Monday, November 24, 2008

Valley River Center, made in China

Here in Eugene, Oregon, I decided to go on a little walk down by the Williamette river. Throughout Eugene the Williamette is flanked by large parks and community gardens right? I imagine it as the core of the city- it is geographically located between 3 of the city's largest shopping districts, Valley River, Oakway, Downtown, and further up the river it is close to downtown Springfield as well. At the Williamette I expect to see the best of Eugene's past and present meld into a bright future.

I headed through the Whiteaker neighborhood where smallish homes built of wood often stand in small gardens with picket fences and wild yards. To my inexperienced eye, I would say some of the hippie spirit remains in the Whitaker. I also saw a couple of gardens marked as "Victory Gardens" and I wondered if people had caught onto Michael Pollan's call for a vast new change of American food producing habits by planting gardens. He writes of it in his letter to Barack Obama.

I cut by Lane Community college down a bike path towards Sladen Park. There I saw a mysterious man trudging through the fir trees and I decided to continue to the river. At Jacob's Park along the river there is a beautiful stretch of beach filled with white water birds and a few ducks. I wonder if the birds come there to bathe in the patch of slow current or to ask for some food from people like me. The grass was spotted with green droppings. That is more than reconstituted bread, I thought. People seemed to be choosing the earthen path close to river rather than the asphalt bike path so I followed it right through some muddy spots and a carpet of yellow fall leaves. All along the river, here, there are tall deciduous trees and many still have brilliant yellow leaves that twinkle and twist in the wind. Many paths lead to private spots along the water. Later, i saw a man standing next to the water, and another fishing.

I crossed the foot bridge and found myself at the back side of Valley River Center. Rather, I found myself on the edge of a large parking lot. A few cars were parked closer to the buildings. Walking along the side of Executive Parkway, the access road to the parking lots, (there are no sidewalks) I wondered where I could find the entrance to Valley River Center.

The large cars zipping around were disorienting after the walk on footpaths by the river. In fact, the whole outside area of the Center was built on the scale of cars. After passing the large black monolithic empty seeming buildings sitting in the parking lot next to Keefer Mazda I found my way to Goodpasture Island Road, another street built on the scale of 10 foot long people powered by gasoline (cars). Finally, the entrance to Valley River.

Valley River is owned. I once tried to register voters here, and was asked to leave. I left, after all, it is someone's property. It was built, as a lord would build a castle, in 1969, and "heralded as the largest shopping mall between Portland and San Francisco". It still is and, in 2006 it was worth $187.5 million. Beyond it's walls are "over 130 national stores and restaurants." It's owner is the Macerich Company which owns 95 malls in 19 states, one of the largest such owners in the US.

I enter JCPenny, a large store with beautiful clothes in tight professional packaging. I notice that a shirt is made in China and I wonder- how much of the cost of these clothes comes from shipping costs?

Flannel plaid, made in China.
A hanger of shirts made in India.
Even the "Oregon Duck" sweatshirts are made in Pakistan. Is the "Oregon Duck" worth it's weight in petroleum fuel costs?
A childs "Fast Track Pinball" set, made in China. The clerks eye me.
Union Bay Bronco loose boot- Hong Kong.
American Living. A western style corduroy American Living shirt with an eagle and flag on it. Made in India. Hat with similar eagle- Made in China. A sweater with the eagle and flag knitted into the material all across the chest. Surely this is made in America. Nope, made in Hong Kong.
Havanera Guayabera shirts, made in China.

Finally, I ask a clerk, "My uncle is a patriot and I was looking to get him something made in America. Do have anything made in America here?"

"Maybe Levy's? Naw, not Levy's," he looks at another clerk. She agrees. He recommends I speak to a manager at customer service in their office.

I meet an older woman who says, "I don't know, you can check the tags, we don't order. Not much is made here anymore."

As I check a lamp stand made in China, a young lady in an American flag themed shirt working the floor says, "Everything here is made in China or Vietnam. You can check the 'Made In Oregon' store in the mall?" She smiles.

On the way I stop at a booth selling Hickory Farms sausage and cheese. I ask her where the sausage and cheese comes from. The lady finds a magazine somewhere in her booth; seeing the mailing address, she says, "Ohio!"
I ask where the food actually comes from, like, "where are the cows?" and she just shakes her head and says, "I don't know."

Inside this mall I could be anywhere in America- among the "130 national chains and restuarants." In fact, with all those clothes made in India and China I could be almost anywhere in the world- if the Macerich Company owned places like this outside America. Santa sits with a brilliant smiling little child on his lap. I know he and the elves live far away. I just didn't think they lived in China.

The Made In Oregon store is full of nicely wrapped transportable gift ideas! 2oz of Gary West meats Oregon Elk meat from Jacksonville, Or, $8. The beef is $6. 2oz of Tory's Smoked Sockeye wild salmon from Oregon City, $11 (I don't think you can catch Sockeye in Oregon city anymore, I might be wrong. It said, "Pacific Salmon" on the box, so I imagine it was from Alaska, although on the box there is a picture of a native man dip netting in the river.)

At the back of the store are the Pendletons. A Pendleton "trail shirt" that is "good for life" has a tag on its button saying "Exclusive Pendleton Fabric woven in our USA mills." Another tag reads "Oregon heritage of quality that is woven into every product. So when you buy a Pendleton, you're buying a part of Oregon." $98. You're also buy a little part of a factory in Mexico because the "trail shirt" is assembled in Mexico.

Only the Pendlton Blankets are actually made in the USA. These may be the only article of clothing sold at the entire Valley River Center that is made in the USA. Their tag reads "Pendleton Indian Friendship Beaver State Indian Blankets. Made in the USA." $110-$198. Another tag reads,

"Long before there were white men in America, there were blankets. Some were stitched together from fox or wolf pelts. Some were woven or twisted from thin strips of cedar bark fiber, bird, beaver or rabbit skins. Some were loomed from wild cotton and colored with native dyes.

Then from Europe, came wool and still more colors for the native artist's expressions. And later came men from Pendleton woolen mills, who studied the designs, striding to capture their true spirit in blankets produced with modern machinery. the work of those men resulted in the first Indian inspired Pendleton robes and shawls.

Today, that tradition of complimentary creation lives on in Pendleton Indian Robes and Shawls, still woven from the finest fleece wool, meant to be used and cherished from generation to generation."

Oregon's minimum wage law is $7.95 an hour. For someone earning such a wage it would take over 23 hours of labor to buy one 64'x80' blanket- the only article of clothing one can buy at Valley River that is made in America. (I suppose that is less than the perhaps 350 hours it can take, including preparation of materials (sheering sheep, cleaning and carding yarn, spinning yarn, dying yarn, and weaving), to weave a Navajo rug. These rugs are sold for $700 to $4000 each.)

Back over on the south side of the Williamette, in the George Owens Rose garden, there is a large Black Tartarian Cherry tree, perhaps the largest of its kind in the state. It stands approximately 161 years old this year. I wonder how many dollars I could pay for one cherry. Yet, I imagine, if this tree still bears fruit, most of it probably just rots in the grass.

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