By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: quirk helps define community, though somet

Kirby Neumann-Rea/The News-Register##Walnut City Lanes sign, from the parking lot. Views of the sign from the Highway 99 side are blocked by trees.
Kirby Neumann-Rea/The News-Register##Walnut City Lanes sign, from the parking lot. Views of the sign from the Highway 99 side are blocked by trees.
Kirby Neumann-Rea/The News-Register##The Mack theater box office and alien ticket taker, before several of her fingers were snapped off by vandals.
Kirby Neumann-Rea/The News-Register##The Mack theater box office and alien ticket taker, before several of her fingers were snapped off by vandals.

Let’s talk again about quirk, which our localities have aplenty.

I wrote about it a few weeks ago, quirk meaning elements of local culture that you might not find anywhere else, elements that are unique or distinct and reflect appreciation of things past as well as new ways of thinking.

Somewhere between odd and bizarre, most examples of quirk gently rest in the furrows of our day-to-day. It might jump out at you or you might simply know it when you see it.

Quirk is practically a hallmark of McMinnville, thanks to the “annual” UFO Days. And the 12-month stretch, for all its pandemic-burdened strangeness, was blessed with not one but two UFO Days in McMinnville -- one in September 2021, as the usual spring version had been postponed, then back to the normal schedule in May 2022.

UFO sensibility endures all year, of course. You see the town’s alien affection in shop windows and other places.

This residual evidence of the way the UFO ethos has been adopted locally is a nice effect of the hugely-popular festivity. Tributes to that include the UFO and alien painted on the sidewalk at Third and Evans ‑ the dozen sidewalk paintings themselves represent a fine example of quirk, by the way -- and now the huge UFO looming over the Conservatory Bar patio on First Street, featured in the new mural painted there by Brian Nichols

The vacated box office of the Mack Theater has long been a haven for quirk, with remnants present from the old movie theater days, now some 20 years past, such as ‘60s-era tickets, a clown figurine, and a clock.

The box office window still contains things that quietly help define the town. And the gap in the ticket window makes it possible to reach in and touch some of the relics that have been there for the past few years.

A few months ago, most of them were removed, but recently, Eva, the familiar space alien-manikin, appeared there, with green skin and silver dress, as if poised with her nine-inch fingers to sell you a ticket to some space-age screening inside.

A week or so after the alien ticket taker appeared, someone reached in and snapped off a few of those fingers. Vandalism of any kind is always sad to see, but a special kind of penalty should come to anyone damaging extraterrestrial quirk, especially in the case of Eva. She has been a downtown denizen for 20 years, purchased by Rob Stephenson for the McMinnville Downtown Association, and was previously seen in the windows of Cozine House, Adams and Third streets, and last year at Peirano and Daughters deli, on Third Street. Stephenson lamented the damage, saying of her move to the box office in ticket-sale mode “we just thought the community would just enjoy seeing her there, but someone couldn’t leave her alone.”

Down the street, Vortex Records is a quirk mainstay, though that may be an oxymoron.

Owner Bruce LaVerne placed some cool LPs on annual display this week: McMinnville High School vocal and jazz band albums from the years 1962-65. Looking at the colorful record jackets from 50 years ago, someone did a good job of choosing stock images that imbue the swinging spirit of early-’60s jazz.

Few things say “vibrant downtown” like a record store, and LaVerne and his crew have CDs, cassettes and LPs (they’re ALL albums, friends) from vintage up to the fresh-pressed vinyl.

Drawn from LaVerne’s personal vinyl collection, the Mac High platters are the coolest kind of throwback. LaVerne treasures the responses to the display, including the guy from the Class of 1964 who asked to borrow that year’s release, likely as a surprise to friends at the upcoming Mac High reunion.

“I won’t sell these albums but I will rent them to you, for free,” LaVerne said, revealing that he wrote down the borrower’s name and number in exchange for a simple promise to return the album.

“I have no doubt he will,” LaVerne said. To him, the fact that the borrower wanted to share that musical nostalgia is the best use for the LPs.

Much of what I term quirk is based on or reflected in old signage, often because those signs are from another time.

Last week, I gave LaVerne a 12-inch by 18-inch Bakelite sign I inherited years back in Hood River, when the local library stopped loaning LPs. (Hey, anyone else remember when Safeway stores had record aisles?)

The Bakelite sign was affixed to the library materials dropbox (lower case d!) and it told borrowers not to place LPs there.

“Records will warp in the heat of this closed box,” it warns, which kind of keeps with Vortex’s modern-day admonitions to vinyl buyers to avoid keeping LPs in a hot car.

LaVerne has a fine eye for the appropriately-unusual and was happy to accept the sign. I’m honored that he placed it near the entrance and the start of the LP racks.

This version of quirk fits new circumstances in a nostalgic or happily-derivative way.

That leads to reverse-quirk, the kind you don’t want.

I point to one of those blue attraction signs near Carlton for the Pike Road Winery. It’s confusing because the winery moved to McMinnville months ago.

The blue signs are the Oregon Department of Transportation’s responsibility, even though businesses pay to have them put up. This one should have been moved long ago.

Another is the faded “Visitor Center and Service Clubs Information” sign near the east end of town on Highway 99W. It contains no information about where the visitor information center can actually be found -- downtown on Fifth, near Baker -- and the hanging shingle signs for service clubs are long gone.

Just west on 99W, more reverse quirk can be found. -- a small ODOT lawn plaza, with a flagpole that has been vacant and ignored for years. The old flag staff is just rusting away, along with the lamp-stand that once facilitated illumination.

I wonder why ODOT has never addressed the sign issue at Walnut City Lanes on Highway 99W. Ever seen it?

Trees in the state highway right-of-way block any view of the sign. The state could keep most of the trees that have grown up and obscured the sign, while allowing it at least some visibility.

On the Mack Building at Fifth and Adams stands one of the better modern signs in town. If you haven’t seen it, it’s good just to know it exists.

It bears a truly ageless message: “I’m Happy Every Day Because Every Day is Somebody’s Birthday.”

That building owners have devoted prominent sign space to this message is an expression of hope for the community.

This is a town where you see “No Parking: Wine Delivery” signs in front of a business -- the Jacob Williams Winery tasting room — and an entire public square is closed to traffic for three weeks starting in late September for crush week.

In the Granary District, where Alpine Avenue and Fifth Street meet, west of Lafayette Avenue, bins full of grapes harvested at local vineyards share the space, with more and more bins filled with spent grapevines. It’s a prime example in Oregon of a seasonal, regional, agricultural practice.

It’s enjoyable to go over to the Granary District and watch the vintner crews arrive with fresh-picked fruit. It’s a good conjunction of agriculture and town that support each other.

The crush-time banner declares the space “Pinot Square.” The temporary pedestrian way is there for a reason: to keep in mind it’s a work zone, that you have to watch out for trucks coming from around the county, and forklifts buzzing about.

Oh, and those grapevine remnants? Mind the yellowjackets, too.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable