Oregon Tavern Age: Pre Lives!

I sat at a window table in a dive Portland bar with a well gin and tonic and worked on my book about Pre. I was preparing to read (again) Senator Hatfield’s lengthy and extraordinary Senate Congressional Record entry honoring Pre. A red-haired man sat at the bar and watched a rerun of a game show originally broadcast in the 1970s. In a far corner, an elderly woman lost money in a slot machine. The bartender stood in the kitchen rustling up tacos for a patron smoking outside. The dive’s décor consisted of almost entirely University of Oregon football corporate crap.

It was noon on a weekday. Brittney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” played on the jukebox.

I had printed out Hatfield’s entry and thought about bringing along a magnifying glass to read the tiny font, but decided otherwise. It might look weird in the dive, but then again, no one would really give a shit.

Barely enough light leaked through the filthy blinds so he angled the stack of papers in such a way that a neon sign for a crap corporate lager provided additional illumination. I put on his glasses and got down to business.

What an official tribute to a unique and influential inspiring American life! And all recorded in a publication that began when America began. I wondered if other American athletes had been accorded such an honor after their deaths. If so, then it meant their legacy transcended mere sports, statistics and championships, and that America had finally come around in some way or another for the better. Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Hank Aaron and Muhammad Ali, for sure. Billie Jean King when she passes. Who else? Bill Russell? Of course Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

There Pre was in print and will remain.

I underlined key passages to include in the book. I was actually tearing up a bit as he read.

“Last Dance” from Donna Summer began playing.

The red-haired man formerly sitting at the bar materialized at my table and pointed at the papers.

He was anywhere from 30-60 years old and his face was riddled with meth scars and tiny boils. He flashed an incredible smile.

“How the fuck can you read that?” he said with gusto. “It’s so small. And what the hell is it?”

I laughed and explained the document as part of the official proceeding of the US Senate on July, 14, 1975 and that this particular section concerned the death of Steve Prefontaine. I was working on a book about him. Did the man know who Pre was?


He rolled up his left pant leg and revealed a tattoo of the University of Oregon’s classic Donald Duck look-alike logo that corporate flacks had eradicated decades ago when Duck football hit the big time. The same thing had occurred to the Oregon State University’s goofy beaver logo. Now the Duck and Beaver logos were fierce and menacing, instead of friendly and fun. Graphic designers had turned benign vegetarian creatures into savage human carnivores! Who wants to wear that on a t-shirt? Why the anger? What happened to our culture?

The man asked if he could read one of the pages. I handed one over.

“Holy shit! You got your work cut out for you.”

I agreed.

“PRE HELPED SAVE MY LIFE!” said the man. He was more shouting than speaking. “THE DRUGS!”

The writer stared into that lunar landscape of a face and knew the man was telling the truth. Who lies about deriving inspiration about Pre?

“You got to write that fucking book!” said the man. “I’ll buy it and I don’t even fucking read!”

The man gave me a little tap on his shoulder for encouragement.

It was the first time I’d experienced that sort of thing. It felt damn good.

I told him I would finish the book, and was about ready to ask the man the details of of Pre’s crucial influence on the man’s current sobriety when he wheeled around and flew out the door.