Monday, December 1, 2008
Diners I Have Known #4
Up to now I’ve written about I’ve written about diners from a "mythic" past—partly remembered “fact” & partly remembered “fiction.” This month’s diner comes from the recent past, however—& probably also belongs to the future, unlike the Miss Bellows Falls or the Blue Moon, or certainly the defunct Ed’s Café. Which isn’t to say that its presence in the current flow of my life prevents it from commingling the real & the imaginary, even tho neither Eberle nor I had ever visited it until early in this quickly waning calendar year.
I’ve written previously about Winnemucca, an oddly stark oasis in Nevada’s high desert, about how I’ve passed thru Winnemucca at various existential crossroads. Eberle & I have passed thru Winnemucca together a number of times, too, on the way to visit dear friends in both the Bay Area & in SoCal, & all roads lead to Winnemucca—actually, the one road, US Highway 95, leads to Winnemucca, where it intersects with I-80, which then either leads back to the two-lane lonesomeness of US 95 south thru the salt flats north of Fallon, or on to the Sierras & the multi-lane mayhem of Sacramento & the Bay Area.
It seems that no matter when we leave Idaho, we need to eat when we reach Winnemucca: this can be anytime between early afternoon or my own “personal best” of about 9:15 a.m. But Winnemucca isn’t a Mecca for gourmands—it could actually seem to be a dilemma to chow down here before rolling across the stretches of tumbleweed & lethal hot springs & truck stop casinos to the west…. Fade to flashback….
It was a Sunday evening, early March this year. I was sitting in the music room, playing the guitar, not intently but in a slightly distracted fashion. There was a lot of free-floating anxiety—a long, & ultimately personal story, but a member of Eberle’s family was involved in a rather horrifying divorce, & there was serious speculation that Eberle might be subpoenaed as a witness for the “other” side—something she didn’t want to happen; her family urged her to sequester herself—the underlying motivations for their guidance were muddled, at least. She came into the music room & we talked—about 17 hours later we were in a fully loaded Subaru headed south on US 95, having dodged the subpoena we were sure would inevitably arrive in a Sheriff’s car just as we were loading the guitar or the last backpack….
With a mid afternoon start, we only made it to Jordan Valley, OR that day—having progressed from the mud & snow & cold of Indian Valley to the bare, frozen ground & snow patches & savage wind of the high Oregon desert at winter’s last hurrah; we stayed in a second floor room in the incongruously monikered Sahara Motel in a room with stunningly retro fixtures & a door held closed against the wind by a guitar case…a story in itself.
Next morning we were off southward, & we pulled into Winnemucca in the late morning, exhilarated by taking it on the lam to the Bay Area & discombobulated by the anxiety & strangeness of becoming sudden fugitives—& hungry & wondering if there was anywhere worth eating in this oasis of casinos & franchise motels. I caught sight of The Griddle’s sign, & thought it had a beckoning retro look….
The joint was bustling with a mixture of the late breakfast & early lunch crowds—we opted for the latter; Eberle ordering a salad, while I ordered chili. The place was trim; the light thru the windows was warm—Winnemucca’s 50 degrees felt balmy after Indian Valley & Jordan Valley. To our delight, Eberle’s salad actually contained real greens, & Romaine lettuce—this wasn’t the typical Iceberg salad of western diners; the chili was tasty & satisfying.
On our way back north & east after a week in Negri’s Motel in Occidental, CA—after wonderful lunches & breakfasts at Howard's & an amazing dinner at the Willow Room Market & Café in Graton & Glen Park jam sessions with burrito appetizers—we thought a lot about a mid afternoon lunch at The Griddle…only to pull into Winnemucca around 2:30 & find the place closed. We wound up at a mediocre Mexican joint & swore we’d never make that mistake again—The Griddle closes at 2:00 p.m.
Later that month we were on the road south once again, this time without the sheriff on our tail (so to speak), but rather to perform for a screening of Nell Shipman’s The Grub-Stake at Claremont-McKenna College in sunny SoCal in its late March pollen splendor—the performance courtesy of Claremont-McKenna’s droll film maven Jim Morrison & our all-time fave English Lit/Gender Studies prof & all-around good buddy Audrey Bilger. We stopped at The Griddle heading south & north this time…. don’t remember the menus that time around, tho one was a late breakfast that might have involved eggs on Eberle’s side & French Toast on mine—the place still trim, the booths still comfortable, the light still bright & blue & yellow thru the windows….
Early last month I made two stops at The Griddle on my way to & from Occidental to catch up with good pal Dani Leone & help her re-furnish her cottage in the Redwoods & reclaim our nightclubbing past in Baghdad by the Bay & generally talk each other thru our individual pasts & futures over a number of delightful meals. But on a sunny Friday morning I was at The Griddle before 9:30 a.m. having pulled out of Indian Valley about 4:00; the breakfast quesadilla was nothing to pen a postcard about, but it got me thru to the western Sierra foothills happily enough, & the giant orange squeezing machine behind the counter was cranking out glasses of fresh juice….
On the way home it was cloudy—cloudy in Winnemucca! The autumn was winding down; I made it to The Griddle with thirty minutes to spare & for a time suspected I was their last customer of the day, until the waitresses were chagrined to see three parties walk in around 1:50. I was happily sustained by the chicken pot pie you see in the pic below—a real chicken pot pie, with a real crust, not the pale imitations you find in the supermarket freezer section—all the comfort vegetables & the creamy gravy…. It was still six hours to home, but it’s the sort of food that will take you lots of miles down the road.
Would I drive to Winnemucca with the sole intent of eating at The Griddle? No. But I’d be glad to see that sign appear again, because it’s a welcome stop on the way to places I love, places that are vivid in my imagination; it’s a comforting stop I’ve made during trips that accumulate mythic details as I move thru them again in memory….