EUGENE, Ore. If it seems as if this college town is stuck in a time warp because of its enduring affinity for track and field, a sport whose U.S. popularity peaked in 1972, it's not the only throwback cultural touchstone locals embrace.
This is a hippie haven, man.
Meet Frog, joke-book author, landmark civil-rights defendant, rubber-chicken strangler and begoggled man 'bout town who is so hirsute that he puts Santa Claus to shame.
Say hello to Raven Moon, artiste who thought outside the gourd and crafted rattles using a secret ingredient (cellulose gum) and healing gemstones provided by partner Yana Breeze.
Get a load of the kaleidoscopic tie-dye wares offered at Dylanistic Maggie's Farm, presided over by the multi-hued Maggie Duncan.
Check out those crazily shaped fungi at the Mushroomery, where the White Elms are hubcap-large and, rest assured, contain no psilocybin but were cultivated using strict biodynamic farming.
Lend your ears to "Dead Air," a popular local radio show that plays only the Grateful Dead, sponsored by the local smoke shop.
Pull up a chair at Laughing Planet Cafe, where the specials include the Soylent Green Bowl and the Che Guevara burrito, or bop over to the Southern-vegan fusion Cornbread Cafe for chicken fried tempah or Phish Sticks.
The calendar confirms that this is, indeed, 2012. But for a large chunk of Eugene, the early '70s remain, as if amberized. How else to explain not only the track fans' Steve Prefontaine fixation but also the strong counterculture element in this town that many here believe is, per capita, more hippie-happy than any place in America, Berkeley included?
"Berkeley's more fashionable, more cosmopolitan than Eugene, you know," said Kate Winter, strolling downtown sporting a leather tiara with wings. "We've got a lot of old-guard hippies, not the new, hipster ones like Berkeley or Portland (Ore.)."
The nexus of Hippie Eugene is centered in two locales: the Whiteaker Neighborhood on the outskirts and the venerable Saturday Market smack dab in downtown.
Whiteaker is a funky, neo-anarchist enclave where every front yard is an art installation and communal living is the norm.
In earlier decades, Whiteaker was said to be a training ground for the radical enviro-terrorist movement Earth Liberation Front and, later, spawned leaders of the protests at the 1999 World Trade Organization summit in Seattle.
Today, it's tamer but no less progressive. The Reality Kitchen boasts a free book exchange and art and poetry spaces, the Italian restaurant is housed in a red, yellow and green travel trailer, and even the mainstream restaurant, Pizza Research Institute, measures its pies in square inches (Yeah, I'll have a 14-inch, uh, 153.9335-square- incher, please.)
More accessible to the less venturesome is the Saturday Market, at 43 years running said to be the oldest continuously run weekly market/ bazaar in the country.
That's where you'll find Frog and Raven Moon and Maggie and Dustin Olsen, the 'shroom dude. The market takes up four blocks of downtown Eugene from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is a locavore's paradise, featuring produce, artisan jewelry, toys and services ranging from psychic readings to Feldenkrais, plus musical acts such as Accordions Anonymous.
"We're not some juried art show," said Beth Little, general manager of Saturday Market. "We're the traditional American marketplace model where people come downtown to sell their home-grown products and hand-crafted wares. The maker is the seller; it's not a corporate model. There's something beautiful and pure when producer meets customer, directly."
Duncan has been selling tie dye for 23 years at the market and does a steady business. But it's not about, like, sheer profit. It's about "a gathering of people making what they make and putting it out there and putting our energy together to make it happen. We like to pride ourselves in being unique and eclectic."
That concept is given human form in the personage of Frog, whose given name is David Miller. Resplendent in aviator goggles, a wooden sandwich board touting his joke books and a dancing-frog tattoo, Frog came to Eugene not long after graduating from college in 1970 with a journalism degree.
He began selling herbal flea collars but soon turned to hawking self-published joke books. He'd hang around 13th and Kinkaid streets, near the University of Oregon campus, selling books on the street. In the early 1990s, Eugene police ticketed him, based on an ordinance prohibiting public sidewalk sale of anything other than food, beverages, flowers or balloons. Frog's case drew support of First Amendment lawyers. He won in municipal court and appellate court, but the city (at a cost of more than $50,000, according to news reports) appealed to the state supreme court. Frog emerged victorious.
He's been street royalty downtown ever since.
"I sell the funniest joke books in the world, possibly the universe," he said through a distinct lisp, since he's missing most of his front teeth. "We got a lot of alternative types like me around Eugene. But they aren't as good at telling jokes as me."
One of Frog's most popular jokes: "Why are there so many hippies in Eugene? Because there are no jobs."
EUGENE HIPPIE CULTURE
Eugene Saturday Market (http://eugenesaturdaymarket.org): Eighth & Oak in downtown, April through mid-November, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Four city blocks are given up to the counterculture, replete with organic produce and artisan bakers, local artists and performers.
Whiteaker Neighborhood, Blair Boulevard between Third and Seventh avenues. Instead of front yards, many houses boast art projects. This is the nexus of Eugene's anarchist, hippie and neo-punk scene, anchored by the Reality Kitchen, a community meeting place with a free lending library and open-mike nights.
Last Friday Art Walk (http://lastfridayartwalk.wordpress.com/author/lastfridayartwalk), Whiteaker Neighborhood: Check out the yard art don't miss the Bicycle Yard and the house with Lenin's stern portrait above the front door.
Sam Bonds Garage (www.sambonds.com) at 407 Blair Blvd.: It's a nightclub with everything from bluegrass to rock, a microbrew, art gallery and community hangout.
Pizza Research Institute at 530 Blair Blvd.: Voted Eugene's best pizza by the Eugene Weekly for seven straight years, pies include pesto-herb roasted potatoes and pears, as well as a Granny Smith apple, smoked gouda and roasted walnut offering.
Laughing Planet Cafe (http://laughingplanetcafe.com) at 760 Blair Blvd. This is the second Laughing Planet (the original is in Portland, Ore.), and its owner boasts that he introduced San Francisco Mission District-style burritos to the Pacific Northwest. Vegan offerings abound, but diners can add chicken or beef.
Cornbread Cafe at 1290 W. Seventh St.: It calls itself "Vegan Southern Comfort Food," and you won't find any meat, breaded or otherwise, here. But the chef does lard the tofu, tempeh and eggplant with plenty of deep-fried stylings. Healthy food was never so bad for you.
WOW Hall (www.wowhall.org) at 291 W. Eighth Ave.: Eugene's alternative concert venue is in the historically preserved Woodmen of the World Hall. It features reggae, roots and rock.