BURNT WOODS, OR.–Out in the middle of nowhere, you park on the gravel amid the pickup trucks, step past a nodding chicken and a dog sleeping on the porch, and walk into a cafe that smells of pancake syrup and old wood. Four guys in baseball caps sit at the next table. An old fellow in overalls leans on the counter talking to the middle-aged woman in the kitchen.
Open the stained menus. The food is hearty, biscuits and gravy, cheeseburgers and fries, chicken fried steak and hash browns, all served with giant unmatched cups of strong coffee. Vegetarians have one choice: grilled cheese sandwiches.
Before you know it,you’re involved in a conversation with the other customers, whether it be the Beavers and the Ducks, the snow up the road or the price of gas. The four guys are working on the clearcut up the hill you can see through the dusty windows. The last of the loggers, regulars at the cafe, will soon head back to work.
A teenage daughter in torn jeans wanders through, clearing sticky plates. The cook’s husband stops at the four-top, pulling up a chair, leaning his thick arms on the table.
After all these years, we still feel a little like outsiders, Californians in disguise, but we’re getting the hang of it, the denim, fleece and flannel wardrobe, the lack of boundaries, mud on our shoes, and the warm, comfortable diners like the Burnt Woods Cafe that serve as country living rooms where we all get warm and fed and catch up with the news.