Sunday, September 19, 2010
Of Big Bellies and Ball Caps
It was a relatively sweet 600 miles from Carson City, Nevada to the Maple Grove Campground in south central Utah. Once again I steeled myself for the long haul across Highway 50 with plenty of podcasts and pain killers. At Great Basin National Park, I turned left.
Rather than suffer the interminable drive along the Sevier Dry Lake, gateway to beautiful Delta, Utah, I left Highway 50 behind in Baker and took a southwesterly tack through the tiny towns of Garrison and Milford, Utah....bucolic to the max and free from the saline sumps that pass themselves off as lakes on the more northerly route. I immediately gained an hour when I crossed the time zone at Garrison but was undaunted in my goal of reaching the campground at Maple Grove, just west of Salina.
I pulled into the campground around 5pm Mountain Daylight Time, having skirted thunder showers and dust devils along the way. I picked an isolated, shady site tucked away in the trees. The ground was damp from very recent rains and I had trouble finding any dry kindling. But above all, the forest was quiet and calm and the high cliffs of the Fishlake National Forest told me I was back on the Colorado Plateau once again and only two hundred miles from home.
I got started at dawn the following day, appropriately listening to Vince Guaraldi’s version of Softly As In a Morning Sunrise as I headed into Salina. I stopped just outside the forest boundary to photograph a group of wild turkeys and the first rays of daylight on roadside sunflowers. My immediate goal was Mom’s Cafe in downtown Salina.
I’d lunched at Mom’s many times on many journeys over the years but this was the first time I’d ever had breakfast there. And the cafe did not disappoint. Friday morning at 7am the place was bustling with activity, especially the back room where the locals obviously congregated. I was seated by myself in the front part of the building but had no trouble at all hearing the boisterous cacophony coming from the rear. And the din grew louder as more big-bellied men in ball caps entered the restaurant, joining in the rough-hewn gossip.
The cafe walls were lined with news clips touting the quality of the food and hospitality, along with autographed photos of celebrities like Ashley Judd and Willie Nelson who had apparently stopped by at one time or another while passing through Salina. The original “Mom” wasn’t around this particular morning.. But my waitress was an attractive lass who, I’m guessing, was pushing 40 and probably Mormon with three or four kids at home. She confided in me. “I went to school with most of these guys so when they give me a bad time, I just tell ’em to shut up and eat!” Then she disappeared into the backroom to join the fray.
She really knew how to play the crowd and I thought to myself, on a personal level, how I probably would not agree politically, religiously, or philosophically with any of the congregated codgers in the back room, yet I was inexorably caught up in their laughter and good feelings, and that peculiar energy and delight in getting yet another glimpse of fading, small town America.
I knew that ahead of me lay one of the most spectacularly empty stretches of Interstate in the country, the rugged mesas and canyons of the San Rafael Swell and, beyond that, home. And this fine morning at Mom’s Cafe was a great way to bring to a close a journey of heart and soul into the West of mind and memory.