When I arrived in Bend, Oregon, I expected to run into characters from Tawna Fenske’s romantic comedies around every corner. I peered into the open kitchen at the Deschutes Brewery looking for the chef from Eat, Play, Lust. When I passed the bobcat enclosure in the lobby of the High Desert Museum I started looking for the planetarium that put the frisky in Frisky Business. I looked for Marine for Hire‘s Sam chopping wood alongside the houses nestled among the trees along the road to Mt. Bachelor. After discovering Crux Fermentation Project nestled between a train track and a freeway, I expected to see Believe it or Not‘s strip mall with a psychic leaning against a male stripper joint – oh wait, that one was set in Portland. And they are all fictional stories. The little town of Bend, however, is very real, and it is not what I expected.
In fact, it was more like a dude’s fantasy than a setting for a girlie romantic comedy. The entire town seems to be built on the twin pillars of beer and sports. It is completely realistic to plan a morning snowboarding on what is currently the best snow on the left side of North America, lunch at a microbrewery in town, an afternoon kayaking on the river, and then pub crawl through the evening on a mountain bike. The amount of outdoor gear required to live in this town is mind-boggling. REI is the biggest store in town. The amount of craft beer available in Bend is mind-blowing (and I say that as a Seattleite who lives in walking distance to six seven microbreweries). With all the calories they burn on their bikes and on the mountain and in the river, I guess Bendies can afford to drink all the beer they want. Which is a lot.
I did not spend a day as described because I was nursing a sinus infection and brought two kids with me. So I spent a lot of time exploring the playgrounds along the river, browsing used bookstores (one specialized in geekery, with a whole room devoted to RPGs and comics) and sampling snacks at hip little cafes. We mostly avoided the pricey, high-end restaurants and myriad jewelry stores in favor of the quirkier options like Made in Oregon and the toy store. I have never seen so many bike shops. And kayak rentals. And paddleboard suppliers. Mysteriously, I saw a record number of architects and dentist’s offices, too. Drivers kept freaking me out by stopping to let me cross every time I approached the curb. I guess with so many people riding bikes, there was no gridlock on the roads, so no one was in a hurry.
I did get a little time on the mountain (time from the driveway of our cottage downtown to the lift – 22 minutes) and found a run that seemed custom-designed to eliminate my fear. My 6-year-old spent one morning in a lesson, and the next day insisted she was ready to ride for real, so we had our first day of riding all toghether as a family. Two hours after my little grom collapsed in exhaustion at the bottom her green run, we were walking down the street in Bend. It was so warm and sunny I stopped at an organic coffee shop and grabbed an iced latte.
The tattooed, bearded barrista could have been from Reykjavik. One day I tried a Thai restaurant. Instead of the standard Amerithai menu I’m used to, they specialized in Northern Thai. I tried a new kind of curry and it was delicious. While I ate, a flannel-clad man came and in and began conversing with the owner in Thai.
Bend might be a guy’s town, but it’s easy to see how a woman who lives in a town full of tattooed, bearded, athletic, multilingual foodies with good design sense and perfect teeth who buy lots of jewelry could be inspired to write romantic comedies. And take up paddleboarding.