accomodating. Yesterday a woman apologized for the length of time it took for me to get my bagel and cream cheese, because she'd toasted me a new one after over-cooking the first bagel. I told her that I eat mal-toasted bread made by myself all the time, but was appreciative nonetheless.
LifeSource Natural Foods. My wife and I would be semi-starving if it weren't for LifeSource Natural Foods' excellent deli section. We stop by quite a few times a week to see what tempting, healthy food item is lurking in the Deli. Then we graze on it for days afterward, postponing our home-cooking as long as possible, because almost always LifeSource does it better than we can.
The LifeSource staff are equally enjoyable. There seems to be little turnover at Salem's only genuine natural food store, seemingly because owner Alex Beamer and his wife have created a terrific working environment. I've been told that employees enjoy good benefits and profit sharing (plus, it seems, all the sample snacks they can eat; I know, because I'm frequently bumping into a staffer as I reach for a free goodie).
Kudos to Alex and LifeSource for being model Green'ies. Solar panels, recycling, low water usage -- all that stuff. When i mentioned to an employee that we'd recently bought a Nissan Leaf electric car, he told me that the Beamer's also had gotten one: blue, just like ours.
I'm thinking that we should form a Nissan Leaf gang of some sort. Maybe we could cruise around slowly in our Leafs with the windows down, arms hanging out the windows, smooth jazz blasting from the radio. Way cool. Just like some parts of Salem are, despite the overall blah'ness of this town.