The Oregon College Shopping Trip

We’re just back from a trip to Oregon, mostly to look at colleges. We flew up on Tuesday night on a pretty full Alaska flight to Portland and then drove down to A Creekside Garden Inn in Salem to spend the first two nights. Our scheduled arrival was a bit later than normal for our host, and we got in even later, but when we called, she said she’d do her best to stay awake for us, and she did. But soon after our arrival, everyone trundled off to their respective bedrooms. And so ended the exciting first day of the trip.

The next morning, we had a tasty breakfast, and headed to Eugene to visit the University of Oregon. Our tour started at 12:30pm, so we decided it made sense to leave as early as we could, and arrived about 11am, ready for lunch. We tried to go to an Indian buffet across the street, but they weren’t open; on our way back to the car, we were accosted by a faculty member, who noticed us looking at a map and offered to help us. He suggested Mekala’s, a Thai restaurant, which hit the spot quite nicely. Then we returned to the University for our private tour and information session.

We weren’t actually supposed to have a private tour, but I guess not many high school juniors get the days before Memorial Day off. Jeff did, because Wednesday was Shavuot and Thursday was Shavuot for non-Reform Diaspora Jews, and the school wasn’t silly enough to try to bring people back for one day before a three-day weekend.

At any rate, we did get a private tour of the campus; Oregon, unlike the other schools we visited, was still in session, since they follow a quarter calendar rather than the traditional semester schedule. But we hadn’t made arrangements to visit any classes, so that the only real effect was that the campus was humming. It seemed much smaller than the University of Arizona — and it was certainly much greener! They had lots of nice buildings and the usual Bed, Bath, and Beyond fake dorm room (though they were the only school we saw this trip with the sponsored room); the guide talked a bit about the classes and the professors, and he praised the career center and the president (who seems to like interacting with students). Our information session was similarly private; the counselor gave us the admission requirements, which are very straightforward, pointed out that, unlike UC and CSU, they don’t have “impacted” courses or facilities, and gave us some general good advice about taking notes on visits and applying to meet early deadlines if at all possible.

Then we wandered over to the student-oriented business area just off campus, poked around the bookstore, went to look at the Hillel House (which was closed because of Shavuot), did a cache, and drove back to Salem for dinner. After looking through the menus at the B&B, we chose Boon’s Treasury, one of the local outposts of the McMenamin’s Empire; it was a little over a mile away, so we walked there. Jeff had wanted the pasta on the menu, but the menu was several years old, and the pasta was no longer on order; he coped, and we all enjoyed our meals (especially dessert), finishing just before the music started at 8:00. A fairly brisk walk home followed, to work off the dessert, and we were all in bed early.

Thursday, we checked out but left our car at the B&B and walked to the Oregon State Capitol where we watched the House debate
Senate Bill 707, revisions to the Bottle Bill, adding bottled waters to the list of beverage containers needing a deposit. I was surprised by the intensity of the debate, since I would have thought it was a very straightforward updating of the law. Clearly, I’m not an Oregon grocer, nor a legislator with ties to the grocery business! (The bill passed.) We also visited the Senate, but I’m not sure what they were debating (they were less organized than the house), and climbed to the top of the building. Oregon’s Capitol Building is very much open to the public — you don’t even have to go through a metal detector to enter, nor to enter the galleries. It was a refreshing change.

We looked at the menu of the Capitol Cafeteria and decided that we’d do better in the open market, so we walked down to Salem. Jeff wanted pasta after his disappointment of the previous day, but it was suprisingly difficult to find. Eventually, though, we stumbled across Alessandro’s, which filled the bill quite nicely. Then we did a quick cache (though the only reason we could log it was that its owner took pity on us and showed us exactly where it was) and walked to Willamette University.

Again, we were the only customers for the tour; Willamette is a much smaller place than University of Oregon (about 2000 students total), but the tour still took the customary hour. Then we had a session with an admission counselor, where there were no real revelations. I guess Willamette’s biggest draw for Jeff would be its location, just across the street from the Capitol. It’s easy to get an internship with a legislator (maybe with a lobbyist, too), and they often eat at Willamette rather than the Capitol Cafeteria!

From Willamette, we returned to the B&B via Caffe Gelato, which I can highly recommend. Then we drove to our Priceline-selected Portland hotel, the RiverPlace.

So far, we’ve been lucky when getting hotels through Priceline; the locations have been good, as have the rooms. This was no exception; we were near the south end of the Waterfront Park, a couple of blocks from the Portland Streetcar. The only downside was the nearly-mandatory valet parking, but that was going to be the case at any downtown Portland hotel, and saving nearly 50% on the rooms made it much more tolerable. So did arriving just as the chocolate chip cookies were put out!

We had dinner at Cypress Restaurant, a couple of blocks away; it was ok, but not thrilling, and I’d look elsewhere on future visits. But it was pleasant eating outside, looking at the waterfront. Then we hiked across town to Powell’s City of Books, where enough hours vanished that we felt more comfortable taking the streetcar back to the hotel than walking.

Friday, we had two schools to visit. Reed College was the first; we arrived almost an hour early (the traffic on Thursday had put the fear of God into me, unnecessarily), so we poked around the campus for a while before going to the Admission Office for our tour. As usual, we were the only customers.

Reed is…different. It’s strictly undergraduate; it expects a lot of its students (including a serious senior thesis), but it grants them a lot of freedom and respect in return. We met with the Dean of Admissions, Paul Marthers, before our tour, and had an interesting discussion (somehow, the normal discussion of the admission logistics didn’t happen), and then had a very personal tour of a very pleasant campus. I know that I would have liked to have known about Reed when I was looking at colleges!

After Reed, we had to make our way to Lewis and Clark College. Fortunately, we had enough time to stop for lunch; we stopped in the first interesting looking neighborhood with parking that we found; it turned out to be the Sellwood area. The restaurant we stopped for (the one with the parking lot) was closed, so we walked around and found Mekong Vietnamese Grill. It was worth the walk, though not worth a special trip back.

We continued on to Lewis and Clark, which was the most organized of any of the schools we visited. They had a sign up welcoming us, along with the other families visiting during the week; this was the only school where we had to share the tour. Our guide took us all around the campus, into many dorms and classroom buildings, and I really felt that I got to know the place. I also got the impression that they view Reed as a rival, while Reed doesn’t particularly notice that Lewis and Clark exists. As our guide put it at one point, “Reed is scary.”

Lewis and Clark’s distinction is their devotion to internationalism. All students are required to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language, and more than half of their students do a term (or more) away, mostly overseas. I’m not sure if this is a good fit for Jeff or not (the language part, especially), but it definitely provides an angle to judge the school. The question of languages came up during Jeff’s interview, too (this was the only school where he had an Official Interview By Himself).

And then we were finished. So we celebrated, first by having some delicious Umpqua Ice Cream at the Little River Cafe on the waterfront, then by going back to Powell’s. Finally, we had dinner at La Terrazza on Morrison (which advertises itself as “Casual Italian”, unlike La Terrazza on Salmon, which appears to be more dressy). It was perfectly serviceable (the bread was excellent) and not too heavy, which was perfect for the evening.

Today, we had breakfast at the Little River (much better than what we’d had yesterday at the hotel), checked out, and then drove to McMinnville to see the Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Aviation Museum. We knew we’d only have an hour or so for the museum, so we were happy to discover that they reciprocated with The Tech. The Spruce Goose is enormous; the other planes were also interesting, and I could have easily spent more time poking around. But our 737 awaited.

En route, we stopped at Pasta La Casa for a quick meal; I thought it was better than La Terrazza, but not outstanding. Still, it was a pretty good find for a strip mall chosen more-or-less at random!

We got to the airport with plenty of time; we spent a good part of it in the Made in Oregon shop, buying wine. I was a little worried about being able to fit it in the carry-on space on the plane, but I needn’t have been — there were only 20 or so people on the plane, and they had to reassign seats for weight and balance. But there was plenty of overhead space!

All in all, it was an educational trip in many ways. These schools seemed to appeal to Jeff more than the ones we’d visited earlier, and I won’t be surprised if he applies to some of them. And if we wound up with reasons to visit Oregon more often, I can’t say that I’d be disappointed in that, either.