Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Every few years, I hear about this enormous Christian conference in Urbana, Illinois. Thousands upon thousands of people attend. And whenever I ride south on Rt. 13, I can't help thinking, What if they got their states mixed up? What if, instead of Urbana, IL, they go to Urbana, IN?

I rode through Urbana a few weeks ago, on my way down to pick up Deborah's sewing machine. Out here, they'd call Urbana a blink'n'missit; out East, it would be a poke'n'plumb — poke your nose in, and you're plumb through. It's a rural farming community, with a short row of houses, a gas station, and... Pam's Cafe.

I've always admired the paint on this place. If they'd pained it a solid white, I probably wouldn't have given it a second look.

This place has always intrigued me as I've ridden past it, partly because of the paint, and partly because of the fact that I had never seen it open. This day, however, open it was. So I parked amidst the dozen or so heavy-duty pickups, and poked my head in.

"WELL, YOU LOOK COMFORTABLE." The two waitresses — one of whom I suspected to be Pam herself — were on break, smoke curling up from their mirrored cigarettes. Comfortable? I had to laugh in spite of myself — I'd obviously been riding in the rain, every inch of my riding gear dripping. "I'm OK," I chuckled, "at least I'm dressed for it." "WHAT CAN WE GETCHA?" I wanted to get something — breakfast sounded good — but I hadn't seen any credit card stickers on anything, and I knew I didn't have the cash, but I asked anyway. Pam's raspy, pack-a-day, small-cap voice took on a hounded note. "NO HON, NOT YET, WE'RE GETTIN' IN ONE OF THEM MACHINES NEXT WEEK. YOU CAN GO TO ONE OF THEM MACHINES UP AT THE MINI-MART, OR WE CAN TAKE CHECKS. WE'RE OPEN UNTIL TWO." I needed to get down to Marion before the sewing machine shop closed anyway, so I said I'd be back.

Open until two, I mused. No wonder it was never open when I went past. As I motored on, I realized that I actually had my checkbook inside my coat pocket. D'oh!

An hour and a half later, sewing machine retrieved and firmly strapped to by passenger seat, I was back, and hungry for lunch.

Fortunately, Deborah has a nice, small sewing machine, and the gals at the shop down in Marion gave me a few bags to wrap the case in. The top bag hides the heavy-duty tie-downs that are actually holding the case to the bike.

I hadn't relized it on my first glance, but Pam's Cafe was... a farmer hangout. The scenes on the outside walls hadn't tipped me off. The John Deere wall plaques, toy tractors, and the seed-company mug did, though. A group of farmers sat in the other room, swapping stories. "He took his Case out into the fields last week, rutted 'em up something bad." I and my city-boy self felt like we'd stepped into an alternate universe. "Say, how do you get yer innernet service? I've got a satellite hookup, but I've been thinkin; one of them DSL lines might be better, can you get that through the REMC?" My alternate universe took an odd twist. I started to gather that things worked a whole different way out here. Phone companies I'd never heard of. Prices for corn and soybeans checked every morning. Satellites and GPS. No one mentioned the rain. Clearly, my view of farmers needed an update.

It was fascinating to just sit and listen to the world go by here. These guys seemed like they hd all the time in the world. It was like I was transported into an episode of Prarie Home Companion.

There were customer photos all over the walls. Well, all over the walls that didn't have farming motifs all over them.

Lunch arrived. My waitress had said the tenderloin sandwich was pretty good, so I got that — although it took me a minute to realize that it was, indeed, a sandwich — the breaded meat hid both halves of the bun and hung over the edge of the plate. It wasn't until I'd eaten a four inches of it that I discovered the lettuce.


After my second cup of hot chocolate, it was getting on towards 2:00, and things were shutting down. I discovered my check underneath my plate, and went to pay. I resisted the temptation to play with the toy tractors on the counter while my waitress added up the bill. I left that afternoon, my hunger sated, and my mind satisfied that I'd finally gotten to experience this place after riding past it so many times.


junglewife said...

Your pictures of the inside of the cafe remind me of a little place we used to frequent when we lived in Tennessee - Betty's Burger Hut. It wasn't much to look at, but for about $3 you could get a cheeseburger, fries, and the best strawberry milkshake I've ever had! Of course, it was always full of the "local color" as well - so interesting to just sit around and listen to folks talk! Mmmm, I miss that place!
-Sarah D.

Andy said...

Oh, come now, don't tell me you don't have exceedingly interesting places where you live now!

I love little places like that. Now I want a milkshake.