I’ve been living in #thedalles for a long time now, and recently had to ask myself, do ilovethedalles.com?

When I first moved to the city to work as a photojournalist for The Dalles Daily Chronicle (a small daily newspaper publishing six days a week) I recall a man telling me that unless you had lived in town for at least a couple of decades, you were perceived by locals as being one of “them” as opposed to one of “us.” Strangers—those who were not born here—were, like children, to be seen but not heard. New ideas died on arrival.

The city, he said, was low and mean and unkind to strangers. I was surprised he thought so—but then I’d worked as a journalist for newspapers on the Oregon Coast and was pretty intimate with low and mean. #thedalles wasn’t that bad.

“You’ll have to wait till you have been here for a couple of decades, maybe they’ll listen,” the man said.

Is #thedalles low and mean? Looking back on my first decade in town, I would probably use the word “depressed.” #thedalles was a long time healing from the closure of the aluminum plant—a major employer—not just once but twice. Development has brought jobs, but bumped up costs as well.

But the city, even then, was putting up a fight. The murals on Federal Street between First and Second Streets are a case in point. The “historic” streetlights and paving stones throughout downtown are another. So is the Riverfront Trail, despite the fact that it remains incomplete (there are those fighting still to maintain and complete it.)

Columbia Gorge Community College, the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, Fort Dalles Readiness Center, the Port of The Dalles Industrial Park—all were formed or transformed in the last two decades by those who knew #thedalles was gritty and tough and saw a future for it.

The “historic” identity was also established long ago.

That said, I was a little surprised when the new murals went up downtown—they were not on a historical theme—and I didn’t hear a single complaint.

They were out-of-the-ordinary, flamboyant and even cartoonish.

And #thedalles went with the flow, has even embraced it.

Perhaps the city has become more open to new ideas. Perhaps a few of the mean people have died (or are housed at the new jail and their children being educated at the new middle school.) Hard to know, impossible to say.

The times they are a changin’. Again.

During the Small Business Revolution airing of #thedalles as one of five contestant towns, I was struck by the number and variety of people attending the event. And that is the tip of the iceberg—at The Dalles Art Center they are alltogetherthedalles.com, the City of The Dalles’ beautification committee is going strong, Blue Zones Project The Dalles is helping clean things up on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and thedallesmainstreet.org is vibrant and active.

It all feels very new—what with all the .orgs, .coms and #hashtags.

But it all feels very old as well—I remember the guys in “moon suits” cleaning the mountains of pigeon dung from the Commodore when it was gutted and remodeled. I remember the Sunshine Mill Winery when it was a decrepit eyesore on the east end of town, everything inside covered in historic flour dust.

We are, however, in a better place today than we were back then—the people of #thedalles aren’t so low and mean, and you no longer have to be here for a couple of decades before your voice is heard.

Editors note: In truth, the original question—do ilovethedalles.com?—has gone unanswered above. Sometimes yes. It’s fun seeing a new crowd recognize the unique qualities of #thedalles. Sometimes no. But unless your just visiting, every town is mix of the good, the bad and the ugly.

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