Political ads and rest areas in Oregon

The in basket: A couple reflections on Oregon from my recent road trip that took me south and north on I-5.

I learned that hundreds of thousands of Oregonians are afflicted with the nasty political ads in our state’s acrimonious Patty Murray/Dino Rossi Senate race, even though they can’t vote in it.

Portland television, which serves a lot of southwestern Washington, was crawling with the Murray/Rossi commercials and I had to get south of Salem to outrun them. I suppose the same is true of residents of Coeur d’Alene and other western Idaho places, and Canadians too.

We’re often reminded of the many who have fought and died to preserve our right to vote. Given what electioneering has become, it’s a good thing there were other things at stake or the sacrifice would be of questionable worth.

Reg Henry in the Las Vegas Sun had a nice turn of phrase on this issue. “Every ad,” he wrote, “no matter what party is the beneficiary, appears intended for the consumption and confusion of morons.”

I also was intrigued by a phenomenon at Oregon’s I-5 rest areas. I found a panhandler at nearly every rest area as I traveled south. When I returned 17 days later, it was a much chillier day, but there still was a panhandler at about half of the rest areas. Intriguingly, there was always just one. Could someone be scheduling them, I wondered.

I didn’t see any in Washington and the practice stopped abruptly in California.

The out basket: I finally just asked one of them how it works. He was an engaging 21-year-old named Cory Maldanado, who was playing his guitar next to a sign reading “Homeless, Need New Tent” at the rest area just outside Portland on northbound I-5. Most of the others I’d seen just had signs saying they needed money for gas.

Cory said those who “fly signs,” as he says the practice is called, realize that even people willing to help out panhandlers don’t like to choose between them, so having more than one is bad for everybody. Most of them cooperate to avoid that, he said. He also said the Oregon Travel Information Council had taken control of the rest stops to address growing use of them for permanent stays, often in motor homes, and drug problems. It has brought some order and even a bit of scheduling to the rest area opportunities, he said.

The council has set some ground rules, Cory said, including forbidding the use of pets as props. He is able to get around another no-no, signs such as his “Homeless” plea, because he also is a “busker” or street musician, he said.

Cheryl Gribskov, head of the council, says Cory wasn’t completely correct, but said the OTIC took over management of three pairs of I-5 rest areas in Oregon on Jan. 1. Working with social service agencies, they have removed people who were living in the rest areas by imposing the state’s 12-hour limit on stays there.

The no pet policy is simply enforcement of the pets-only-in-pet-areas policy, since the panhandlers want to be where the most people are, near the rest rooms, she said..

The council also forbids smoking against the building’s wall, solicitation of specific amounts of money and impeding the progress of any vehicle or visitor.

They don’t try to schedule them, Cheryl said. The council wants the rest stops of be tourist attractions and panhandlers definitely don’t help with that. But they are permitted to sit quietly (or play guitar, evidently) with signs that don’t state a specific request as long as they leave within 12 hours.

She also says some of the panhandlers “do very,very well.” Some can make $400 an hour, she said.

If you plan to travel through Oregon on I-5 soon, and find rest areas a must, you might set aside a few dollars for the panhandlers you’ll encounter, or practice your  far-away gaze for when you walk past them.

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