Travel: All the World’s a Stage in Ashland and Portland

by Steed Dropout
May 28, 2012

All the world’s a stage said Shakespeare, and that would include Ashland, Oregon, home of America’s most famous Shakespeare festival as well as Portland’s Hillsdale district, which is only famous in a shakespearian sense, although it does have its own Sunset Boulevard, site of a stand-off between old-timers and newbies.

Hardly a day goes by without a media story on Portland’s allure, which has drawn artists, musicians, chefs, and slackers looking for cheap rent and the hottest new scenes.


Hillsdale, Oregon.

Only five minutes from downtown Portland, the hamlet of Hillsdale represents everything considered “enviable,” about Portlander’s lives. A family and dog-centered district of 2,000 households, which once was cow pastures is presently up to its spacious lawns in a controversy over a proposed sidewalk on America’s other Sunset Boulevard.

Young Portlanders at risk from not having a sidewalk to take them off a busy thoroughfare. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Proponents of the sidewalk think its high time Hillsdale had a sidewalk at its core, and would feel a lot safer walking “downtown” without traffic bearing down on their backsides. Old-time Sunset residents respond, “we were perfectly safe for fifty years without a walk.”

When Hillsdalers decide to oppose something they usually prevail. Such was the case recently when the good burghers of Hillsdale frustrated attempts of Chase Bank to develop a vacant lot across from a strip mall, “downtown” — if Hillsdale had a downtown, which it doesn’t.

According to one resident, the proposed Chase branch was not good for the hood.

Back in ’92 when a radio tower, which hovers over Hillsdale like the Eiffel Tower hovers over Paris, went up on Council Crest, there was little opposition to the classic rock broadcaster’s towering, if elegant bull horn. The tower of rock was joined, recently, by two smaller cell phone towers, making Hillsdale a towering, if not radioactive place.

When a pricey organic market closed a few years ago, Hillsdale residents organized to replace it with a food co-op.

In Hillsdale, neighbors not only know each other, they hang out together, often getting together in each other’s homes.

At least one set of neighbors shares a back-yard chicken coop.

A suspicious death last week near Sunset Boulevard was big news in Hillsdale, where back fence gossip thrives.

Thanks to community organizers, Hillsdale’s highly rated schools, a draw to a new generation of up-scale professionals, have (barely) survived school closure threats, but they have survived, making Hillsdale a happy school zone.

Men attend PTA meetings. Some of them knit.

'Downtown' Hillsdale, Oregon. Photo by Ted Friedman.

So as sunset descends on Portland’s Sunset Blvd., we bid ado to this not-so-sunny suburban slice of Portland life and head South to Ashland, which, at its founding, had ties to its big sister to the North.


Ashland, Oregon

The Berkeley street heard about a crack down on street tramps in Ashland, which is on a select list of destinations for a generation of kids with nothing left to lose in an America with no future.

In Berkeley, a town of protests, where three protests last year opposed an ordinance that had not, and still has not been written, even the whiff of a street crack down can incur a riot.

What was considered a crack-down in Berkeley was, in Ashland, considered lame-ass by street tramps, who have learned to co-mingle with the rich and famous. The rich and famous descend on Ashland as they descend on Sundance.

Homeless youth activist, his dog, and his sidekick. Photo by Ted Friedman.

According to an Ashland street tramp, who organizes community support, the proposed restrictions on Ashland street dwellers, who mingle with visitors to the famous Shakespeare festival only a block from their ‘headquarters,’ are “just business as usual.”

“They tried this in Lithia Park,” [also a block away], he said. “Three violations and you get a stay-away. It’s no biggy. Just don’t get any violations. I’m totally clean. No violations. That’s how I can be out here.”

The street tramp said that none of the crack-downs really addresses the core problems of Ashland homelessness. The tramp has, he claimed, linked with an influential Ashland businessman to establish residential communities where homeless youth would elect to stay, unlike shelters, where no one wants to stay, he noted.

The street tramp scene, small and mellow, in a small mellow town of 21,000 where restaurants catering to swells from around the world also cater to the homeless by looking the other way when they hoist leftovers, but offers not much else in the way of support.

Ashland Spring Hotel, 1925, blocks sunset. Photo by Ted Friedman.

It’s Shakespeare Festival time in Ashland, and Ashland’s main drag “Main Street,” which would make the ideal Saturday night cruise, was, if not hopping, at least alive with visitors. As the sun set on Ashland’s historic Ashland Springs Hotel, 1925, Main’s pricey eateries filled.

From a counter-top seat at the window of a pizzeria preferred by locals, you could watch the sun set near Lithia Park, next door to the bard festival and watch charming businesses across the street turn golden.

If, as Shakespeare borrowed “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts…,” there are many parts to be played in Ashland.

Berkeley Reporter can’t stop reporting, even when on the road.

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