As we continue our travels with Thunderbutt in the United States, one thing that is less impressive down here is the guns. While I am well acquainted with the gun debates, the mass killings, and the power of the psychopathic NRA, in past visits to this country my only experience with American weapons fetish was stopping at a gas station in Arizona that had several used pistols for sale. That was an eye-opener, not to mention amusing. Otherwise, their complex gun politics had always been invisible.
Until now. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a little more hanging out in out-of-the-way places. Got off the interstate and went sight seeing where everyday folks who don’t need to put on a face for tourists, congregate. Maybe rural Oregon is different from where the tourists stop along the coast.
But when we were hanging around Coos Bay, a local recommended we visit Bastendorf beach. A close look online revealed that it was one of those rare public areas that seemingly had little control or regs, although it was just outside a state park. Potentially a good place to spend a night So we headed down there and found a gorgeous long stretch of golden sand, with a touch of fog in the evening and glorious sunsets.
We also discovered some bad juju. We had taken a side road to the place and passed a number of houses and yards with KEEP OUT and NO TRESPASSING signs, and several warnings of video surveillance; not just the odd house but several; neighbours even. People sure seemed on edge.
We parked Thunderbutt off the beach and dragged down some chairs, table, beer and chips, to watch the surf. It was warm and wonderful. It was also a popular spot. Several locals showed up, although it was midday, midweek. We thought nothing of it until this older couple goes by: a short, squat woman and a dude that looked like a gray shaggy, moth-eaten bear. He had more hair on his back than I have on my whole body, and he was dressed in just a pair of flip-flops and elastic shorts. And tucked into that elastic was a huge, black semi-auto pistol. What the hell else would you take to the beach besides sunscreen, a good hat, and a pistol?
I guess Oregon is an open carry state, one of those progressive places that think the mid 19th century west was the highlight of American civilization. So here you have a bucolic beach, families out for a stroll, people walking their dogs, kids here and there, and in the middle of it walks this fucker with a loaded pistol. The man is so terrified of his world that he needs to carry a gun with him wherever he goes. And the rest of us have to hope that gun he carries isn’t going to be used on us; we have to trust that he isn’t crazy or angry. That is just so majorly fucked up.
Aside from the asshole and his gun, we found a number of dead and dying seabirds on the beach, all the same species. I couldn’t find an identification of the species online, but there were more than a half dozen, four still alive but barely able to struggle away as you approached. I could find no information about the cause online. Also a dead racoon. It’s not like you don’t occasionally find the odd dead creature washed up on a beach, but this stretch was not that big and so much death in such a short walk was disconcerting, very much giving the area a bad vibe. Plus there was the dude who thought he was in a Sergio Leone movie. We stayed the night, but I wasn’t sorry to leave the next day.
The second encounter we had was in a recreation center outside of Klamath Falls. Once you get off the tourist routes, campgrounds become more rare, and you are often left with few options besides sitting in a rest stop (if you can find one) or paying for an RV park (which is just another name for trailer park because most of these are filled with permanent tenants). But we found this recreation center a few miles out of town on the goat-trail route back to Medford. They have an actual campsite, but that far off the main road cell signal was getting very weak and we needed to make some calls, so we stayed on a more rustic pull-out on the river but closer to the main road. Several people had already camped here and it seemed quite inviting.
And so it was. Except for the moron who was hanging out in another public recreation area across the river. There were picnic tables, garbage containers, and toilets. Obviously meant for public use. And yet there was this yahoo standing there shooting his pistol into the river. I don’t know if he was actually aiming at a target or just bored, but pop pop pop pop pop he went. He was, stop for a while, sit in his lawn chair and suck back a few beers, and then pop pop pop pop pop pop he would go again. Now thank god he was a little further down the river so that his ricochets would go into the bush away from us. But this was a public recreation site and yet this guy thinks it’s okay to stand there blazing away with his pistol.
I don’t know if it was legal or illegal, but either way it was crazy. Ever hear of a gun range, buddy? It’s not like we were miles away in remote bush along some logging road, where you might reasonably expect to find some guys doing target practice. Once again we were minding our own business in public and had to trust that this yahoo would be responsible with his deadly force, a hope not bolstered by what he was doing. No wonder so many Americans are so afraid, if this is normal life down here. No wonder so many cops have twitchy trigger fingers.
To be clear about this, I’m not a gun-hater. I’ve owned guns of my own, I used to hunt, I started shooting a .22 when I was 12. I have a respect for what they do, and understand why some dudes have them and why they hunt. But waving around sidearms in public is just insane and wrong and has no valid legitimate purpose. If your hood is actually that dangerous, get the hell out. But most likely it’s the ordinary gun owner and his fear that represents the greatest threat.
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