A mixed reaction to Willamette Week piece

Features Editor Erick Bengel

By now, many of you have read the recent Willamette Week story “Astoria is the Best Place in Oregon For A Weekend Bender” by Matthew Korfhage.

It’s a fairly standard roundup of ways to get wasted in our community and geek out on Goonies lore, delivered in a cheeky (or, as Korfhage calls it, “irreverent”) tone that, from a resident’s standpoint — or, really, anyone’s standpoint — could be read as reductive and condescending.

A sample: “Astoria makes no sense sober, in no small part because no one else is sober. As somebody is sure to tell you at some point during your stay, it’s a drinking town with a fishing problem — designed by drunks for drunks.”

In other words, the article is exactly what you’d expect from an alt weekly.

I’ve tried reading it from two angles: as a fellow writer, and as a local (albeit a relatively new one).

On one hand, the piece meets the requirements of its genre. List of sites to get sloshed? Check. Token nods toward Astoria’s historical import? Check. Flippant observations about the colorful townsfolk? Double check.

But the part of me that sees Astoria as an adopted home can’t help wondering why, if Korfhage had to write about our town, he chose to cast it, first and foremost, as a place to get hammered. He executes this premise reasonably well, but it’s a piece shaped, and limited, by a drunk’s selective attention. (It’s easy to conclude that no one here is sober when you only visit the bars, for example.)

Then there’s the Goonies house bit, where Korfhage encourages visitors to wander up the drive and check out the Uppertown home. As he points out, “it’s not a private drive. It’s a public road, and you have the right to walk or drive up it. Never say die, and feel no guilt.”

He is right. It is a public road. Fair enough. No journalistic misconduct here.

However, the city and chamber of commerce — and, for that matter, “Goonies” star Sean Astin — have been trying to keep people away from the property because the crush of visitors, many of them ill-mannered, made life miserable for the homeowners. Korfhage provides the home address.

This casually dismissive attitude toward Sandi Preston and the neighborhood’s well-documented Goonies hell makes it clear that Korfhage’s allegiance is to pleasure-seeking tourists like himself rather than Astorians impacted by their behavior.

What the article lacks, in short, is a sense that Korfhage genuinely cares about the people who live here.

Were I the author, I would argue that such criticism is beside the point. The piece is generally accurate, amusing in parts, fulfills its basic function. In the mood for a sarcastic, superficial screed about how to have your way with Astoria in 36 hours? Here ya go.

Because Korfhage doesn’t pretend to want a deeper relationship with Astoria than one where he uses it for drive-thru self-indulgence, I can’t hold that against him. He is straightforward about his intentions.

But I can’t fault Astorians who, knowing what our river community has to offer, would have hoped that an outsider would value it for so much more.

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