At one of the intersections within the human maze that is the courtyard in front of the Ashland Food Co-op, the earnest-sounding gentleman and what appeared to be a new acquaintance were wrapping up a brief discussion.
"I'm going shopping now," she said.
"Well," he replied, "thank you for your cognitive offering."
So it goes in Ashland, where the importance of being earnest in matters large and small feeds the harmonic convergence.
Except, that is, when THEY want to do something to disrupt the equilibrium that WE enjoy.
Who are THEY and WE, you ask? Well, that depends on the issue. And the day of the week. And whether the moon is visible in the afternoon.
And, obviously, whether you are a WE or a THEY on a particular issue.
Take, for instance, the wildly earnest discussion over the future of downtown drive-thru services.
This began back at nexus — the co-op, where the neighboring Umpqua Bank has a drive-thru. If only it were gone, THEY say, it would improve the maneuverability in the oft-crowded parking lot and continue Ashland's march to becoming more "pedestrian-friendly."
Presumably, all bank drive-thru services would be shooed to the hinterlands — along with, potentially, the banks — which would make downtown more friendly for pedestrians pedestriating about on their errands ... such as, you know, going to the bank.
Don't worry, THEY know what you're thinking and are one pedestrian-friendly step ahead of you. See, WE don't have to use drive-thrus at the bank anymore because everyone now does their banking online!
What???? You don't do your banking online? By CHOICE???? Or maybe WE are elderly? Or WE are a technophobe? Or WE just want to get a root beer Dum Dum at the teller window?
How DARE you hate pedestrians!
Only in Ashland — a town that doubts the safety and effectiveness of cellphone towers, "smart" meters and vaccinations — would a logical train of thought arrive at a station wherein banking by computer would be considered as close to universal.
The yin and yang of this argument forms a perfect circle — much like the one traveled by non-pedestrians attempting to find a parking space at the Plaza. But one step at a time.
Thankfully, the drive-thrus have been spared momentarily in true Ashland fashion by a recent non-decision by the City Council, which moonwalked away from bringing the matter up for a vote.
Hey, WE like walking through town just as much as the next person; but WE also like our freedom of choice when it comes to transportation options. Still, this will not keep the THEYs from attempting to impose their will on the WEs. For it was always thus ... may God have mercy on our soles.
When you live in a community the likes of Ashland (and yes, believe it or not, there are other communities like Ashland out there), the battle between what is "best" for "everyone" depends on where you're standing. Or, as either Confucious or Yogi Berra said, the person who knows what is best for everybody hasn't met enough people.
This mindset can be witnessed when tourists become semi-permanent residents and think Ashland would be a great place to live ... IF the city just had a few of the amenities THEY enjoy in their current hometown.
The epitome of this subset would be the story (perhaps apocryphal) of the THEY who came before the City Council and claimed to be disturbed by the late-night rumble of trains past their new residence ... in the Railroad District.
Asked what they had expected when moving to an area with that name, THEY spoke of a historic, quiet area. But certainly no trains.
But let us retrace our tracks, for there are circles within circles to consider, and WE are brought back around to the Plaza. More to the point, the recent attempts to come up with a plan to renovate the Plaza area in a way that will make everyone happy.
Roll that concept around your yin and yang for a moment. The discussion is still freshly minted, and already the WE and THEY forces run the risk of becoming a flock of Goldilockses finding nothing they consider "just right."
Proposed concrete benches have drawn fire as being magnets for disruptive elements (in the Ashland Plaza???) ... and for being, well, really uncomfortable places to sit.
Some THEYs want the traffic circle to become a half-moon, to cut down on the number of cars (there's that "pedestrian-friendly" conundrum again), though WEs noted this would make an often comical driving experience even worse as the same number of vehicles would no doubt search out those fewer parking spaces.
Maybe the Plaza should be bigger, or modeled after those across Europe and Latin America. Maybe there should be public art (although that can of worms was opened a few years ago to catastrophic effect). And while mosaic tiles have been suggested for the surface, the goal would also be to make them able to drain the occasional mini-flood.
The redesign should be sustainable, of course, and should keep as much greenery as possible ... but not so much that it becomes a mud pit and detracts from modern (but historically accurate) touches. Some trees would be removed and replaced with others more likely to thrive in confined settings.
The statue of Iron Mike is in no danger, but no word on the "living statues" who perform on the weekends. Speaking of performers, there were suggestions of a stage area for the musicians, activists, fire dancers and others who use the Plaza as their open-air theater — as long as this wouldn't interfere with the benches, the greenery, the parking spaces, the cultural integrity and the individual memories of those who want it to remain how they remember it when THEY were young (whichever decade that was before whatever subsequent changes came about).
"It's not one of our goals," said one of the architects involved with the project, "to exclude any segment of the population."
Good luck with that. And remember, cognitive offerings are easier to stomach when WE are enjoying a Dum Dum.
Mail Tribune News Editor Robert Galvin, who often can be seen walking or driving through Ashland, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org