Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eugene reunions & ruminations

Days Remaining to Next Beer: 346
Returning to Eugene, Oregon after so many years, far more than I’d ever intended, left me feeling somewhat out of alignment

Enough time had passed that there were evident changes to the landscape, new roads like the one behind the now with patio expanded Steelhead Brewery, new buildings on the U of O campus, and most of my friends that had remained in Eugene were working for a start up company called Garage Games founded by Jeff Tunnell, the sharp cat that’d founded Dynamix back in the day where my career in games began, and currently a cofounder of Push Button Labs. 

Downtown Symantec’s HQ had been boarded up, apparently moved somewhere else. The bookstore that used to sit across from the old Symantec HQ now sat vacant, empty plate glass windows like dead eye sockets. 

The small boutique book store and gallery named Das Rominae (not sure on the spelling, Google fail) where I sold toys on consignment and traded Star Wars cards for an autographed editor’s review prerelease copy of Neil Stephanson’s Diamond Age had front row seating during the infamous Eugene riot that began with a couple sparking incidents and boiled into an exercise of excessive force that set some precedent for the riots in Portland not long after. 

Following is a recount of how I remember events. I’ll happily stand corrected by others with more informed recollections. I jot these anecdotes here just to help illustrate my lasting affinity for this quirky little town in Oregon.

Police tried to first crack down on topless women, some under eighteen, lounging around in the city square. The tricky part about this is that Eugene has largely very liberal laws, and has no laws that require women to cover their breasts in public, similar to the beaches in Australia or anywhere else that elects not to impose social stigma based on gender. That lead to heaps more women enacting lunch time and afternoon sit ins shirt free and brought the local media around, leading to amusing blurry spot front page press to cover the event, doubly ironic when the protests are about the right to go topless, and because the woman in the photo turned out to be under-aged after the paper hit the stands, and had not given consent to appear in the paper, nor had a guardian, parent, or kin folk been located, or even searched for. Her folks turned out to be very pleasant middle class folks in the suburbs of Portland, good natured about the whole thing. So their daughter has a rebellious streak, are her exposed nips really a threat to safety, security, or the freedom of others? 

So the topless protests had officials a bit wound up already when the tree huggers arrived to chain themselves to the old growth trees in the parking lot across the feeder street from Symantec’s old HQ that the city had moved ahead with plans to destroy so that a pair of condo buildings could be built without soliciting a public vote, just like the City of Vancouver did with the Cherry trees that lined Granville Street in the weeks leading up to the Olympics, destroying trees over 20 years old that could like more than another 20 more to replace them all with something evergreen since someone on city council felt the current trees wouldn’t look good enough on camera when the film crews came through since at this time of year the cherry trees would be bare. Replaced trees that would last long enough to see Granville cleaned up and gentrified with trees that’ll last less than a decade, but at lease have full, green needles on every branch. In Vancouver the trees were chopped and speedily feed into a wood mulcher at the crack of dawn rather than have a landscaping company cut the trees out by the bulbs and relocate them, perhaps even allowing companies to bid for the trees to cover the costs since older cherry trees go for top coin in Vancouver’s view of Whistler McSubdivisions. In Eugene, the plan was the same, chop them down and mulch them, rather than relocate them, build around them, or at least make the city some money back letting one of Oregon’s dozens of logging companies buy up the old timber. Nope, murder and destroy at tax payer expense. 

And Eugene’s anti-timber industry advocates and tree huggers and many simply not in love with the idea of a condo development showed up to try to stop the operation. Vancouver was clever, perhaps thinking of the tree hugger riot over a decade ago, and the subsequent anarchist riots that happened once Eugene made the map as a great hotspot for annually throwing down with tear gas trigger happy police. Vancouver didn’t announce anything, trucks just showed up and trees began falling. Word spread and people arrived to document, snap pix, some to feebly protest, to feel disappointed as the trees fell, branches waving goodbye, and to wince each time another trunk slammed into the churning maw of the eternally starving mulcher.
In Eugene a sort of perfect storm happened, with police already tense and behind the scenes also preparing for an anarchist convention supposed to hit town sometime soon as a sort of strange lead up to the WTO riots inbound in a year or so. Police with expensive new crates full of dashing new gear, all at the tax payer expense, that they’d been itching to try out, or at least a few of them had, specifically the cops later charged, though seldom convicted, with excessive use of force after holding under aged [protesters down and spraying their eyes, throats, genitalia with cop sized canisters of high grade pepper spray. The pictures from that throw down made the blurry sopt topless girl seem like a sunny times wish you were here postcard from Hawaii compared to a John Hinckley, Jr. letter to Jodie Foster.

Not enough time had elapsed to make the city alien, though. The mall was still the main mall, Steelhead, though retooled some, still had bathrooms that smelled of loggers and chairs that made your lumbar ache, and boisterously brewed beers that made any other misgivings easily forgotten.

And my former collegues and friends, all the fellas that after Dynamics closed elected to stay in Eugene and start again creating Garage Games, they looked older, wiser, yet still vibrant and full of vision, ideas, and self-imposed challenges. Delightful to be around, and we’d happened to arrive just as they were celebrating a significant milestone well met on a patio of a pub adjacent to their establishment. 

I wanted for Lindz to see where I’d began my carreer and to meet some of the folks responsible, and so she did, in particular titans like my long standing peer and pal Joe Maruschak, the coder wizard and university president’s son Mark Frohnmayer, programmer and X-Files fan Rick Overman, PhD of Psychiatry and engineer since puberty Clark Fagot, scripter wihiz kid Trevor Lanz, and company founder Jeff Tunnell.

At some point I need to get Lindz down t Santa Cruz to meet two more of the people I schooled and worked with, Dave and Helene Scott relocated there after she graduated and he wrapped up his work on Starsiege. 

You might know Helene from Boom Boom Cards, as seen on Fast Company and the Ellen DeGeneres show.
Helene, Joe, my friend Danny now working on games in Seattle, and I were called The Cog while finishing our BFAs at University of Oregon. Helene was the “Mother”, Joe the :”Father” me the “Son” and Danny the “Holy Ghost”. We wrangled a group of fellow students to help up create a multimedia story with 3D, graphical, animated, and written components. A lot of wonderful assets came together very quickly, and while we never got a full animated project off the ground, we did see the work published on a couple UK Sci-Fi websites, the old Danger Media being the real cap feather. I hope someday again to work with a small team like that, each with their own magic sacks of tools and abilities, every one challenging one another to step up and be better for the whole than any of us might have thought out on our own.

And this all leads to the real point of this post, when I sat on Steelhead’s patio to sip a pint, let Lindz go wander and shop, and work on a drawing for my friend Joe’s daughter that she’d commissioned the day before, a cute zombie monster of some sort. 

Occasionally I had to pause from my drawing and reminiscing to answer an inquisitive mother as anther table’s questions about the drawing, or to show the drawing’s progress to her saucer eyed child gnawing on the edge of my table, or chat with a passing elderly woman’s questions about my tattoos as she touched them to check that they were real. Tattoos I didn’t have when I’d lived in Eugene, guess I’d changed some too.

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