Last night we talked about a favorite subject, Why Salem Sucks, during the monthly meeting of our Salon discussion group. While we found some good things to say about Salem, at least two-thirds of the conversation involved the bad and the ugly.
The meeting was up in Portland, actually—at the home of Mark and Lynda, group members who recently moved to a beautiful condo on the Willamette River (see “Salem escapees head for Sellwood area”). So we had put some distance between us and Salem, which perhaps produced a clearer perspective on the town long-time residents adore and revile in roughly equal measure.
Bill threw out the theory that two factors keep Salem mired in mediocrity: (1) state employees get and keep their jobs because they’re uncreative, and (2) the state institutions (mental hospital, corrections facilities, etc.) situated here drag down the already low creativity quotient.
I found #1 persuasive until I remembered that I’d moved to Salem in 1977 to take a job with the State Health Planning and Development Agency. So I quickly dismissed this portion of Bill’s theory as hitting too close to home. However, #2 makes sense, so long as we consider the Oregon legislature to be one of the institutions inhabited by mentally and/or morally defective people.
In fact, society would be considerably better off if the patients presently in the Oregon State Hospital were released and replaced with all of the state legislators (or at least the House Republicans, with Karen Minnis and Wayne Scott being the most deserving of sedation and straitjackets.)
When we started talking specifics about what we liked and didn’t like about Salem, this is my recollection of what we came up with:
The Good: Minto-Brown Island, Saturday Farmer’s Market, First Wednesday celebration, Salem City Club, Riverfront Park, Elsinore Theatre, Pentacle Theatre, Willamette University, downtown condo development, soon-to-be-sold Sustainable Fairview.
The Bad: Mayor Janet Taylor, her mostly conservative city council, boarded-up buildings, deserted downtown after dark, a back-to-the-50s vision of the future, apathetic ignorant voters, largely-ignored riverfront, under funded library system, a Keizer that should be part of Salem but isn’t.
The Ugly: All of “The Bad,” with special mention of the horrendous downtown Boise Cascade paper-converting plant that, thank God, may be moved or closed down soon.
Mayor Taylor should be demanding that Boise Cascade find a way to expeditiously demolish this eyesore, but I’m afraid that her short-sighted vision is more concerned with keeping the 90 paper plant jobs in Salem than with making the riverfront a vibrant place for people to live, work, and play, which, naturally, would have a much greater economic benefit than what is there now.
But probably nothing will change with the Boise Cascade plant. That’s Salem’s modus operandi: When in doubt, don’t.
“Salem,” says Wikipedia, is derived from the Hebrew word “Shalom,” which means peace. I also read that “the Native American name for the area was Chemeketa, which means ‘meeting or resting place.’”
Yes, that’s fitting. A peaceful resting place.
R.I.P. That’s what Salem does best.