From San Francisco I flew north to Ashland, the arty mountain resort that is the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a place of which I’ve been enormously fond ever since I first came here in 2006 to see shows.
My oft-expressed fondness, to be sure, has always been tempered with a touch of skepticism, for Ashland, like San Francisco, is not quite my kind of town. To the outsider it looks like a Disney-neat, lily-white community peopled by well-heeled tourists, well-off retirees, and the exceedingly nice people who wait on them, leavened by a light sprinkling of superannuated hippies.
If such is your thing, you’ll love Ashland, and even if it isn’t, you’ll likely find the town to be pretty as a picture (it actually has a street whose official name is Scenic Drive) and hard to resist. You can eat well there, which I did, and I’ve testified repeatedly in The Wall Street Journal to the consistent seriousness and high quality of the shows put on by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (I saw three this year).
All that said, I can no more imagine moving to Ashland than to San Francisco, perhaps because I’ve never succeeded in scratching its surface. I don’t doubt that it’s a more complicated place than this bald description suggests, and it might be that closer acquaintance would make it more attractive to me. It wasn’t until I peeled off from the center of town and dined at Omar’s, a roadside steakhouse which claims to be the oldest restaurant in Ashland, that I felt I’d gotten anything remotely approaching a glimpse of the way the locals live.
Or maybe it’s just that I happened this season to come to Ashland by myself, Mrs. T having decided not to brave the two-leg transcontinental flight that is the only way for New Yorkers to get there. The longer we live together, the less we like being apart.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that theater is a social art, and it’s been quite some time since I last saw three shows in a row without somebody I know well sitting next to me. For me, no small part of the fun of seeing a play is talking about it. I didn’t get to do that this time around, or to share my excellent meals with a companion. Mrs. T says I’m simply not cut out to be a singleton, and now that I’m not one anymore, I guess she’s right.
Instead of seeking out the company of strangers, I kept to myself, got a considerable amount of writing done, and drove up to Mount Ashland on Sunday afternoon. When I first went there in 2009, I hiked to the top of the mountain, a lunatic improvisation that I undertook without preparation and for which I received a stern lecture from Mrs. T when I called her from the summit to brag about my derring-do. This time I was content to drive up to the ski area, dreaming of past glories all the way there and back.
A solitary traveler treasures kind waitresses (thank you, Janell and Sascha, for taking such good care of me!) and quiet moments. Alone or not, there is much to be said for sitting in an outdoor hot tub at dusk, watching the moon set over the mountains and thinking of nothing in particular. Still, I was more than ready to hit the road when the time came for me to do so on Wednesday. It seems that the charms of Ashland aren’t meant to be experienced alone–at least not by me.
(Second of three parts)