Tag Archives: culture

Hello, my name is Marissa. But you can call me…

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-Marissa Tomko

Of the sea.

That’s what my first name means.  Not only is it a little weird due to its non-standard pronunciation (muh-REE-suh), but I happen to want to be a fish. That my name has to do with water thrills me. Is it a coincidence? Probably. But I would like to think otherwise.

My best friend is obsessed with tiaras. She always has a bow in her hair, and her birthday is a month long event in which she shamelessly commands our friend group to wait on her hand-and foot—charmingly of course. She’s a princess, aptly named. She answers to Sarah.

My most normal roommate is named Erin, a name which means peace, and is associated with Ireland. This surprised me until I realized that Erin happens to love a good drink and is always the balancing variable in our house. She is a peacemaker if I ever met one.

The point that I’m trying to make is that I believe our names define a large part of who we are. Of course, the definition of everybody’s name does not match them perfectly. But to what extent do our names decide our lives?

According to The Week, names have more of an impact than we realize. It notes research that says there are more dentists named Dennis than is proportionately normal. Personally, I associate dentists with the Hermey’s of the world, but I realize that not everyone believes in elves.

Does having an unique name make you unique? Maybe. But not because your name might be something cool, like Seawillow. (I went to high school with a girl named that. She ruled.) Live Science theorizes that a unique name given by parents is just another symbol of their parenting styles. If a kid’s parents wants him or her to be different, the name is not going to be the reason for success. Chances are, those are the parents that are going to raise their child in a way that cultivates an off-beat outlook on life.

Some names aren’t unheard of. In fact, we hear some of them so much that we might start to develop stereotypes surrounding them. Christine’s (or Kristine’s) are always the voice of reason in my life dramas. The Matt’s I meet are all like my brother—goofy, laid back, and the person everyone wants to be friends with. Don’t want to take my word for it? Check out this thread on Reddit that recently blew up. Matt’s are described as awesome and likable, and the sketchiest people I have encountered are also sketchy to the rest of Internetland—I am not alone!

Associations with names are not just serendipitous; The Week notes that they have the ability to tell the world about our ethnicity, education, and class. Case in point: my name is pronounced the way it is because my Mexican grandmother’s accent deemed it so. Holler at my culture.

There are lots of names out there. How do parents choose just one?! No matter what yours is, I just have one request: have a sweet signature. Nothing is more attractive than a sweet signature.

Image by Alan O’Rourke.

Generation H

[deck]Homeless Youth Carve Their Niche on the Streets.[/deck]


[cap]A[/cap] boy in a brown fur trapper hat jolts awake to the alarm clock of a clattering cargo train. His concrete slab of a bed lays thirty feet from the tracks, under a highway bridge notorious for homeless inhabitants. It’s a welcome change – for the first time in two weeks, the police haven’t woken him.

Upon first glance, Steven “Panda” Thomas doesn’t appear to be homeless. With plaid shorts and a blue American Eagle T-shirt, he’d have no trouble fitting into a group of high school peers walking to class. Very few would guess that he carries a knife in his pocket for protection.

And nobody would suspect that the hat he’s wearing has accompanied him on a three-year journey from Alaska to Oregon, without a dollar to his name.

Living the homeless, transient, or “street kid” lifestyle like Panda, has become a growing trend among the young American generations. Approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them youth, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year, as reported by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in 2007. Estimates from many research organizations point to a steady increase in youth homeless, although exact figures are difficult to obtain. In a 2008 report, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported a major increase in the number of homeless in nineteen out of twenty-five cities.

A growth in the number of street dwellers isn’t the only issue. Recently, a new shift in how the homeless youth are dealing with, and increasingly embracing their situation, has brought a whole new attitude to the sidewalks.

New Kids on the Block

Panda got his nickname from the street kids in downtown Eugene, Oregon for both his fuzzy hat and seemingly placid demeanor. The eighteen year old has been a homeless runaway since the age of fifteen. He speaks of his past three years like a blur of monotony, hitchhiking from city to city, sleeping wherever he ended up each night, meeting hoards of different people, and moving to the next city on a whim.

His ultimate goal was to make it to California to surf. He got as far as Eugene, until eventually discovering his need to be more ambitious.

He left Alaska after a few punches were thrown when his stepfather “said the wrong thing.” In the end, nothing was broken but family ties.

Family struggles like this are a common impetus for youth deciding to live the homeless life; Panda impulsively began traveling, never to look back.

“Everyone thought I was gonna be something,” he says. “But I guess if they saw me now, they’d still think it was the same old me.”

Panda found that surviving on the streets meant living a lifestyle of apathy. For him and for many, the lifestyle consists of quitting school and spiraling into a world of drugs, malnourishment, and constant insecurity. While Panda has opted to be a solo traveler, homeless youth often stick together and move in groups, forming their own subculture.

“It’s become problematic,” says Mike Langley, program director for Hosea Youth Services in Eugene. “More and more [homeless youth] seem to be content with this lifestyle than have in the past.” With a bushy white beard and trademark straw hat, Langley is better known as “Cowboy Mike” to homeless youth all over the city.

Hosea, one of the few homeless centers for youth in Eugene, is situated in the basement of a church and opens for dinner three nights a week. It’s a well-kept space with couches and a pool table, a place where the youth can shed their burdens for a few hours.

With a smiling staff and couches to nap on, it’s a welcoming environment. But it’s unavoidably obvious if someone doesn’t belong. After long days and nights on sidewalks together, the young homeless community is tight knit.

As they wait in line for a dinner of enchiladas, some of the youth are gracious toward the smiling volunteers serving them, but many hold their plates out in silent expectation. “I’ve had people I like to call ‘Hosea Alumni,’ the now-adult success stories, come back to visit and ask ‘Were we like that?’ They’re shocked when they see that lack of appreciation,” says Langley.

Getting his nickname from his trademark hat, Steven “Panda” Thomas, eighteen, has been on and off the streets for three years.

He attributes these attitudes to a new sense of entitlement he’s never seen before, due in part to many of the kids simply taking for granted the services provided for them.

But homelessness is far from a new problem.

What has changed are the attitudes and culture behind it, leaving a distinct chasm between old and new. Langley comes face to face with these generational differences every day.

“It’s like many of [today’s homeless youth] have accepted it with a mindset of ‘this is it’.”

Often, the homeless youth traveling in groups create a social dynamic and peer pressure that perpetuates these attitudes. Since these street kids are creating their own mock families, Langley says they tend to feed off each other’s weaknesses rather than strengths. He adds that these travelers present a whole new aspect of youth homelessness. “They’re not just accepting it, they’re reveling in it.”

Unemployed: Where it Hits the Hardest

Meanwhile, most older homeless are far from any reveling and instead are left desperately searching for a solution to their own predicament.

Fifty-year-old Dave Harrington sits on a busy corner off Sixth Street breathing in gas fumes and holding a sign that reads, “Unemployed. Hungry. Anything Helps. Thank You.” He became homeless five years ago after getting laid off at his retail management job.

The Eugene native, who was quick to proudly declare his relation to famous Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington, blames the economy and high unemployment rate in Oregon for his situation. He added that there should be more support for the “good” homeless people, defined as “the people who have a heart; who don’t take advantage of the system but, work with what it offers you.”

Harrington contrasts his lifestyle with what he considers the ”bad” homeless, classified by those willing to hurt or steal from others just to get by, or those who leave piles of trash in their wake. He groups most of the homeless youth into this category.

He, like many of the older homeless, doesn’t glorify life on the streets. Harrington tries not to take for granted any help he gets from social welfare systems such as food stamps. But even in a sympathetic city like Eugene, he says the resources are still very limited for homeless trying to make it out of their situation. “Employers don’t want to hire homeless; renters don’t want to rent to homeless.”

Dustin James, a sixty-five-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran, holds the same view about the attitude and ethics divide in the streets. He has sat in his old, broken wheelchair on the same busy street corner every day for a year and a half. “I don’t ever ask for anything, just talk to people,” he says, before thanking a woman profusely for a small plastic bag of fruit she hands him from her driver’s seat.

He’s been homeless for eleven years after disabilities from a car accident prohibited him from continuing his work in the bar business. “There’s a lot more homeless out here than people think,” he says, “Vietnam vets were hit the hardest.”

But while the economy has put a heavy burden on young and old, the youth homeless are at the bottom of the survival chain.

Lane County’s unemployment rate was a steep 11 percent for September 2010, with a nation-wide rate of more than 9 percent. With fewer jobs available, older and more qualified candidates are scooping up the jobs, leaving the youth to cope with empty plates.

When asked about the youth homeless, Harrington grimaces under his Ducks baseball cap. “They’re awful. They’re so violent now. You can’t talk to them or they just cause a scene.” James argues that the youth are much more indifferent than they should be. “My age, we want to work. They just don’t want to go through the hoops; they aren’t thinking about the future.”

Most of the older generation became homeless for the same reasons as the younger generation do now, whether it’s family issues, disabilities, addictions, choices made, being a victim of circumstance, or a variety of these factors. But they watch the youth’s new attitude from afar with confusion and little sympathy.

“We have to live with what we have,” says James. “But the younger ones, they could give a damn.”

Eugene: A Place For Nomads

Panda spends most of his days mingling around downtown Eugene, never panhandling or attempting to make money. With no jobs, and often no place to go, displaced youth are left to float around cities aimlessly, like ghosts on the streets. And like him, many of those ghosts drifted here from all over the country.

Kimberly Shaddy, twenty-two, was standing at the corner of Broadway with a sign reading, “Are you drunk enough 2 spare $1.00?” She traveled here on a school bus with four friends from across the country, but now lives in a car. After dropping out of high school, she hit the road because as she puts it, “I’m a nomad. I had nothing else to do.” With a big grin, Shaddy excitedly explains that the homeless culture is like a journey with similar characters everywhere you go, “Everyone knows each other, and there’s always drama.”

Even with this drama, most agree that there are solid reasons why Eugene is a well-known spot on the homeless map. John Reynolds, nineteen, made his way here from Dallas and says he never wants to leave. “I’ve been all over; Eugene has some of the best homeless resources in the country;” Resources such as Hosea, with the sole purpose to serve homeless youth.

After being on the streets for five years, Reynolds is noticing how young the already youthful homeless are getting, and how the streets are becoming increasingly more violent, despite the city’s peaceful reputation.

A hot spot for homeless crime is the infamous Washington-Jefferson Bridge. “I quit going down there, ‘cause I’m sick of watching my friends die,” says Reynolds, looking down at his dirty hands with somber eyes.

The bridge, sometimes referred to as “the pit,” is a place where homeless of all ages can be found sleeping on their belongings, often avoiding rain and police. Here, the age divide is unavoidable.

Both Reynolds and Shaddy emit contempt for the older homeless. Even without any future plans of their own, they grimace, expecting that by middle age, no one should be begging on a street corner.

“They’ve had decades to figure out how to get off the streets,” Reynolds says. In the past, he’s seen the clash of the two groups result in anger and violence. “They always seem to go after us or to blame us, but they’re the ones that just seem pathetic.”

Panda passes by older homeless on the street with a look of disdain; he also finds it hard to muster up any compassion for them. “It seems like they’ve had so many more options, but they’re just being irresponsible,” he says, not understanding how they ended up where they are.

Panhandling in downtown Eugene with her pregnant dog, Kimberly Shady, twenty-two, is one among many of Eugene’s young homeless population.

He considers their situation as far easier to remedy than that of the inexperienced, vulnerable youth. “I never want to end up like them,” he says, a look of repugnance on his childish face.

At the Drop of a Hat, A New Life

Panda says no one in Eugene has tried to mess with him, other than an instance where another homeless kid tried to steal his beloved hat. “I made him pass out with a choke hold, then helped him back up,” he says. “This hat’s like a part of me.”

Eventually, he knows the hat will have to come off. In the past week, he’s secured an apartment through New Roads and is set to enlist in the Marines, mostly to achieve the self-proclaimed goal of “three hots and a cot,” meaning three meals a day and a place to sleep at night.

His path toward success appears to be clearing up, but he’s not certain he’ll stay off the streets for good. “Do you see how many homeless are Vets?” he asks, envisioning James and his rusty blue wheelchair, “Quite a few.”

Panda’s the only one of the street kids he’s known to have enough motivation to get off the streets. If he’s successful later in life, he claims he won’t have much sympathy for homeless youth. He considers the lifestyle “their choice.”

It could be that life on the streets has worn down his empathy after seeing what he calls “zero ambition” and bad choices perpetuate around him. But once he finally surfs for the first time in warm California water, he says he’ll feel that if he could make it out of this life, others can too.

Just as he’s about to walk up the stairs to the first roof he’s ever lived under on his own, a group of street kids yell out his nickname from across the busy street. He smiles hesitantly, “Once you’re on the streets somewhere, you’re always on the streets. Even if you get off, part of you is always there.”

Emily Smallwood (left) and Lizzy Severson hold up dead chickens.

When Mentoring Becomes More

MAPLE’s student interns return from Uganda with far more than expected.

Emily Smallwood (left) and Lizzy Severson hold up dead chickens.

When University of Oregon senior Emily Smallwood reflects on her experience of traveling to Uganda, it’s not the poverty or the cultural shock that stands out; it’s the people.

“One of my favorite memories is of a meal shared with one of our closest local friends. After being there about a month, Veronica, the president of the women’s savings group that Microdevelopment for the Alleviation of Poverty through Learning and Entrepreneurship (MAPLE) was working with, insisted that she make dinner for the whole team,” says Smallwood. “I went over early to help prepare the meal with her, and as I sat there attempting to peel a mango, it struck me how generous this woman was who has so little compared to me and the other Americans working there.”

In 2008, Smallwood was part of MAPLE, a small microfinance student interest group that wanted to apply what they were learning to the real world. MAPLE, which was operating within the University of Oregon’s International Business and Economics Club (IBEC), applied for and received a grant from the Meyer Fund for a Sustainable Environment. The grant enabled them to send University of Oregon students to Lira, Uganda in the summer of 2008 to establish a microfinance group.

“Microfinance was our original intention,” says MAPLE’s current president, Brad Hoffa, who lived in Mbale, Uganda from September 2009 through February 2010. “What we found when we got there was Uganda was saturated with microfinance organizations.” As of April 2009, there were 117 microfinance institutions operating in Uganda, according to The Association of Microfinance Institutions of Uganda.

“We realized that people needed more than just microfinance; they need education and mentorship, market analysis, bookkeeping, and normal kinds of skill building as well,” says University of Oregon business instructor Ron Severson. Severson is also an adviser to IBEC and sits on the board of directors for MAPLE.

MAPLE teaches locals about finance and life skills.

Unlike microfinance groups, MAPLE does not provide loans to impoverished individuals. MAPLE is more interested in educating through cultural awareness. Students who travelled to Uganda in the past focused on learning the local community’s traditions and cultural business structure, then mentored accordingly to avoid forcing their cultural influences on the people.

MAPLE works with student interns who come from all over the world, including Concordia University in Canada, Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, and Makerere University in Uganda. Students who travel for MAPLE are expected to reach out to locals and find out what they need, whether it is business services, advice, or training.

“We tend to want to go into communities, do need assessments, talk with them, build relations and find out what works [with their traditions],” says Severson.

MAPLE’s ability to reach out to communities in many different forms wouldn’t be possible without its student interns.

“The way we separate ourselves from other organizations is that we are there, we are on the ground,” says Hoffa. “There is absolutely no middle man.”

Getting students acculturated is very important to MAPLE’s approach to helping locals, which is why interns are asked to live in Uganda for at least six months. “It’s culturally different enough that it’s hard to go there for six weeks and really make an impact,” says Severson. “No matter how much we prepare students, I don’t really know how people will react until they get there.”

Overall, Severson believes students have adjusted well to living in a different culture than what they are familiar with. “But it’s not easy,” he says, “We’re still trying to get hot water.”

Ron Severson works hard while in Uganda, but still enjoys his time there.

But as much as the project is about educating and helping Ugandans, the students did a great deal of learning from the locals.

Locals like Veronica, who helped and learned from MAPLE student interns, had one of the biggest impacts on the group. “Veronica, more commonly known as ‘Mommy’, and her family welcomed me and the MAPLE team graciously into their home and community,” says Smallwood.

Veronica also left a lasting impression on Severson and Hoffa. “She didn’t understand us at all, but it didn’t matter because she knew that we wanted the world to be a better place and so did she,” says Hoffa.

The story of Veronica’s self-governing savings and loans group is an example of MAPLE’s impact on Ugandans. This group consists of individuals who pull their money together and agree on rules and interest rates for those who are interested in borrowing from them. “It’s a credit union concept, but it’s at a very grassroots level,” Severson says.

Veronica applied the knowledge she learned from MAPLE’s students when she decided to create another self-governing savings and loans group that she hoped would be more successful than her first attempt.

“She developed a group that’s called SUTA, which means to lift up in Lugisu,” Severson adds. Lugisu is the local language where Veronica lives. After, Hoffa and other MAPLE interns spent time mentoring Veronica and members of her group. When he compared the group’s record book from before and after he met them, he found that with a few exceptions, each woman was increasing her savings by about 3000 percent.

“They are developing more successful businesses and that helps them do things like keep their kids in school, pay school fees, have access to medicine, and all sorts of other things,” says Severson.

MAPLE understands that Ugandans need more than just business advice, so the group created Reaching Out to Spread Equality (ROSE), which is an outreach program for young Ugandan women. “[The ROSE program mentors] on issues related to health, sexual health, and nutrition, but the main thing would be creating a sense of support within the group,” says Severson.

Now, two years later, MAPLE operates in Lira and Mbale, Uganda. In 2009, the interest group became a non-profit organization separate from the University of Oregon and changed its name to MAPLE Microdevelopment.

“I think we get a lot of students here [at the University of Oregon] who want to make an impact and who are very serious about their studies,” Severson says. “They also want to apply those in some way that has some benefit.”

MAPLE has grown remarkably from its inception as a small student interest group, but its primary focus to help impoverished individuals all over the world has remained the same.

“After all,” Smallwood explains, “We are just all people of a single human race.”

Movember

In an attempt to shave through social taboos, Movember participants raise money and awareness for men’s health issues–breaking the ice with their mustaches.

The Movember committee shows off their mustaches--trimmed, bushy, and even fake. (From left: Matt Geschke, Wes Petticrew, Judy Sheldon, Rishi Mukhi, and J.J. Owen)

“She hated when I grew a beard or grew a mustache,” says twenty-seven-year-old Rishi Mukhi, sporting a thick, black mustache that crawls down his upper lip along the sides of his mouth and chin. Mukhi’s mother, Sonia, passed away in 2009 after a six-year battle with metastatic cancer. While some choose to run marathons when cancer affects their lives, Mukhi chose to grow a mustache.

In November of 2009, Mukhi was living with fellow University of Oregon graduate student J.J. Owen. “He told me, ‘grow a mustache,’ and I didn’t even have to hear the rest of it; I’m like, ok!” says Mukhi.

The two decided to grow mustaches for Movember, an event created to raise money and awareness for testicular and prostate cancer by donating to the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Livestrong, the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Movember participants change their appearance to raise money throughout the month.  One way they do this is by auctioning off the style rights to their mustaches. This year, Owen’s father wanted to see him in a handlebar mustache, which he happily grew.  “I have been describing it as the boy-band stache,” Owen says. “It grows in red [with] frosted tips!”

J.J. Owen identified with Wyatt Earp, an icon of the American frontier in the late 1800s.

This year, the University of Oregon experienced the first official, campus-wide Movember effort in the United States. In the past, Movember has been most popular among businesses and reached college campuses only on a very small scale.

Matt Geschke is one of the five University of Oregon Movember committee members.  “Initially, I was hesitant [to participate],” Geshcke says. But cancer has affected Geshcke’s life since childhood, so it was not long before he was convinced to get involved.

Geschke was only eleven when his sister, Maggie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  She was three years old. For the next year and a half, Maggie and her family were in and out of the hospital while she received radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

“The technology wasn’t there, and she still suffers from a lot of learning difficulties,” Geschke says.

Years later, in early 2009, Geschke’s brother, Topher, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. With the technology made available through funding from events such as Movember, his surgery was successful and he did not need chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

“I believe in organizations like Movember that raise a ton of money, not only to find a cure, but to really increase technology,” Geschke says.

Although slightly less hairy, he is still a mustached participant in the festivities. “I have an Indian beard,” he jokes, “apache here and apache there!” His dark brown mustache barely covers his upper lip, while a small soul patch decorates his chin.

Matt Geschke imitates an image of one of the Beastie Boys.

Matt Geschke imitates an image of one of the Beastie Boys.

Before coming to Oregon for the MBA program, Geschke spent two years in South Africa where he ran Peace Players, a non-profit basketball program. Each year, the organization provides approximately 2,000 kids with life skills to prevent contracting HIV and AIDS.

His current work with Oregon Heroes, a non-profit community organization of the University of Oregon’s Athletic Department, has inspired nineteen football players, two coaches, the majority of the baseball team, the men’s tennis team, and the men’s track and field team to grow mustaches in support of Movember.

Geschke got involved with Movember during his first year as an MBA student in the Warsaw Sports Marketing program at the University of Oregon. He was taking a class called Recognizing Business Opportunities and was approached by fellow classmates and friends, Rishi Mukhi, age twenty-seven, and J.J. Owen, age twenty-six.

“The idea of our project was to assess the business opportunity [of Movember at the University of Oregon],” Owen says. “It wasn’t part of the project to actually follow through on it.”

After assembling a small committee, Movember quickly became much more than a class project. Its unique vehicle for raising funds and awareness is “something that pop culture can wrap their arms around,” Mukhi says.

Rishi Mukhi wanted to resemble a famous image of Ringo Starr.

Rishi Mukhi wanted to resemble a famous image of Ringo Starr.

After starting clean-shaven on November 1, “you grow and flow your stache for the entire month,” Owen says. The prominent mustaches, or “walking billboards,” inspire conversation and raise awareness about the effects of both prostate and testicular cancer.

He describes these topics as taboo for men, while breast cancer remains at the forefront of the women’s health movement.

“Men do not like to talk about their health problems or health issues. They are taught to tough it out, but there are a lot of people that are suffering. Causes like Movember really help bring that to the forefront,” Geschke says.

The group is proud of the advances of the women’s movement, which have helped make women’s health issues socially acceptable to talk about—and they hope male cancer awareness will become similarly accepted.

Twenty-six-year-old Judy Sheldon, the committee’s only female, encourages women to participate in Movember by supporting the men in their lives as they grow mustaches. “We don’t have an active role [in Movember] because we can’t grow a mustache, but there’s so much more we can do,” says Sheldon. Women can also be on Movember teams, fund-raise, attend events, and even wear fake mustaches. Sheldon says she wore one for most of November.

Though Judy Sheldon’s fake mustaches frequently changed style throughout the month, she decided to imitate Doc Holliday, another symbol of the American Old West.

Though Judy Sheldon’s fake mustaches frequently changed style throughout the month, she decided to imitate Doc Holliday, another symbol of the American Old West.

Since starting Movember at the University of Oregon, the group feels very confident talking to anyone, be it friends, family, or strangers, about their mustaches and the goals of the organization.

Geshcke adds, “Susan G. Komen is pink, Livestrong is yellow, and we have facial hair!”

According to the American Cancer Society, one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives. And while it is almost always curable if found early, testicular cancer is the most common type of cancer to affect men between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five, many of them college students. Because of this, the Movember organization feels it should be appealing to this particular demographic.

Movember originally began in 2003 in Australia over a few beers and a conversation about bringing back the mustache as a way of promoting men’s health, according to Movember.com. Only six years later, over 250,000 participants worldwide have raised $42 million toward awareness and research for prostate and testicular cancer.

Here, the group displays their stashes one last time before shaving, or washing them off, later that day. (From left: Geschke, Sheldon, Petticrew, Mukhi, and Owen)

Here, the group displays their stashes one last time before shaving, or washing them off, later that day. (From left: Geschke, Sheldon, Petticrew, Mukhi, and Owen)

On December 2, 2010, a group of mustached University of Oregon students gathered for the Movember closing gala party, where the “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” showed off their mustaches and celebrated the success of the month. University of Oregon Movember’s 235 registered participants raised nearly $10,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Livestrong. But Mukhi says, “At this point, fundraising is our secondary goal; creating and raising awareness is our number one goal.”

“If we can get these men and women in early and caring about a cause like this, they’re going to be lifetime Movember people,” says Geschke. “Whether or not they ever grow a mustache again, they’ll know the month of November is the time to talk about [men’s health] issues.”

Steeped in Tradition

A spicy yet soothing aroma of freshly-brewed tea fills the air in Josh Chamberlain’s spacious tea house, J-Tea. Surrounding the tea bar and stools in the center of the shop, shelves hold teapots decorated with floral patterns and teas with names such as Hairy Monkey White Tea and Second Flush Oolong. There are stacks of tiny foil packages colored with turquoise, gold, and lavender, each containing a hard, compressed block of loose tea leaves.

Here, you will not find the premeasured tea bags packaged into oversized boxes that are popular in grocery stores. Chamberlain’s shop offers teas with minimal packaging, so what you’re getting is – well, tea.

Other tea shops often carry an assortment of teas from just about every area in the world that produces tea. J-Tea carries a more specialized selection, selling only teas from Taiwan and China. Chamberlain is so particular about his teas that he travels all the way to Taiwan twice a year to pick out the finest tea leaves himself.

Heading straight to the source rather than ordering through a middleman eliminates Chamberlain’s risk of getting stuck with teas of subpar quality.

Tea, like wine, is an agricultural product that varies widely in taste, appearance, scent, and overall quality from farm to farm and season to season.

“Those really regional, seasonal differences in tea that get expressed in the flavor, the body, the aroma—these are things that I’m trying to capture when I select the teas,” Chamberlain says.

When he visits the small-production farms in the high mountains of Taiwan, Chamberlain looks for the proper conditions that will fulfill his personal standards of quality. Teas of high quality boast delectable natural flavors and pleasant aromas.

And, as with wine, when a particular farm and season has produced an optimal crop, Chamberlain will buy as much as he can sell.

Taiwan’s cool, humid mountains are covered with flourishing greenery and offer prime conditions for growing lush tea.

To ensure that the tea he is purchasing is of high quality, Chamberlain chooses to buy only pure, unflavored tea leaves. He avoids flavored teas, which are the dominant teas on the market in the U.S., because flavors are often used to mask poor quality, according to Chamberlain.

“People are often surprised that tea can taste as good as it does just on its own,” he says.

J-Tea benefits from the variety and frequently-changing qualities that come from small farms, while large-scale tea businesses usually look for just the opposite. They don’t want any variation in their teas, according to Chamberlain.

“They add the tea together in a formula that consistently produces the same taste,” he says. This, however, won’t guarantee that the color will remain consistent. To ensure that their product always looks the same every time a customer brews a cup, big companies add dyes.

Chamberlain concentrates on filling the majority of his store with genuine tea.
Camellia Sinensis is the actual tea plant, which is used to make green, white, and black teas. Herbal teas do not fall under this category, as they are derived from other plants, such as rose, mint, or chamomile flower.

Rather than focusing on the conventional top sellers, such as Earl Greys and herbals, Chamberlain instead seeks out rare teas.

Another feature that sets these teas apart from others is that J-Tea only sells whole leaf tea, rather than the dust and crumbs that are often used to fill tea bags.

Chamberlain’s vast knowledge of the types of teas and the processes needed to properly brew them also benefits his customers, especially those who purchase brewed cups from the tea bar.

“He knows so much about tea, so it enhances the experience of drinking it. Period,” says customer Frank Hale, a self-proclaimed tea lover.

Chamberlain developed his knowledge while he was studying abroad in Taiwan. His years overseas taught him the benefits of drinking tea, such as increased awareness and a calmer state of mind.

“I was crazy about tea,” he says. He would drink it in the morning, afternoon, and evening. After returning to the U.S. in 2005 with an MBA and an in-depth understanding of the beverage, Chamberlain decided to open his tea shop.

Chamberlain has honed and perfected his skill for getting the tea-brewing process right, evident in every cup of tea served. He pairs pots with equipment and particular teas in order to deliver an incomparable drink to his customers every time.

For example, Chamberlain knows that a heavier, more full-bodied tea, such as a ‘High Mountain Roasted Oolong,’ is best prepared using a dark, iron-rich clay pot. The dark clay absorbs tea flavors while simultaneously enhancing them.

For a lighter tea, such as a ‘Green Oolong,’ Chamberlain recognizes that porcelain is the best type of pot to brew the tea in. Porcelain lets the heat dissipate rather than holding it in, and it won’t absorb the tea’s flavors–perfect for switching between teas in the same pot.

Chamberlain is also a useful resource for his customers when they are unsure about which teas to buy. When customers ask for Chamberlain’s input, he replies by asking them what kind of beer they like, or what type of wine they prefer. Based on their preferences for other beverages, Chamberlain can better recommend a tea that will suit their tastes.

For instance, someone who likes malt whiskey may enjoy a tea with rich flavors, such as a roasted Oolong. If someone likes IPA beer, Chamberlain recommends teas with bitter flavors and a sweet aftertaste.

But what you get at J-Tea doesn’t end with quality. This tea house offers a unique business with a cultural touch.

Outside of the tea house is a modern metal structure that seems to make an artistic statement rather than serve a solid functional purpose. A short set of stairs leads customers from the street to a wooden entrance that resembles a box. The entire front of the shop is made of tall, glass windows, allowing natural light to gently flow in.

First-time customer Neil VanSteenbergen says, “There’s a comfort and warmth here. I’m going to come back and bring my sweetheart.”

Hale agrees. He keeps coming back to J-Tea because of the calm, soothing environment and the unique selection of teas that he can’t find elsewhere. Also, the cultural and spiritual experience of watching Chamberlain handmake the cups of tea right in front of his eyes is something he can’t get anywhere else.

Drawn to the time-honored tea-brewing process at J-Tea, Hale says, “After the first time I drank here, I stopped drinking store-bought teas.”

Chamberlain hopes the new shop will provide an ideal setting to expose customers to the health benefits and life-enhancing qualities of tea along with the culture behind drinking it. Here, he will work to conquer one of his biggest challenges: showing people what ‘quality’ tea really means and the traditions behind the cultures that enjoy it.

Let Me Just Google Map Croatia…

-Brooke Brown 

 

Pictured is the island of Susak. Croatia lies on the Adriatic Sea and extends all the way from Slovenia and Hungary to the North, all the way down to Montenegro in the South.

 

In the span of 48 hours I was in Seattle, Frankfurt, and Zagreb, Croatia.

Needless to say, the start of my European summer was a zombie-like daze dealing with a serious time zone mix-up. Especially after leaving Eugene, Oregon in the typical frenzy of packing for three months with a brain like Jello from a good-old 8 a.m. math final that day.

I’ll be living in Heidelberg, Germany for the summer doing the college summer Euro-vacation and soaking in every second of it. Heidelberg is known for being on the verge of a little too touristy, but I’m convinced there’s more to explore here than what your average tourist looks for. Sure, many of the Germans speak English and there are plenty of cliché touristy items lining the streets (admittedly, I already purchased a ‘Das Boot’).

But there’s also one of the oldest castles in Germany and a thriving college bar scene, which I’ll be sure to drunkenly embarrass myself at some point or another as a stupid ‘Americana’ (the beer is a lot stronger here, I can’t help it).

But as I flew into Zagreb, Croatia for a brief visit, it felt like anything but a stereotypical Euro-trip kind of vacation. It could just be my naïve American perspective announcing its annoying presence to me once again, but I don’t think I’ve ever known of anyone going on vacation to Croatia.

I thought I knew my geography fairly well until I realized Google Maps was the only way I could really accurately pinpoint where the country was. I guess I can’t be too mad at myself, most Americans probably don’t even know there is a country named Croatia.

It’s sandwiched between Eastern and Western Europe, making it an odd jumble of cultures that used to have control over the country. It’s incredible the Croatians have been able to hang on to their language and culture at all since the first time they ever really had control of their own country was in 1991. They’ve been littered with war, surviving brutal and bloody ethnic cleansing, a Nazi puppet government, and finally winning a bloody battle for their independence from Yugoslavia.

But now it would be hard to guess that war was taking place here just a couple decades ago.  Europe’s new Italy is filled with plush resorts on glimmering turquoise water and plenty of culture that comes along with them. It’s cheaper than Italy and its beaches are just as beautiful, which draws tons of Europeans during summertime.

I almost had a heart attack at seeing the Roman ruins in Split, where the city itself was built around the remains of Diocletian’s palace from 300 A.D.

Well-built is a bit of an understatement. It’s hard not to compare our own buildings and architecture to this insanely old and intact emperor’s retirement home (there’s a nice alternative to Florida golf courses). Our buildings in the U.S. start deteriorating after forty or fifty years, let alone 1600. They even have fully intact remains of the palace’s stone olive press and several coffins, which makes me wonder if Ghost Hunters has ever thought of tapping this potentially very spooky and plentiful resource.

The basement of Diocletian’s palace. I wouldn’t want to walk these halls at night.

 

In Split, you can be eating gelato at a café that was built right into the ruins of Diocletian’s palace. How ‘bout that for some history? The white wine and seafood here is a deadly, mouthwatering combination that I’d probably consider as another very serious reason why I need to visit this country again.

The one other place I explored in Croatia is Susak, one of the very smallest inhabited islands off the coast (there are over 1200 islands in all). It’s the type of place where you could hide out if you were wanted for some crime; you’d at least get a couple years of beach-bum solitude before anyone would discover you.

There are no cars on the island and only one small, sleepy town where they still use a well to pump out water. It felt almost a world away from everything.

I ordered a beer at the one bar on the island and when the bartender asked where I was from I said Oregon. He responded nonchalantly in a thick Croatian accent with “Oh yeah, they have that good football team, the Ducks.” I smiled and realized it only takes a small reminder to see that home is never really too far.

It took Ryan Dingler nine rides to get from Eugene to Florence and back.

Weekend Vagabonds

Once used strictly as a last resort, hitchhiking has become a ticket to adventure for some college students.

On the tail end of a fall weekend, University of Oregon students Ryan Dingler and Daniel Beltramo found themselves stranded in Redding, California. Eager to make it back home to Eugene, Oregon, they hastily added the words “class is on Monday” to their dog-eared cardboard sign requesting a ride north. For two hours, they stood on the shoulder of a busy road with their thumbs thrust in the air, praying that one of the blurred vehicles zooming past might pull over. Although some may see this as a desperate situation, Dingler and Beltramo had anticipated it; they had even hoped for it.

 

It took Ryan Dingler nine rides to get from Eugene to Florence and back.

It took Ryan Dingler nine rides to get from Eugene to Florence and back.

Finally, a 1980s van rolled to a stop a few hundred feet in front of them. “Hey get in!” yelled its sole occupant. The boys were hesitant; the ride was questionable. They approached the passenger side of the van with caution. If anything went wrong, they could still run away. But the driver was clean-shaven and wore a nice jacket. The hitchers introduced themselves, asked where the driver was headed, and got in the car.

“When you first get a ride, you’re ecstatic!” says Dingler of the hitching process. For these adventure-hungry students, hitchhiking is not a last resort but a daring pastime, a way to break free from routine. Getting somewhere is not its purpose. Some don’t even choose a specific destination before hitting the road. The purpose, Dingler says, is in the journey.

Dingler discovered his new hobby during a bout of restlessness. “I was feeling bored and stuck,” he says, “I didn’t have anything to do.” Always eager for a new experience, Dingler and a few pals tried biking to Corvallis, Oregon, but bad weather on the return trip forced them to hitchhike instead. “Not ten minutes after we stuck out our thumbs, a truck came by and took us all the way to Eugene.” Dingler knew right away he had stumbled onto something great: recreational hitchhiking. “I knew that adventure was only a thumb away,” he jokes.
Hitchhiking as a pastime has since caught on to Dingler’s group of friends. But, although there are several online resources for hitchhikers (digihitch.com is the most popular), a community has yet to emerge for hitchhiking purely for fun.

 

Dingler and Eddie Ouellette bond with their driver’s wet dog.

Dingler and Eddie Ouellette bond with their driver’s wet dog.

Soon after that first experience, Dingler and Beltramo planned a longer hitchhiking trip: a quest for an In-N-Out Burger. Before leaving, they researched Oregon and California highway laws to make sure their new pastime was legal—which they discovered it was. In California, however, hitchers must avoid interstates and stay near on-ramps to find long-distance rides.

Anticipating the risk involved, the pair also devised a safety phrase to use in a bad situation They decided to use “I threw it on the ground,” a joke from a Digital Short on Saturday Night Live. Dingler used the term once on a ride back from Portland when he noticed their driver drinking alcohol. He’s also found himself riding with a self-professed bank robber and a drug dealer with a trunk full of marijuana. In situations such as these, the safety phrase comes in handy. When the time is right, they excuse themselves and hop off at the first possible stop.

Despite these and other “creepy” experiences, Dingler and Beltramo say the best part of the experience is swapping stories with their drivers. Their favorite encounters involve other wayfaring travelers such as Johan, the driver of the 1980s van that drove them out of Redding. During the long ride back to Eugene, Dingler and Beltramo took turns resting and talking with Johan, a bartender, traveler, and urban climber of buildings and structures in Seattle. According to the two hitchers, most of the people who take a chance and pick them up are adventurers themselves and can easily be persuaded to talk about their experiences. “Sometimes people completely open up to you because they know they probably will never see you again,” says Dingler. “They want someone in the world to know the struggles they went through.”

Dingler hikes up on the beach in Florence, Oregon to head home.

Dingler hikes up on the beach in Florence, Oregon to head home.

But before they can hear the stories, they have to catch a ride. If hitchhiking is the game, then attracting a car is scoring a point. Earning that score is literally the work of a moment. “[Drivers] judge you and your character as they drive past on the freeway,” says Beltramo. “If you look like a nice person, they’re more likely to pick you up.” To win over a passerby, he and Dingler often dance by the side of the road or do “the wave.” Another tip from Dingler: “Make it personal.” When a vehicle approaches, the hitchers do their best to make eye contact with the driver. “Even if you can’t see them,” he says, “focus on the spot where they should be.” Once the vehicle passes, Dingler says, prolong the effect by staring at it until it disappears from view.

When the hitchhikers finally reel in a ride, they rely on etiquette they’ve compiled to make sure the ride is good. “You always approach the passenger side of the car to avoid scaring the driver,” says Dingler. “Ask where they are going, and decide if it is far enough.” And don’t forget to “shake their hand before you get in.” Dingler also takes note of the license plate number before he gets into the car, texting it to a friend, just in case. According to the travelers, the size of the group is also important. Dingler has always gone in groups of two. “Three is too big,” he says. “I want to try one, but not yet.” He recently accompanied his friend Claire Seger on her first attempt, a ride back to Eugene form Portland. “She wants to go again,” he says with a grin.

Although much of this know-how comes from online tips, Dingler says the best sources are found on the road. Tricks of the trade include learning where not to hitchhike, such as less-urban towns like Medford and Albany, Oregon, and what to wear. The ideal outfit makes one look as friendly and harmless as possible without detracting from the idea that the ride is needed. On a recent hitching trip, a homeless man asked Dingler for money. “Obviously I didn’t dress down enough,” he says.

As Johan drove his decades-old van closer to Dingler and Beltramo’s destination, the guys realized what a good time they were having. Johan pointed out a sign signaling the exit to Eugene. But Dingler and Beltramo weren’t ready to leave. Johan was headed to Seattle. In the spur of a moment, the two decided to let their destination fly by. The adventure wasn’t over yet.

Running Goes Bare

[deck]An increasing amount of runners are leaving their athletic shoes behind as the barefoot running movement gains momentum. [/deck]

After reading the book Born to Run, Bruce was inspired to try barefoot running. When he runs he alternates between traditional running shoes and his RunAmoc

After reading the book Born to Run, Bruce was inspired to try barefoot running. When he runs he alternates between traditional running shoes and his RunAmocs.

[caps]O[/caps]n a chilly morning in early May, runners litter the trails of the waterfront path in downtown Corvallis. Ted McDonald enters the path and with every step he takes, his feet silently and gently touch the pavement. Ted’s bare feet draw attention on a path with runners wearing athletic shoes. There is no wonder why he is known as Barefoot Ted.

The idea of barefoot running came into Ted’s life eight years ago when he planned to run a marathon for his 40th birthday. As he was training in preparation for the marathon, Barefoot Ted experienced pain while wearing cushioned running shoes. He wondered if less cushioning with a minimal shoe sole was the solution to his pain. Shortly after this experience, he tried barefoot running.

“It was instantly obvious that I found the beginning of a solution,” Barefoot Ted says of his first time experience. Now, Barefoot Ted is one of the many supporters of the barefoot running movement. He travels across America teaching seminars and conferences on how to run barefoot and avoid injuries to people who have similar painful experiences while running in athletic shoes.

The barefoot running movement encompasses not just running without shoes, but also thin-soled shoes that provide protection while allowing the foot to hit the ground in its naturally intended form with less force. While barefoot running may appear to be an emerging trend, barefoot runners like Barefoot Ted show that it’s a lifestyle choice. Barefoot running is about listening to what your body is telling you without interferences from athletic shoes.

Experienced barefoot runners who have been running without shoes for at least a few years usually have the title “Barefoot” before their first name.

All barefoot runners have to earn their “Barefoot” title.

“’Barefoot’” was given to us by others who saw us run…” says Barefoot Todd, who has completed 86 marathons barefoot.

Some barefoot runners have a lot of experience running without shoes, like Barefoot Ken, who has been running barefoot for the past 20 years and who later introduced Barefoot Todd to it in 2001.

But thanks to the 2009 book, Born to Run, a new generation of barefoot runners is emerging. The book Born to Run introduced many longtime runners, including Bruce Austin, to barefoot running. “We don’t need the ultra modern protective running shoes,” Austin says.

Written by Christopher McDougall, Born to Run discusses a tribe in Mexico called the Tarahumara who are able to run barefoot for hundreds of miles without breaks. The book also explains why humans do not need the support from cushioned shoes in order to run. Born to Run has stayed on the New York Times Bestseller List every week since its release.

However, Barefoot Todd is concerned about the influence Born to Run could have on its readers, who may think barefoot running is effortless and immediately go out and try it without learning the technique.

In order to run barefoot effectively, one must first get used to the feeling of walking barefoot on a hard surface. The foot has been conditioned from years of wearing shoes and may need time to adjust to being barefoot. The foot must have a softer impact with the ground that finds its natural landing spot related to the body’s center of gravity. “A lot of times people tried it and it didn’t work,” says Barefoot Todd. “It just takes a little bit of reconditioning in order to get used to running without shoes.” Despite his concerns, Barefoot Todd appreciates what the book has done for barefoot running. “Born to Run has opened people’s minds to the thought of running without shoes,” he says.

The book has shaped the barefoot running movement by attracting people to the activity. Even though Born to Run informs the audience about the benefits that come with barefoot running, Barefoot Ted, one of the book’s characters, has been saying this for years.

Barefoot Ted and other supporters of running barefoot, including Barefoot Ken and Barefoot Todd, argue that the human foot is naturally conditioned for running. Modern running shoes provide unnatural padding and change the impact running has on an individual’s body.

Bruce started running when he was a student at the University of Oregon. He has tattoos from his numerous marathons and ultra-marathons, one of which he ran in Antarctica.

Bruce started running when he was a student at the University of Oregon. He has tattoos from his numerous marathons and ultra-marathons, one of which he ran in Antarctica.

The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation journal published a study in December 2009 that compared running barefoot to running in athletic shoes. Researchers observed a group of healthy men and women running barefoot and again in standard running shoes.Their observations showed that running shoes increase the stress on three hip and knee extremity joints. The study recommended that footwear should try to be as similar to being barefoot as possible in order to reduce injury.

In January 2010 the British science journal Nature published findings from Harvard Professor Daniel Lieberman’s study that showed experienced barefoot runners’ forefoot or mid-foot hit the pavement first, but when runners wear athletic shoes with cushions they land on their heel first, which can cause stress to the heel, knee or leg.

Lieberman’s analysis provides a strong case for barefoot running; however, the study was partially funded by Vibram, a company that developed and sells a barefoot running shoe called Five Fingers. The study also says that “Barefoot runners can run easily on the hardest surfaces in the world without discomfort from landing.”

“It’s so sad” Barefoot Ted says of the people who run in athletic shoes. “There are people just pounding the friggin’ hell out of themselves.”

Despite research in support of barefoot running and a growing fan base, there are outspoken critics of the movement. The web site Barefoot Running is Bad, whose motto is “Exposing barefoot runners for the nutters that they are,” compares barefoot runners to being “As bad as the loony left of politics and the radical religious fanatics.” The web site, which says that it is not linked to the shoe athletic industry, offers rants against the trend’s research. “Can someone point me to one piece of evidence that shows high impacts actually cause any injury?” the webmaster wrote in a posting on the web site.

But this doesn’t discourage people from coming to Barefoot Ted for barefoot running advice. Barefoot Ted says he has been approached by celebrities, including singer Kimya Dawson’s husband, musician Angelo Spencer.

Some barefoot runners are nervous about the idea of having zero protection on their feet and are turning to shoes specially designed to be as close to the barefoot experience as possible.The leading barefoot running shoe on the market is Vibram’s Five Fingers, but it’s not the only shoe aimed at barefoot runners.

In early May 2010, shoe company Soft Star Shoes started selling a barefoot running moccasin. “Our customers were running in our shoes,” says co-owner of Soft Star Shoes, Larkin Holavarri

“We thought maybe we could find a better shoe for them.” The first week that the company’s barefoot running shoe, called RunAmoc, was on the market, Soft Star Shoes sold 105 pairs, which is extremely high sale for the small business.

Nike got involved in the barefoot running shoe movement with Nike Free, which according to Nike, “Provides just enough support while still allowing the foot to move in a natural, dynamic and barefoot-like manner.”

Barefoot Ted also sells a shoe kit that comes with all the material to assemble a barefoot running sandal, which he explains is “for a really minimalist person.”

But the experienced barefoot runners including Barefoot Ted, Barefoot Todd and Barefoot Ken avoid wearing shoes as much as possible. “If we take the time from the beginning to listen to, and respond by changing the way we are running, to eliminate the cause of the problems rather than just trying to muffle the messages, our feet will meet us part way,” Barefoot Ken says.

As barefoot running continues to grow as a business and trend, some experienced runners are concerned that the movement is losing its original message- barefoot running is about reconnecting with the body, listening and responding to the feedback your body gives you while running. “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of listening to the unprotected bare soles,” said Barefoot Ken.

Blues Musicians Struggle for Revival

[deck]Eugene blues musicians branch out to local youth in the hopes of instilling interest in the blues scene.[/deck]

Eagle Park Slim performs at the Saturday Market in Eugene, Oregon.<br>

Eagle Park Slim performs at the Saturday Market in Eugene, Oregon.

[cap]A[/cap]fter the band finishes their set, a swarm of women hop up from their cocktails and skip over to the bespectacled Ben Rice, who sounds forty-years old onstage, looks eighteen offstage, and is actually twenty-one. But his youth does not deter the ladies, who were all over fifty-years old, from dishing out kudos to the young blues singer and guitarist as though they were trying to fatten the stocky college senior on compliments alone. “You have to come back, please,” begs one frizzy haired, big bosomed fan. “Oh yes, of course,” agrees the flock of likely grandmothers.

In a small city where blues talents are abundant but aged- it is something to talk about when a young person is spotted at a blues event. Tim Volem, Secretary for the Rainy Day Blues Society in Eugene, is trying to change that. Enthusiasts like Volem are concerned that without their elders’ help, young people won’t care enough about the blues to preserve them. Some of these people are working to eliminate this concern, but it’s unclear whether or not their efforts are working.

The Rainy Day Blues Society has become particularly proactive in getting young people interested in the blues. Musicians founded the organization to do just that– provide the blues to local youth. Just before the death of deejay “Rooster,” the society was founded to preserve and promote the culture of the blues. Given that in the last decade the Eugene blues scene has lost both blues deejay Gavin “Rooster” Fox in 1999 and avid harmonica player Ted “Papa Soul” Lee in 2009, blues fans have come to realize that sooner is better than later.

“I think it’s undeniable that kids aren’t going to have much exposure unless we give it to them,” says Volem.

Slim playing his kazoo

In addition to his guitar, Slim uses a kazoo in some of his songs. Kazoos are a popular accompaniment in blues, especially for individual performers, due to its ability to imitate larger instruments like the clarinet or trumpet.

For instance, take Rice, the young guitarist surrounded by women twice his age. When he started college in Eugene, the society immediately booked him. Rice, whose vocals and impressive guitar work compare to rocker Jonny Lang’s, is one of the organization’s most successful connections to younger crowds. But it’s a wonder that Rice, a smokey-voiced prodigy who played at almost every bar in Portland and Seattle by the time he was eleven, seems to be the only one in the bar who would not be considered over the hill. “Ben Rice is a great example—in fact, he is the example of a young person who’s taken the initiative to get involved with the blues,” says Volem.

And that’s exactly why silver-haired members are doing their part to capture the attention of more youth. Many society members volunteer in the growing Blues in the Schools program that lets any Lane County school book local musicians for a day. The musicians, all members of the Rainy Day Society, volunteer their time to conduct classes and workshops, allowing kids and young adults to write their own songs, play the instruments, and meet mentors. These volunteers have played with the likes of Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and many more great blues musicians.

Granted, veteran musicians have noticed kids don’t always adopt to the blues readily. “A lot of them just want to listen to hip hop. They’re not always interested in hearing the stuff that has influenced it,” says Volem. But by the end of the day, the kids have written their own songs and often share them with their peers. Rainy Day Blues Society director Josh Coen hopes that someday students will share these songs at a public venue. “It’s just planting a small seed, and our hope is that it will encourage the kids to explore on their own,” says Volem.

Other ambitions of the society are to get college students more involved by offering credits for aspiring musicians at the universities, and encouraging students to perform in the community and off-campus. “I contacted three different people in the music department at the University of Oregon, but I got nowhere,” says Volem. “I think the University people are just so busy that they just don’t have time for one more thing.”

David Gross, a local musician and craftsman believes that if the radio played the blues more, young people would start to care. “It’s been stomped out,” he says. Volem agrees to an extent, and as a retired English teacher, he knows exactly what Gross means. “It’s like the zeitgeist—the spirit of the ages takes over,” Volem says.

In  another song Slim adds bells for rhythmic accompaniment. In addition to  his hour of official stage time, Slim warms up by doing more relaxed  street performances in quieter parts of the market.

In another song Slim adds bells for rhythmic accompaniment.

However, some young people believe that the older blues musicians in the community have been talking to the wrong people. “If local blues musicians contacted campus radio, we’d be more than happy to play their stuff,” says Lex Chase, a deejay and events coordinator at KWVA, the University of Oregon’s campus radio. “It’s just that we get Indie-Alternative music from promoters, but we never get any blues.”

Though KWVA does not list one single blues station on its website, she says they play what blues they can. Few musicians contact the station with new music or ideas. According to Chase, there needs to be a greater effort on musicians’ parts to offer something of interest. She recognized that blues does lend itself towards the digital sound of recent popular tunes, but innovation needs to happen. “People either want the original or an alternative of it. Like my friends–they love Miles Davis. But they want to hear the original Miles Davis, not just someone else singing his songs,” she says. “If people do variations and twists on the old music, that might work. If you mixed in blues with electronic mash-ups that would be so cool.”

At one time, the blues held a lively role in the lives of Eugene youths (local legend Curtis Salgado inspired John Belushi’s character in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers”). Perhaps the traditional style of blues does not resonate with young people, but more of the reason seems to be that there are not enough blues sources marketed to young crowds.

Students at the University of Oregon used to enjoy the presence of Eagle Park Slim, who has played in Eugene for thirty years and was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rainy Day Blues Society. Slim played with the greatest: Muddy Waters, James Brown, Joe Cocker, Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Percy Mayfield. After his brushes with fame though, he played mostly for students. “A lot of kids knew me,” he says. One day a young man was stopped from robbing his friend, just because he heard Slim playing. “Your music is something. I was going to rip off my friend, but your songs made me stop. I’m glad I ran into you,” Slim recalls the strayed youth saying. One student wrote his thesis on Slim, and another volunteered Slim to open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers when they played at the EMU ballroom (And he indeed opened for them.). But now, Slim can’t make it far from his home downtown and doesn’t often get to see campus. He plays the kazoo and his cherry-stained guitar at the back of the farmers’ market for little kids passing by with spare nickels for a tip.

“Blues is the basis for jazz, country, and rock-n-roll. We teach this music because it moves us,” says Volem.

And it is his hope, along with many others, that the blues continues to be taught. No matter the age, everyone can enjoy a good blues session. Rice, who plays for the old, and Slim, who plays for the young, can attest to that.

There is no better example of, as Volem calls it, the “spirit of the ages.”

An Exploration in Movement

[deck]A Eugene Ballet Company dancer’s Venezuelan heritage inspires his first choreography piece.[/deck]

Passionate about the shape of the body and how it moves, Duran is always looking for interesting ways to present himself both as a dancer and a contemporary choreographer.

Passionate about the shape of the body and how it moves, Duran is always looking for interesting ways to present himself both as a dancer and a contemporary choreographer.

[cap]T[/cap]welve dancers, clad in leg warmers, sweats, and baggy t-shirts, stand before him ready to begin. Tension and anticipation fill every limb to capacity. “Ready?” A dancer crosses herself. Ominous music fills the room and the dancers launch into quick-paced, heart-racing, intricate movement. “This is who we are, this is why we are here,” says Gillmer Duran in his Venezuelan accent. Duran is a dancer with the Eugene Ballet Company who is changing his focus from dance towards choreography.

He sits bolt upright in his folding chair at the front of the studio. Duran watches and feels his choreography come to life. His muscles tense along with the dancers; his ears hear the music with the same anticipation as the dancers. The room is filled with the sound of pointe-shoed foot falls, heavy breathing, and Duran’s encouragement, “elegant, elegant, nice.” Duran knows exactly what he wants. Each finger, each head movement has its place. Each breathe, each drop of sweat is important. It is at the Midtown Arts Center in Eugene, Oregon that Duran rehearses his dancers for the premier of his newest piece “Without the Cover.”

Duran, born in Venezuela, was introduced to dance through traditional Venezuelan folk dancing as a child. But in Venezuela there was an “if it’s not baseball, what are you doing?” attitude, Duran says. This mind-set; however, has not stopped him. “Once you start liking it,” Duran says “you never stop liking it.”

Duran teaches his dancers through example during rehearsal at the Midtown Arts Center, home of the Eugene Ballet Company.

Duran teaches his dancers through example during rehearsal at the Midtown Arts Center, home of the Eugene Ballet Company.

Duran, 37, is captivated by movement and is taking that captivation to the next level, from dancer to choreographer. His serious ballet training didn’t begin until he was 21-years-old. In an industry where dancers are primed for ballet at the age of four, it is a remarkable feat to accelerate as quickly has Duran has. “If you are a musician you can be a musician until you are 80 but when you are a dancer things are different,” Duran says. “For a lawyer, 37 is his prime,” but for a dancer this is not the case. But age is only a number; a small bump in Duran’s the road.

Before he was a dancer, Duran was a loan officer.  Perhaps he caught the eye of the director of Ballet National de Caracas because he effortlessly stands, moves, and looks like a dancer. In Venezuela, Duran danced with Ballet National de Caracas. While in the United States with a tourist visa, Duran was hired by Tulsa Ballet in Oklahoma. His unique path towards becoming a dancer has influenced his choreography greatly. “I have seen dance in many places,” Duran says. This is evidenced in hints of Venezuelan folk dance and contemporary movements he picked up in his early days of dance.

Duran’s latest piece, Without the Cover, premiered with Eugene Ballet Company’s Dark Side of the Moon on February 13 and spoke to his past and path towards becoming a dancer. Inspired by fellow Venezuelan Gabriela Montero’s interpretation of J.S Bach’s Spontaneous Compositions on Themes, Duran sought to explore the constraints we face in society and the pigeon holes we can be placed in, something that he is familiar with.

A natural leader, Duran directs his dancers with ease, professionalism, and a clear vision of what he wants out of his choreography.

A natural leader, Duran directs his dancers with ease, professionalism, and a clear vision of what he wants out of his choreography.

Throughout his piece, sheets of plastic hang in front of his dancers. They are covered by what society expects of them. As each movement progresses the curtains rise and the dancers can be seen clearly for who they are, without any distractions or distortions. Duran’s goal was to be as honest as possible, to be vulnerable while still displaying strength. “I am very fond of his ability to combine flow of movement with staccato and slightly quirky steps or moments,” says Jennifer Martin, principle dancer with the Eugene Ballet Company.

Without the Cover showed Duran’s understanding and firm grasp on human relationships and intricacies of human interaction. His understanding is directly imprinted on his dancers. “He is sensitive to the dancer’s abilities,” Martin says, “and yet has a gift for pushing us beyond our area of comfort and in turn helps us to expand and grow artistically.”

A choreographer’s ability to communicate and relate to his dancers is the greatest tool in his arsenal. When there is this connection, the choreographer’s ideas can come to fruition and then be related to the audience. Duran has this and it is evident in his rehearsals. “Horrible,” Duran says after they have finished running the piece, but the dancers don’t even bat an eye because horrible is quickly followed by “very nice.” He walks around the room to give corrections to the dancers. There is a playful quality to Duran’s rehearsal process – he refers to Martin as “Jenny from the block” – but there is also an honest quality to it as well – “it was all your fault” he says to one of his dancers to which she replies “ya, it was me.” This combination of playfulness and honesty allows the dancers to be themselves and be a part of Duran’s creativity. It is his love of music and movement that propels Duran to create and to share his explorations with dancers and audience members alike.