During my short time as a journalist, I’ve encountered a lifetime’s worth of unusual and interesting people: from mountaineers to monks, from werewolf experts to wildlife biologists, from career criminals to career Santa Clauses, there’s hardly an unusually positioned element of society that I haven’t rubbed elbows with at some point.
The exotic encounters haven’t stopped since I moved to Cannon Beach. Around here, especially come summertime, it seems, you really never know who you’re going to meet walking down Hemlock Street.
On July 26, I made a new friend from Thailand: Suwannee Sarakana, a Bangkok-based painter who visits Cannon Beach with her boyfriend each summer. A breezy beachside community of 1,700 is a far cry from the hubbub of her hometown, but Sarakana says she loves downshifting here at the beach, where the fresh scenery serves as constant inspiration for her oil and watercolor paintings.
Last week, I gave directions to a South Korean family looking for (you guessed it) Haystack Rock, and learned that their son was attending my college alma mater.
Last month, I had a cappuccino with a German photographer passing through town on his way home from Mexico.
The wandering spirit is also well and alive in Cannon Beach residents themselves. When asked what they loved and remembered best about the late Irv Levine, friends and family described a man with an adventuring spirit who relished long stretches of open road and the feel of what his son described as “the wind in his rapidly thinning hair.” Levine first caught the travel bug during a tour of duty as a Merchant Marine, and in his later years, he took trips to Alaska, Mexico and the Caribbean. But Levine was also firmly rooted here in Cannon Beach, which he stubbornly insisted was the best place on earth, and who cares what the weather is doing?
Perhaps this unusual mix of hometown pride and global curiosity is the natural result of spending one’s days in a “destination.” I’ve lived in touristy areas before, including the world’s most popular vacation spot (think: a 1,000-foot steel colossus and 246 kinds of cheese) and a teensy tropical island that fielded such a large number of cruise ship passengers that the locals had taken to calling them “pod people.”
There are downsides, yes (attempted to “drive” down Hemlock Street this week?), but in the end, I think finding yourself living in such a place constitutes a rather lucky turn of fate. First and most obviously, a tourist spot has got to have a few major things going for it, or everyone who isn’t from there wouldn’t constantly be trying to go there. Second: when the streets fill up, it’s mainly with large clumps of very relaxed and happy human beings ambling slowly along in a blissful oblivion as they munch on local goodies. (In Paris, the visitors wielded huge, crusty baguette sandwiches. In Cozumel, it was plastic baggies of sweet, sweating pineapple. Around here, lately, it’s fragrant, drippy waffle cones.) You can’t help but inhale a few of their happy vibes as you pass them on the left.
Third: living in an internationally beloved town grants you access to a much wider cross-section of humanity than you would encounter in, not to pick on anyone, but, oh, say … Portland. (That is, if to you “diversity” means more than drinking Midwestern beer while listening to super-obscure Canadian garage pop in the company of a bunch of oddly-dressed Caucasian folks on a street named after a guy who everybody is pretty sure fought for something noble somewhere far away a couple decades ago.)
Yesterday alone, I picked out threads of conversation in Italian, Dutch and Japanese from my office window. Who knew such a little place could be so, well, cosmopolitan? ¡Qué maravilloso!