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JUMP ON ROUTE 99E, head south. After 20 minutes of lackluster strip malls, car lots, and failed G.I. Joes, you'll stumble onto a gem—a gem known as Oregon City.

The historical importance of this city is immeasurable. Without Oregon City there may have been no Portland, or perhaps not even an Oregon. The final stop on the Oregon Trail, Oregon City was the first incorporated city west of the Rockies, founded by the absolutely terrifying but beneficent "Father of Oregon" John McLoughlin (who looked like a cross between Back to the Future's Doc Brown and Klaus Kinski). After the quick decimation of native tribes via smallpox, Oregon City quickly rose to prominence as THE industrial capital of the territory, famous for such highly coveted necessities as lumber, flour, steamboats, and eventually the paper used to create the ridiculous weekly you're holding now. Oregon City is also home to such historical landmarks as the Ermatinger House, where Portland's name was allegedly decided upon by the flip of a coin (lucky for you I wasn't around—otherwise there's a 50-50 chance you'd be living in "Karen.")

Unlike most West Coast cities, Oregon City refuses to bury its past in the shallow grave of modernization. An entire neighborhood is devoted to the carefully preserved homes of the city's forefathers—many packed with their original belongings. Gorgeous 19th century architecture continues to flourish on Main Street, alongside coffee shops and start-up companies founded by the creative class. The citizens—a curious blend of partially employed paper mill workers, city government employees, history buffs, and hipsters—are united by their city's past, as well as the area's unique geographical landmarks (the breathtaking Willamette Falls, and Oregon City's bluffs rising 250 feet above sea level to split the town into upper and lower levels).

In fact, pretty much everything about Oregon City is terrific—with one notable exception. Directly across the Willamette sits the most detestable township in this, or possibly any other state: West Linn. It's been said that one cannot have Heaven without the existence of Hell, and the same can be said of Oregon City and its ridiculously terrible counterpart. A leering city teeming with criminality, excess, and moral decay, West Linn is like a penal colony disguised as a lifestyle mall, where every prisoner is allowed their own Lexus. They are despicable, loathsome creatures whose only goal is to bathe in their ill-gotten wealth and prey on the weakness and charity of others—the complete antithesis to the hard-working, good-natured, honest citizenry of Oregon City.

And this is why the Mercury has chosen Oregon City as the subject of this year's "Best of..." issue: (1) They celebrate but never gloat about their historical significance. (2) As soon as the paper mill is razed, it will be one of the most beautiful cities in Oregon. And (3) It isn't West Linn.

Join us now as we take a journey into Oregon's past, present, and future—a journey inside a gem.

A journey into the best of Oregon City. WSH

BEST ELEVATOR

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At its base: Oregon City! At its peak: The other part of Oregon City! While you might think you've ridden in an elevator before, you haven't done jack shit until you've experienced the exhilarating thrill of the Oregon City Municipal Elevator! Originally built in 1915 and rebuilt in 1955, the current elevator stands as a magnificent monument to man's iron-fisted dominion over Earth. After traveling through a subterranean tunnel—and being awed into submission by a series of striking historical photographs, animated through the high-tech magic of lenticular imagery—you'll board the elevator. Now you select a floor, right? Ha! Shows how much you know! There's only one place this elevator goes (Psst! the other part of Oregon City!). In addition, a friendly operator sitting in the elevator with you ("Please don't take pictures of me!") will happily operate this fantastical contraption for you. With thrilling buttery-smooth rides both up and down, you'll never find a better way to travel—and once you arrive at the top, you'll be treated to even more bits of historical trivia, as well as a jaw-dropping panoramic view of all of Oregon City, plus some other crap in the distance (that shithole West Linn). Think you know elevators? Think again. EH

Oregon City Municipal Elevator, 300 7th

BEST WATERFALL THAT'S NOT SOME PISS TRICKLE IN THE COLUMBIA GORGE

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Sure, Multnomah Falls might be taller, but Willamette Falls is the largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, it's the 18th largest in the world in terms of water volume. (Suck it, Guyana's Kaieteur Falls!) The waterfall is the whole reason Oregon City was settled where it was, which in turn is the reason the Oregon Trail ended where it did, which in turn is the reason Portland was established where it is, which in turn is the whole reason you're living here right now! So thanks, Willamette Falls! Without you we might be stuck living some place like Phoenix or Passaic. NL

Willamette Falls, the fucking Willamette River, since forever and until forever

BEST DYING INDUSTRY

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A paper mill has squatted on the top of Oregon City's scenic Willamette Falls for over 100 years, its looming edifice reminiscent of Arkham, splooging white pulp into the mighty river. Sadly, as the need for newsprint has plummeted in recent years, so have the paper mill's profits. The Blue Heron Paper Company, Oregon City's largest taxpayer, declared bankruptcy last year and laid off 10 percent of its 216-strong workforce. By the time we reach the era in which kids ask, "What am a book?" all that may be left at the top of the falls is a ghostly factory—and perhaps a lingering trace of splooge. SM

Blue Heron Paper Company, 419 Main

BEST HOUSE TO BE TRANSPORTED FROM LOWER OC TO UPPER OC BY A SINGLE HORSE

Dr. John McLoughlin (AKA "the Father of Oregon") was undeniably a badass. (Read more here.) In fact, he was such a badass, the city of Oregon City decided in the early 1900s to hoist his historic two-story foursquare home up from its former place next to Willamette Falls allllllllll the way up the bluff, on a narrow, single-lane road—using only some logs as rollers, and... wait... A SINGLE FREAKING HORSE? This monumental accomplishment took only one week, and now this historic and noteworthy home is perched on top of the bluff, overlooking beautiful downtown Oregon City (and sneering at those Cro-Magnons in West Linn). The only thing missing? A monument to the horse! I MEAN, REALLY! C'MON, PEOPLE! WSH

McLoughlin House, 713 Center

BEST WORST LIKENESS OF VERY FAMOUS PEOPLE

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Unlike Portland, Oregon City has the right idea about public murals, and their Trail of Murals, created for the 150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail, dots the walls throughout downtown. Of particular note, the "Collage of History" mural, located on the exterior wall of the Wheel Lounge, is rumored to include some very famous likenesses: Arnold Schwarzennegger, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, and Willie Nelson. So we looked. And squinted. And cocked our heads. And tried to be generous with our appraisals, but we're sorry—NONE of these portraits looked anything like who they were supposed to be! The Willie Nelson guy had reddish hair, I guess... but that's it. Robert Redford looked more like my great-aunt Agnes—who's been dead for years. However, one of the figures in the back did look a tiny bit like Bill Murray.... soooo, better luck on your 300th anniversary? NL

"Collage of History" mural, 5th & Main

BEST OREGON CITY BRIDGE THAT MAKES THE SELLWOOD BRIDGE LOOK TOTALLY SAFE

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While this historic, art deco archway is one of the more gorgeous bridges to span the Willamette, the Oregon City Bridge is pretty much a terror to cross, and will be shut down in early 2011 to be structurally refurbished. Why? Three reasons: (1) It is only 28 FEET WIDE, causing monstrous transportation problems for any vehicle other than your stupid electric Smart car. As for bikes? HAHAHAHAHAAAA! Good one. (2) It was built in 1922—and feels like it. And (3) it allows criminals and disease carriers from West Linn to cross into Oregon City. (Note to bridge designers: Put in a trap door on the lane traveling from west to east. That will solve problem #3.) WSH

Oregon City Bridge, 7th & Route 99E

BEST WARNING SIGN

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Overlook, High Street near Willamette Falls

BEST SUPER TORTA

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The super torta at Super Torta is super, there is no denying. What is it? It's a sandwich. No, a super Mexican sandwich. I had mine with tongue (yes, they have non-tongue options, but why would you even ask). It's a monster sandwich packed with meat, onions, beans, shredded lettuce, and tomatoes, all stuffed in a ciabatta-like bun. Perfect fuel for a tour of the OC! Don't forget that delicious smoky red salsa. PAC

Super Torta, 710 Washington

BEST PLACE TO ILLEGALLY FISH FOR STURGEON

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In April, the city banned fishing at this popular spot overlooking the Willamette, known as "the Wall." Mayor Alice Norris explains that when people reeled the fish in, they'd let them bang against the riverside cliffs—then release the stunned and handicapped fish back into the river. Thus ruining the fun for everyone—unless you think its "fun" to watch brain-damaged fish. SK

The Wall, McLoughlin Boulevard under the Oregon City Bridge

BEST SINISTER MANNEQUIN

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Oregon City's Main Street might as well be called be "Anytown, USA"—it's charming, quaint, and welcoming. Except, that is, for the window display at Bridgeview Beer and Wine Supply, home to the most terrifying thing in all of Oregon: Teetering at an ominous, half-drunken angle and loosely grasping a gigantic bottle of wine, this sinister, menacing golem will awkwardly jerk and shuffle through your nightmares, proudly wearing its ill-fitting T-shirt as it leers at you with a distinctly rape-y look in its painted-on eyes. EH

Bridgeview Beer and Wine Supply, 624 Main

BEST NEW DRINKING GAME: WHEELING

The rules: Head into the Wheel Lounge and buy an absent friend a drink. Their name goes onto the Wheel's "Buy a Friend a Drink" board. The drink is good for 30 days. Take a picture of the board with your friend's name, and later show it to said friend. They've now been "Wheeled" and have 30 days to go to the Wheel Lounge in Oregon City, collect their drink, and provide photo proof... OR they buy you two drinks at a bar of your choosing. "Friend, you've just been 'WHEELED.'" PAC

Wheel Lounge, 503 Main

BEST PLACE TO ANALYZE YOUR FAILURE

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Cascade Forensic Engineering & Failure Analysis Inc., 506 12th

BEST DUMP

Look, I know my dumps, and the Metro South Transfer Station is one of the best around. For one thing, it's indoors so you can't smell it even when you're right beside it. That is, unless you actually go inside. Then it smells. Still, they have a big viewing window perfect for hanging out and watching the glistening trash tractors push greasy debris into a huge baler while shouting "3PO! 3PO! Where could he be??" PAC

Metro South Transfer Station, 2001 Washington

BEST TROLLEY DRIVER NAMED LEO

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This a bad year to be in the historic trolley tour business. Oregon City is famed for being the end of the Oregon Trail, but hard times have closed both its historical museums, leaving only the interpretive center's gift shop open. But eight-year trolley veteran Leo (who's a school bus driver during the off season) still keeps it upbeat for the dwindling number of tourists who board his trolley, named Helen, for the free town tour. If you want to cut loose for a good time after the snail-paced tour of historic homes, Leo recommends karaoke at the Best Western. SM

Trolley available at marked stops throughout Oregon City, runs every 20 minutes, free

BEST LIBERAL DEFINITION OF "CLASSIC" LITERATURE

At the Friends of the Oregon City Public Library Used Book Store, they've got their inventory handily categorized by genre: cookbooks, children's, science fiction. Prominently displayed in the classics section, though, was the title Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam. This 2005 masterpiece tells the timeless tale of the Def Comedy Jam television program turned into an artsy-fartsy Broadway play, and then turned into a book. Hey, if they say it's a classic, we'll believe 'em. NL

FOCPL Used Bookstore, Center & 7th

BEST PLACE TO NOT SEE THE HISTORIC STERNWHEEL PICTURE DUE TO SOME THIEVING LOWLIFE ASS

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McAnulty N Barry's, 812 Main

BEST BAR ETCHING OF A CAT'S BUTTTHOLE

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Don't know about you, but nothing wets my parched whistle like knocking back a cold one at the bar while staring at a crudely etched drawing of a cat's butthole. Trails End Saloon is Oregon City's best—and only—blues venue, a respectable dive with plenty of odd knickknacks (Evel Knievel signed T-shirt, etc.) and copious etchings on their wooden bar. There's a teddy bear, an alien, and of course, their pièce de résistance, a feline's exposed butthole. EAC

Trail Ends Saloon, 1320 Main

BEST PIECE OF HEAVY EQUIPMENT

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Before being chased off the premises of the Blue Heron Paper Company—you're not exactly the Pentagon, guys!—we got this shot of a machine that turns any truck into a dump truck. A giant lever picks up a semi trailer and tips it nearly vertical to extract an entire load of woodchips in under a minute. Awesome! SK

Blue Heron Paper Company, 419 Main

BEST MOST CHARMING CHARM BRACELET

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Oregon City is charming! So goes the slogan of this downtown marketing initiative, through which you can collect nearly 30 charms from business and civic events. We did our best over the course of two days, but we are a few short. Okay, a lot short. We only got 11. Two from Super Torta <burp>. If you happen to visit Oregon City, please pick some up for us—they're only $1 each!—and send them to the Editorial Dept., Portland Mercury, 605 NE 21st Ave., Ste 200, Portland, OR, 97232. Thanks! MS

BEST PLACE TO TIE UP TRANSIENTS

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BEST GOOSE-INFESTED SWIMMING BEACH

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Navigate your way through an angry gauntlet of hostile Canadian geese, ready and willing to peck off your face, and this might be Oregon City's most charming and avian-friendly swimming hole. It's best to leave the stale bread on shore, though, when you go for a relaxing float—seriously, those honkers mean business. CF

Clackamas River in Clackamette Park, 1955 Clackamette

BEST PLACE TO NAME THE CITY OF PORTLAND

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Here, on the front porch of the Ermatinger House, William Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy allegedly held a coin toss to name their new city up north. Pettygrove wanted to name it after Portland, Maine; Lovejoy wanted to call it Boston. The rest, as they say is... you know what? Screw it. We held our own coin toss. PORTLAND'S NEW NAME IS TRENTON! ENJOY, BITCHES! SK

Ermatinger House, John Adams & 6th

BEST DISCARDED ALLEN IVERSON JERSEY

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Was it something he said? WSH

Best Ill-Informed Trolley Car Experience

In a calculated move to lure tourists, Oregon City offers free trolley rides for all those too lazy to walk more than a few blocks at a time. But not all trolley drivers are created equal, so you may not want to expect an accurate history lesson with your free ride. When was the historic Oregon City courthouse built? "Not sure," explained our driver. Okay then, why is it no longer standing? "Dunno, probably a fire or flood or something." Um, okay. Well, at least it's free. EAC

Trolley available at marked stops throughout Oregon City, runs every 20 minutes, free

BEST WAY TO DECLARE WAR ON WEST LINN

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Oh West Linn, you think you're so much better than Oregon City folk, don't ya?! Well, take this, you well-fed bunch of pansy hill-squatters. Once they get this cannon back in workin' order, you'll be face first in a melon of lead—considering all your fancy airs, it's a wonder they didn't declare war sooner. Now where'd that gunner get off to? CF

Historic cannon by the Highland Stillhouse, 201 S 2nd

THE BEST WHISKY YOU CAN'T TRY

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As a traditional Scottish restaurant and pub, serving up excellent food in a transportive atmosphere of artifacts and memorabilia from the old country, it is not unreasonable to inquire whether the Highland Stillhouse brews their own lager. They don't, but they do have their own whisky. Even better! You might say, "In that case, bring us a round of the house whisky!" Oh but you see, it's not here right now. Where is it? Oh, well it's in Scotland, obviously. When will it be here? When it's ready, of course! And when will that be? Oh, probably in about... 18 years or so. Excellent. We will be back then. MS

Highland Stillhouse, 201 S 2nd

BEST FOOD THAT TASTES LIKE CIGARETTES

I wanted to try something exotic at the authentically Scottish Highland Stillhouse, but unfortunately they were out of haggis balls and their special Scotch whisky is still distilling in barrels in Scotland [see above]. So I went for the mushy peas, which eerily resembled green spackle in texture and cigarette butts in flavor. I'm not sure all mushy peas taste this way, but I recommend them for ex-smokers who miss the flavor of nicotine in their dinners. SM

Highland Stillhouse, 201 S 2nd

BEST PLACE TO WATCH NED LANNAMANN MAKE LONELY PHONE CALLS

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Rightly proud of its illustrious, fascinating history, Oregon City is covered with "Tele Tales" signs at various landmarks—one need only dial a number to hear the enthralling history of Oregon City recited to them by a friendly robot! Such technology is best used for educational purposes or to amuse small children and the elderly, but if you're the Mercury's Ned Lannamann, you can also repeatedly call the system to sate your deep longing for the sweet sound of a voice that isn't your own. With Tele Tales, Ned can be confident in the knowledge that—unlike every other time he uses his telephone—his number will not be blocked, nor will his call be declined or awkwardly, prematurely ended. EH

Various sites around Oregon City

BEST PICNIC LOCALE TO PRETEND YOU JUST COMPLETED THE OREGON TRAIL AFTER A YEAR ON THE ROAD AND LOSING HALF YOUR FAMILY TO DYSENTERY

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The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is a beautiful picnic spot, with groomed lawns, garden, Wild West-style theatrical stage, and fire pit. Because of budget cuts, it's also completely deserted—kinda like a westward-traveling covered wagon after li'l Mary drowned in the Blue River, Caroline dropped from dysentery, and Grace met her end when the ferry capsized. Enjoy a packed lunch and imagine you are one of the lucky pioneers who just earned every delicious mouthful of potato salad with your blood, sweat, and tears. CF

End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 1726 Washington

BEST PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE REMINDER TO GO TO CHURCH

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Spicer Brothers Produce, 508 14th

BEST ILLEGAL DRUNKEN ROLLERSKATING RINK

While chowing down on spicy salmon jerky at Tony's Fish Market (1316 Washington), the Oregon City native fishmongers gave me the lowdown on what kids do for fun in the tiny town: get drunk at the Smurfit building down at the Blue Heron paper mill, whose vast, concrete floors make for excellent intoxicated roller skating. Just keep an eye out for security guards. By the way, ROLLER SKATING IS NOT A CRIME! SM

Blue Heron Paper Company, 419 Main

BEST RAPE TUNNEL AND/OR PLACE TO GET CRUSHED BY A FALLING BOULDER

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A majority of downtown OC lies in the shadow of a towering bluff. At the town's southern-most edge, this bluff and the Willamette River would almost touch if it weren't for the paper mill and Route 99E. Therefore if one wants to travel south of this point on foot, one is forced to enter THE RAPE TUNNEL. Now this is not its official name and, as far as we know, no one has ever been raped in this tunnel, nor within the confines of Oregon City—though we know this crime happens on almost an hourly basis in West Linn. That's why one may pass through this particular rape tunnel in safety and confidence—until you exit the other side. That's where you can easily be killed via blunt trauma by a boulder falling from the massive cliffs above. Just another reason to never leave Oregon City proper. Life is nicer there. WSH

Rape Tunnel and Boulder Cliffs, 99E and Railroad

BEST FOOD THAT LOOKS LIKE A BUG, BUT ISN'T

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Tony's Fish Market, 1316 Washington

BEST ALLEY TO GET ATTACKED BY THE HACKY SACK GANG

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Life in Oregon City—while undeniably fantastic—is not always idyllic. Newcomers should be alerted to stay clear of downtown alleyways where a roving gang of toughs known as the "Hacky Sack Gang" sometimes congregate. On a recent visit, I witnessed this gang in action, kicking a footbag around to the obvious nervousness of passersby—primarily myself. One of the street toughs looked up at me and smiled, as if beckoning, "Want to play?" Well, I've seen The Warriors too many times to be ignorant of that old come-on. I fled for my life... lest I be lured into their evil circle, where my head and spleen would surely become the next victims of their "full hack." WSH

Hacky Sack Alley, 712 Main

BEST WAY TO LOCK A DOOR

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Have you ever had to take a shit at a bar? It's not ideal, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, right? If there's a chance that your celery binge is going to catch up with you at McAnulty's, you should be aware that the ladies' restroom (which does not have an anteroom separating the toilet from the door to the hallway) doesn't "lock," per se. I mean, it has a chain system that prevents anyone actually walking in, sure, but it will open wide enough to allow, say, a cat or small dog to enter. Or an arm holding a camera. Just thought you should know. Bottoms up! MS

McAnulty N Barry's, 812 Main

BEST PLACE TO LEARN ABOUT MARRYING A THREE-YEAR-OLD CHILD

There's a nice docent at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center who can inform you about the Oregon Trail pioneers' tribulations when they arrived in Oregon City. She will also gleefully tell you how they were promised free acreage, but they had to be married to get their deed. Did these procrastinatin' pioneers get hitched before they started traveling? Nope. They got married on the trail, sometimes to three-year-olds. Slap a bonnet on that baby and no one looked askance at their cradle-robbing land grabbing. Ah, the good olde days. CF

End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, 1726 Washington

Best Bar to Watch Fox News with a Bunch of Depressed Old Men

If you like your Fox News L-O-U-D, your livers pickled, and have lost the will to live, the Wheel Lounge is your dark, depressing new home. With odd lingerie photos taped to the wall and Sean Hannity's voice bellowing from above, the Wheel is just like drinking in your uncle's rumpus room. Well, before he hung himself. EAC

Wheel Lounge, 503 Main

BEST PLACE TO REMEMBER EVERYTHING YOU EVER DESPERATELY TRIED TO FORGET ABOUT STAR WARS: EPISODE I—THE PHANTOM MENACE

Full of every sort of collectible you can possibly imagine—from weird old LPs to Disneyland-branded ashtrays to creepy board games—Coin Corner & Hobbies also features the world's biggest nerd trap! Presided over by a life-size cardboard standee of Admiral Ackbar, an entire corner of the store is crammed with old Star Wars and Star Trek memorabilia, from (apparently homemade) beer steins in the shapes of the proud visages of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Chewbacca, to tattered Star Wars comics, to creepy Liam Neeson-in-Jedi-robes action figures. There are Episode I storybooks. There are pieces of Episode I Taco Bell tie-in merchandise. There are toys, books, cards, and whatever else you can think of, all of them related in some way to podracing. There are Jar Jar Binks bobble heads. It is beautiful, and it is horrible. EH

Coin Corner & Hobbies, 215 7th

BEST PLACE TO DRINK HURRICANE HIGH GRAVITY

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The bushes behind the historic John McLoughlin House

BEST VOYEURISTIC SPOT IN TOWN

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Hey Mr. Perv, got a boat? Then drop anchor (and trou) on the river to watch swimsuit-clad teenagers frolic in the confluence of the Clackamas and Willamette Rivers. Still obeying the letter of the law on your restraining order, you can sit back and drink a cold one while taking in the sights. CF

Clackamas & Willamette Rivers

BEST PLACE TO SEE... OH, SHIT! THAT'S A REDHEADED GHOST!

Think municipal elevators can't be haunted? THINK AGAIN, A-HOLE! The Oregon City Municipal Elevator is totally haunted—and by the specter of a redheaded boy. Locals have claimed to see the boy hanging around the elevator... and then without warning, mysteriously disappear. No one seems to know how the boy may have died, or why he haunts this particular spot... but we suspect this elevator divides the spiritual plane, and this boy's wailing soul is trapped in between—unable to go up or down. Or the entire thing could be a bunch of horseshit designed to attract tourism. Either way, good story! (For even more great ghost stories, be sure to take the walking tour of haunted Oregon City, which includes tons of creepy, murder-y, grisly, death-y stories, and other fascinating facts. Go to nwghosttours.com for details.) WSH

Oregon City Municipal Elevator, 300 7th

BEST R2D2 IMPERSONATOR

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Overlook, High Street near Willamette Falls

BEST POTENTIAL EMPLOYEE

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It's absolutely unfuckingbelievable that Joey is unemployed. Of all the people I met in Oregon City, he was by far the most helpful, and he clearly has deep loyalty and enthusiasm for the community in which he was raised. Assumptions make an ass out of u and me, so don't think that his neck tattoos indicate a lack of respect for the preservation of Oregon's history. He enthused over beers about the various historically preserved homes that dot the town, pointed out that it makes no sense to place an important tourist destination like the interpretive center directly across from a dump (which he is completely right about), and gave me incisive information regarding the economic disparities between the entitled faux-millionaire buttholes of West Linn and the working-class creatives of Oregon City. Joey is a fucking gem, with a background in local history and auto mechanics, a possible criminal record (like you don't), and a great fucking attitude. Give this man a job! MS

Joey, various Oregon City-area barstools, often

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