At least the dumb name stands out

American Times Boring, Oregon
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The Independent Online
OK, SO it is not the most prepossessing name in the world. In fact, for reasons that are not too hard to fathom, it is the butt of constant jokes. But, then again, when you live in a place called Boring, Oregon, you have to look on the bright side.

"Bienvenidos to Boring", proclaims the sign at the Jackpot fuel mart, adding an unexpected dash of Hispanic colour to the otherwise unremittingly monotone texture of the place.

This is not exactly a tourist town, although it does get its share of visitors passing through the pine-covered hills between the city of Portland and the startling conical apparition of Mount Hood 40 miles or so to the east.

Most of them, no doubt, stop for the name, and the Jackpot boasts pretty much the only things that Boring has to offer the outsider: a refuelling pump and plentiful supplies of juice, beer and sandwiches. If those do not grab you, then there is always the Boring Square Garden Center. During the evening hours you can liven things up considerably with a visit to the Boring Tavern where, the billboard promises, there is live dancing after eight o'clock. Or you can sample the pizza and pasta dishes at Paola's restaurant (rather more of a truck stop than any kind of Italian eatery).

Otherwise, it must be admitted that Boring is, well, a pretty humdrum place. Nobody has been tacky enough to print Boring T-shirts or I've Been to Boring coffee mugs. In fact, most of the townsfolk are pretty sanguine about their curious address.

"Okay, so we've got ourselves a dumb name, but we're just a small town like any other," said one square-jawed resident in a plaid shirt who called himself Bart.

There are a lot of square jaws and plaid shirts on the L-shaped road that passes for Boring's one and only street. The place has only one reason to exist, and that is lumber. The wood is all around, growing in the forests, laid out in the clearings, chopped and processed in the sawmills and sold wholesale in the lumber yards. Since the closure of Boring's only unconnected business, an army surplus clothing store, the only choice of serious goods is plywood vs hardwood.

Boring is actually pretty civilised when it comes to the lumber trade. In other parts of Oregon, notably on the coast, forested areas have not only been ravaged by relentless logging, but in some cases the tree stumps have been left in the ground to wreck the landscape further.

Boring, by contrast, has more modest ambitions. The core activity of the place has been dwindling since its heyday a few decades ago, when the Boring family (for it is they who are responsible for the name) founded and settled the town. There is still a Bob Boring, as well as a Walt Boring, living locally, but the rest of the clan has moved the crucial 10 to 20 miles west into the up-and-coming Portland suburbs.

Maybe it is the terrible desolation of the vast expanses of the state's sparsely populated hinterland that accounts for Oregon's peculiar talent for odd place names. Not only is there a Boring, Oregon, but a little closer to Mount Hood there is a Zigzag, Oregon.

Not so long ago, when Jerry Garcia was still touring Portland and Eugene and the state's Deadheads were dabbling in experimental drugs at open- air music festivals, a theory sprung up that Zigzag was named after the device that helps you roll the paper around a joint. Regrettably, it seems that Zigzag is simply named after a bend in the road, rather like the less imaginatively named Bend on the eastern side of the Cascade mountains.

On the more appealing side, there is a Sublimity, Oregon, and even a Sweet Home, Oregon - both of them hovering somewhere between the state capital, Salem, and Eugene.

If Boring sounds downbeat, spare a thought for the citizens of Drain, Oregon, or Remote, Oregon. Perhaps most intriguing of all is a place near the California border called Wonder, Oregon - a place so small, so the local wags say, that it is a wonder it is there at all.

ANDREW GUMBEL

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