One sentence we heard repeatedly during our trip was „You are real people.“ At first, I was confused. What does that mean? And what does it mean not to be? When we listened to the meaning behind it, we heard other things coming to the surface. Real people as in "you are workers and not just shiny talkers", "you are holding the conversation with me", "you invited me in, you really wanted to have me over". This sentence, this phrase was given to us early in our trip. I didn’t know it would become such a theme and accompany us through all the weeks. Real people. What does it mean to be real? What does it mean not to be? And how can we be more real, again?
Somewhere on the way to my friend Abbey in the northeast corner of California, we reached the spot of the day when we knew we had to eat something. You know the „if we don’t eat now we will end up in pointless arguments about things that we actually don’t have a problem with.“
Bridget had started the research early. After leaving West Bijou and the delicious hearty meals that Shelly had cooked for us, we knew she had set a benchmark. We had avoided pulling into a generic place, a mall, or a food chain so far really well. We prepared most of our meals by ourselves, a cold sandwich or a hot meal on our little stove. And our first stop on the road was actually a great find: An old but beautifully kept-alive diner with good diner food in astoundingly small portions. And ‚small‘ meant, they didn’t cook for doggie bags and leftovers or for overeating.
So, we knew what we wanted. Somehow.
„I think I have found something. And they have something on the menu I really want you to try.“ Bridget smiled at me from the passenger seat and put the course into the navigation.
When we pulled into the small parking spot behind the diner it was 30 minutes before their closing time. We pushed through the swing doors and it felt like the right place.
While I wandered around the small space, Bridge went to the counter.
„How big is your Monte Cristo? I really want him to try.“
Eric, the business owner, looked at us over the counter, silently judging us.
„With a side, one should fill both of you. Otherwise, I’ll make you more. You will not leave this place hungry.“
We sat down at the high table, sipping cream soda and root beer out of glass bottles. Framed, self-shot photos filled the walls around us. Photos of sailing boats, ocean, whales, forests, and waterfalls. We smiled at each other, some of these places seemed familiar after the last week of driving through national parks and forests.
„Here’s your Monte Cristo. And if you’re still hungry afterward, let me know.“
I will not dive into what a Monte Cristo is, Wikipedia will tell you all about it. But we definitely got the proper American variation – covered in powdered sugar and served with maple syrup.
„This is really delicious.“
Eric looked pleased.
„So, have you taken these photos yourself?“
He got around the counter and looked at his photos. “Most of them, yes. Some are from a friend who owns a sailboat. I had the chance to come with him a couple of times. This, over there, was in Yosemite.”
We looked at a scene of Yosemite valley with Half Dome rising in the back. „Oh, we have just been there.“
„So you must know these also.“ He pointed at another photo, higher up the wall, with two waterfalls on top of each other. „What are you actually up to?“
Bridge shared with him our plan for our US road trip, of our trip so far and the drafted route to come.
„Do you have any recommendations for us, along the coast, for Oregon?“
„Yes. Absolutely.“ Eric shared with us places around the small town, explorable corners further to the south, tree adventures, coastal parks, and stops to sleep at. „There’s a wonderful small fishing spot with camping near Klamath. You can just sit, and watch the ocean. I had a really good trip there. Oh, and when you drive north, the lighthouse at Crescent City is not bad. And there’s a nice brewery nearby.“
I can’t remember if I smiled only on the inside or also on the outside. All his recommendations came from a wonderful memory he decided to share with us.
„Wait, before you go…“ He disappeared behind the counter into the diner kitchen. The young guy who worked his kitchen today and who prepared our food is already on his break. After 5 minutes, Eric reappeared with two brown bags.
„I made you some of my chili with nice cheese tortillas to dip into. And when you reach the coast tonight, sit down and enjoy the meal. You have a great trip before you. A really great trip.“ He smiled and handed us the bags.
After many startled ‚thank yous‘ and shaking hands, we stumbled outside and to our car.
„You know, I had some occasions where people gave me a free nibble of something, but never a full meal. Never.“
A moment of connection in a small town somewhere in the northwest of California.