I DIDN’T TAKE A PICTURE because it would have just been weird. I had succumbed to a single item listed near the bottom of the menu at the ranch-style restaurant just outside Etna, California: Hot home made cinnamon roll - $3.50.
ETNA, CALIFORNIA is one of those Rod Serling types of places where, if you stop, you find yourself in a town frozen in decades-back time. At 8:15 on this morning, a man walked his saddled horse down the right-hand side of Main Street. He tipped his ball cap as I passed. There was a lot with “barn find” automobiles, the likes of which might be advertised on E-bay. Except that these cars appeared to have run recently. The 50s era Nash was not choked with weeds. The ‘55 Ford likewise. A five-window Chevy truck – green – sat ready for whatever the day might require. There’s a Sears and Roebuck catalog store on one corner and a trim Methodist Church on another. I’m sure if I’d cut the engine, I would have heard Opie whistling on his way to the fishing hole.
Etna, it seemed to me, is a little chunk of yesterday nestled among cattle ranches and hay acreage at the base of the Marble Mountains in far northwestern California.
“SO. HOW ARE THE CINNAMON ROLLS?” I asked the my-age waitress working the counter where I sat.
“I never ate one,” she replied. Her voice sounded experienced, like she’d attempted too many high notes in her time. Or maybe she was a smoker. “But folks seem to like ‘em.”
The confection came out of a freezer that was pressed against the wall behind the counter. I thought about changing my order, but the woman was quick to strip away the plastic wrap and pop it into a waiting microwave. I slugged down the better part of my first cup of Farmer Brothers as the oven slowly worked its magic. On cue, the woman removed the pastry, backside toward me, and doctored it with something. Turning my way she half slid, half placed the small plate in front of me. She did not say “Enjoy.” Or Bon Apetite.
In front of me lay a mountain. Not as high as one of the peaks of the Marbles that looked down on this berg, but a mountain nonetheless. One not quite able to fit on its dish. One dripping with icing that flowed like summer snowmelt onto the Formica counter. A fork wrapped in a paper napkin slid my way and clanked against the plate.
“BREAKFAST” proved to be cinnamony, with a golden, crusty exterior and a bit more than sweet enough. It would last longer than the amount of time required to thoroughly read the local newspaper out of Yreka. The yeasty quality to the bread offered a nice tang to the palate. Its tenure in the microwave warmed the thing without rendering it rubbery. I liked it. A lot.
The woman returned to refill my coffee for about the third time. By then, I’d slid the remains of the roll away from me. “One more bite,” I told her, “and it’d have killed me.”
“Yeah, well, you’da died happy,” she said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Then she added: “That’s why I smoke.”
RIDING DOWN HIGHWAY 3, I thought for too many moments about the difference between lung cancer/emphysema and effects of simply over eating on rare occasion. Her comment had taken just a little bit of the sweet out of the sweet roll, making me wish I’d opted for the egg-white vegetable omelet with a side of sourdough. No butter, thank you.
I’d tipped handsomely when I left, but after fifteen miles or so, I knew I’d need to keep searching for the perfect cinnamon roll. One that didn’t come with a death wish.
Church of the Open Road Press