Unfolding the Map
This is the first time that we see the Pacific with LHM. Aahhh...for me, smelling the ocean, hearing the crash of the waves and the crying of the gulls and terns, and being able to sit on the beach in the late afternoon sun, well, there's nothing like it. Of course, LHM doesn't stop here - it's too touristy. We'll explore the idea of coastal tourist towns in this post. To get your elegeomental bearings, try the map.
"Newport has been a tourist town for more than a century and it showed: a four-lane runway of beef-and-bun joints and seashell shops; city blocks where beach bungalows jammed in salty shingle to shiplap."
Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 4
In terms of being a tourist town, it sounds like Newport has the advantage on my hometown. With a over a century of practice, it most likely knows what it needs to do to attract and keep tourists occupied.
You see such towns all over the U.S. The Eastern seaboard has many of them. From the founding of our country onward, people began identifying places where they wanted to go to escape the crowded towns and cities. Usually, if they were close enough, they flocked to beaches. Cape Cod and Long Island are classic places where people got away to beat the heat and get out of the metropolitan areas.
My wife's parents live in Sarasota, Florida. It is a beach destination, but it is now becoming somewhat more metropolitan itself. However, one can drive to the east coast of Florida and find little beach communities with the classic bungalows and surf motels that LHM writes about. These cater to tourists with beachfront bars that generate an ocean and surf feel, restaurants that serve seafood (whether it's locally caught and fresh seafood is another matter) and maintain their attraction simply because of the beach itself. We found this type of atmosphere when we visited New Smyrna Beach on Florida's east coast.
Many of these communities, probably a lot like Newport, have large and stately houses that were the beach getaways and retirement homes of some of America's wealthy, and the towns sprung up around not only tourism, but the infrastructure needed to provide services to those wealthy families. The attraction of such coastal places to America's elite also attracted people from lower classes, who for a while might dream that they too were beachfront dwellers with unlimited resources to enjoy some of our country's natural wonders. Newport itself had a number of seaside hotels, according to Wikipedia, and regular ferry service even before it was reached by its first permanent road in the 1920s.
Some communities have made a practice of touting their beaches and their nightlife to draw visitors in certain demographics. Daytona Beach in Florida and South Padre Island in Texas are places that play hosts to thousands of college students on spring break each year. Other places prefer a more sedate clientele and focus on local history and culture. The Outer Banks, which LHM visited earlier on this journey, tout their historical connections to England and their accent as the last bit of spoken Renaissance English in the world.
This lies in contrast to those places that relied on industry and therefore did not need to cater to tourists. My hometown of Fort Bragg, California is one of those places. Almost completely dependent on the lumber industry and fishing, when both of those industries began to slow and die, Fort Bragg was left to tourism as a replacement. Unfortunately, it did not have much experience as a tourist town, and it is further hindered by the fact that the defunct lumber mill property occupies all of what would be oceanfront property. Still, it has made an admirable go of it, partly through the resourcefulness of a new generation of natives and the influence of some newer residents who have brought their entrepreneurship in arts, crafts, culinary arts and other fields to the town. In contrast, Mendocino, it's neighbor to the south, embraced artists, crafters and culinary artists early and made a name for itself in those areas. I feel for my hometown. It is difficult to take what was essentially a blue collar town and remake it into something else. But I am really impressed that it has survived. The landscape of America is littered with the remains of towns that died soon after their main industries died, but Fort Bragg lives on and each time I go back, I am heartened to see another new shop, or a new hotel. And even though my mom complains about the traffic each summer, I am heartened by the tourists who come to partake of sport fishing, camping, beachcombing and sightseeing, thereby keeping things alive in the corner of the world that I hold close to my heart.
I have never been to Newport, and probably my idea of what it is (or should be) would clash with the reality. I would predict a quiet community, with some small local shops and restaurants that cater to the tourist community. Aloof from the tourist part of the town, there would be large houses belonging to families that have held the town together since its founding. Newer residences would be occupied by those more recent arrivals, who would also have created their own social structure. Their interests might sometimes clash with the old-time families. The town would have some sort of special celebration or two during the year, when everyone - older residents, newer residents, and tourists - comes together. Tourists sprinkle the town in the winter, but flock there in the summer. Because it is on the coast, it rains a lot. The rain and weather adds character to the town, which given its site on Oregon's rocky coast, is surrounded by beautiful coves and lonely beaches.
The reality seems a little different. On reading about Newport, I find that it has over 80 local restaurants, and 1500 rooms ranging from inexpensive to upscale. LHM writes that a four lane highway (U.S. 101) runs through town, and that was 30 years ago that it had that many lanes. However, no matter what the town looks like now, ultimately, the natural wonders in the area plus the unique things that Newport itself has to offer will keep people coming to what would otherwise be an isolated coastal town.
There will always be complaints from those who remember the town as it was, and frustration by those who envision what the town could be. For those towns that rely on tourism, however, all depends on how visitors experience these places in the present.
LHM has regained new purpose, as I explained in my last post. However, he is still struggling the things that brought him on the journey in the first place. Bob Schneider's Big Blue Sea conjures up some of that struggle, as well as acknowledges that with this post, we touch the Pacific with LHM for the first time. If you want to see the lyrics of this song, find them here.
If you want to know more about Newport
Next up: Agate Beach and Cape Foulweather, Oregon