Monday, May 27, 2013
LUNCHING WITH VANNA WHITE: FIELD’S STATION, OREGON
On the Cedarville, Burns, Winnemucca Tour
Third in a series…
Denio, this day, was closed – locked up tighter than a barrelhead – and had been for some time. The gas pumps at the four-corner store were derelict; paint on the buildings nearly gone; the “closed” sign slipped crookedly behind a plate glass window seemed a bit redundant.
Having travelled a distance further on Oregon Route 140 from Adel than planned, we’d hoped for lunch, but there was no lunch to be had, not even a Snickers bar.
The map gave us options and Field’s Station, Oregon seemed the nearest. An hour further on, we arrived at this place name. The berg hosts barely an intersection. It is home to two gas pumps, a dusty little general store, a four-room motel, and a well-worn cafe with nine indoor seats. Five (count ‘em, 5) Coach USA tour buses idled in the parking area out front. A little quick mathematical formulation told us that the 100 plus tourists transported there on would likely tax this outpost to the breaking point.
Nearing 2:00 PM, John and I were on the edge of famished and not pleased with the prospect of having to wait hours while the crowd cleared. Never mind that those who crossed this trackless high desert 150 years back hadn’t the luxury of the prepared beef jerky or bottled Arrowhead Springs water we’d polished off to tide them over.
Snaking the big Toyota through the idling coaches, we found parking in front of the store. Curiously, no long line stretched out the door of the tiny establishment. The nine-spot café was not teaming with patrons. Perhaps this was some sort of promotional outing for the bus line. Maybe Coach USA spokesperson Vanna (Wheel-of-Fortune) White was filming a commercial. Perhaps I could order a cheeseburger and buy a vowel to go along with it. My mind raced. Hunger does that to folks.
A dozen or so orange-vested individuals were catching a smoke or chowing down at an array of picnic tables out front of the store.
“What’s up?” we asked no one in particular. “Training,” came the response. “We’re running up here from Winnemucca to learn to drive these units.” “Why to-hell-and-gone out here?” “Coach is contracted to transport workers living in Winnemucca out to the mines where they are employed; fifty, sixty miles away. Keeps ‘em off the road and makes sure they show up on time.”
We slipped through the door, past a couple more orange vests and, finding the lunch counter, sat down. The proprietress’ brother, resident of far off Salem, was slinging burger patties and frying up bacon three or four pounds at a time. “Sister’s hubby’s off to Boise to pick up meat today from… (and he mentioned the supplier. We nodded as if we knew who that was.) “We gotta be ready for Memorial Day weekend comin’ up. That’s why I’m cookin’ up this bacon. I c’n reheat it up for the weekend crowd. Breakfast or burgers.” He slid a metal spatula under the sizzling pork. “Nobody delivers anything out this way but the gas guy. Sis makes supply runs to Burns or Bend a couple of times a week for milk, bread, shelf stuff.”
We made mental notes. Bend, Oregon: hours away. Boise, further.
“So do these training buses stop by here regular?” we asked.
“This is the first time. We had no idea when they rolled in. We thought they was full of chukker hunters or bird watchers. No idea what so ever. Sis about…” He laughed heartily. “Well, let’s say she was concerned when they all pulled up.” He’d been talking over his shoulder, focusing on the grill all this time, but turned and with a pad of paper asked, “What’ll you have?”
Living on the high lonesome is not for the weak in character or feint of heart. The romanticist in me harbors fantasies about a simple cabin, vast horizons, clean air, endless sunsets and Maureen O’Hara. But reality centers on hard work – harder than in our suburbanized sprawl – tough choices, and no days off. Those who survive do so with grit and ethic and humor. Their reward? Those horizons and sunsets, I guess. And some deep, well-earned rest at the end of the day.
The burger was outstanding, but, apparently, I had been mistaken about Vanna filming anything here this day.
Church of the Open Road Press