PENDLETON, OREGON—Along much of its route through Oregon, US Highway 30, is now co-located with (subsumed by) Interstate 84, which runs from Pocatello, Idaho, to Portland, Oregon. Destined for Pendleton, Oregon, the GPS had a simple command this morning: Drive 450 miles on Interstate 84.” Aside from gas, which I needed more than usual because of a 25-knot headwind, I had two planned stops, previously researched on Pubcrawler.com. They had more in common that the brew pubs where I planned to eat lunch and dinner. Through both of them, US 30 departed from I-84 to follow its original route through the heart of town.
Conceived and built in the 1920s, the US Highway system linked the main streets of America. It was the economic circulatory system that sustained the life of towns large and small from one coast to the other. It helped build—and unite—the nation during the formative years of the people we Baby Boomers call mom and dad. When getting places more quickly, and without bothering with places we didn’t need to visit, we conceived the US Highway system’s offspring, the Interstate system. A transcontinental network, it’s defined by “limited access,”meaning you can only get on and off at certain interchanges. You know, the on-and-off-ramps outside of town were Walmart and all the franchise businesses are located.
Over time, many of the US Highways have been co-located with interstates. But Oregon is the first I’ve seen where the subsumed highway has kept its primary role as a life-giving business route. And in Oregon, it also happens to follow the Oregon trail, a fact noted in the cities where I ate. Getting to the Bull Ridge Brewpub in Baker City was a challenge because all of the main roads through it were blocked off. Stephen, the barkeep, explained that today was Cycle Oregon, and the racers were due through town at 2 p.m. He couldn’t explain why they closed the streets before noon. The beer was okay, but the blackboard listed three IPAs, a Hefeweizen, and a Schwarzenberg, a black lager. I went with the session IPA at $4.50 a 12-ounce pint and an $11 chicken wrap with clam chowder.
About 98 miles farther west on I-84 is Pendleton, where US 30 again swerves into town. I rolled past the Prodigal Son Brewing Company on Court Ave., the west-bound one-way half of the main drag. Seeing the four picnic tables full of people outside its historic building made a positive impression. But I needed to work up an appetite, so after finding the Rodeway Inn and Suites around the corner from the brewery (making this the perfect overnight so far this trip!) I set out to explore main street, and to find the source of the music that filled the air.
The seat of Umatilla County, named for the river whose shore is one of its river-walk borders, Pendleton is a small town of 16,612 people. One of them is Angel Murillo, a student at the local community college who works at Hamely’s, the world famous cowboy outfitter established in 1883. It was having a big saddle sale. Explaining that Ole Blue already had a saddle, we chatted about the town and what it had to offer. “I’ve only been here a couple of years, and everyone tells me that there’s nothing to do, but I’ve been getting along all right.”
I should hope so. There are shops on the main streets and those connected to it that offer everything from books and music and quilting supplies to the expected banks, beauty salons, and western outfitters. What is unusual is that there are a half dozen or so hotels downtown, including the Rodeway. That might be because of the Pendleton Roundup, a weeklong rodeo extravaganza first held in 1910. In no uncertain terms, said Angel, it is a VERY BIG DEAL.
Seeing signs pointing to museums, something called the underground, and the river walk, I made it to the river and a sign proclaiming Court Ave. as the original path of the Oregon Trail before the music drew me back downtown. It was, indeed, a live performance situated on the front lawn of a cowboy bar. The singer promised the folks, and there were a good number of them, that “they’d find love on Facebook…so stay inside, turn of your teevees, and log on.”
After walking for more than an hour, it was time for dinner. The Prodigal Son’s Bruce’/Lee Porter ($4.50 for an honest, 16-ounce pint) was smooth, with a full creamy body that now ranks in my Top-5 porters. And the High ‘n Rye Pale Ale was robust, with a sharp edge to it that made me want another. But there was no room left. The half-pound Pit Boss burger, with bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce, jalapeños, and an onion ring, didn’t leave any room. I was eyeing the chocolate chip cake, chocolate, and marshmallow cream whoopee pie for dessert, but there wasn’t room for that, either. As it is, I won’t need to eat again until dinner time tomorrow in Portland.