Tag Archives: Eugene

Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: The Speakeasy of Main St Oregon

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It’s taken me a while to be able to write about the day that ended in the evening above. It was a whirlwind day on a whirlwind trip to Portland. I stayed one night at my friend Jaynee’s house, drinking her expensive cognac and talking and laughing. The next day, I sorrowfully expressed my displeasure at not having visited the coast while in Oregon. The weather was taking a turn for the worse, and it was unlikely that I would make it there, as the coastal roads were likely to be solid sheets of ice. But I must have underestimated my old friend. She is afraid of nothing and is almost too willing to take off on a whim. I make no understatement when I tell you she’s the most extroverted person I’ve ever met.

Soon enough, we were headed to Eugene. No, you don’t have to tell me — Eugene isn’t a coastal town. We drove to Eugene via the coast…or after the coast, I should say. And the coastal highway was, indeed, beset by solid sheets of ice when it wound under the overhanging trees. The beach itself was covered in snow; this is unusual for the Oregon coastline, at least when I lived there. It was always cold and damp in the winter, but it didn’t often snow.

Needless to say, we didn’t spend much time frolicking in the waves or running like young does over the sand. We pulled off our gloves in order to take a few pictures. We waxed poetic while staring out at the vastness of the thunderously gray Pacific, and then we jumped back in the car and took off for Eugene. It escapes me now why we had to visit Eugene. It was Jaynee’s errand, not mine. But as I have some good friends in Eugene, I scheduled a meetup with one.

Eugene had been hit hard by a snowstorm. My meetup was, therefore, a little unusual. Jaynee dropped me off at Perk coffeehouse, where my old friend Sallie works. I’ve dedicated at least one of my coffee memoirs to Sallie; she is the epitome of a coffee girl. She’s a coffee girl after all these years, still jerking espresso while attending university classes and raising her children. The meetup was unusual because the coffeehouse was closed and Sallie was stranded there. She’d been stranded in town for some time, and there she sat, bleary-eyed, in day-old clothes and, yet, still willing to jump up and give me a hug.

While the storm had passed, the streets weren’t clear. Eugene is, apparently, not used to sudden swift bouts of snow. So we sat there for some time and drank tea together, until I casually wondered if there was any where in this universe or the next I could eat. I’d been on the road with Jaynee all day. Was there any place nearby we could eat a hot dinner? Yes, there was a place behind us, in the back alleyway…

Oregon has become known for its food culture. Not only that, but because of the state’s libertarian bent, it’s become known for its back alley repositories of organic and fresh-from-the-farm foods. Many of these places are unregulated, in the sense of health inspections. As such, an ordinary storage space is transformed into a dinner party, and people show up due to word of mouth and drop money in a donation jar. A few days before, I’d read all about such places in a food memoir at Powell’s Books.

To be honest, the restaurant in the back alley behind Perk is a regulated restaurant that takes credit cards. But you couldn’t have convinced me of that as Sallie and I scuffed out way through the snow and slid over ice, around dumpsters and recycling bins, to arrive at a nearly invisible restaurant. This was what the book at Powell’s had written about. We slipped in, and I stared up at the menu on the wall, quite incredulous. See, it really did have the organic and fresh-from-the-farm food. And yet it had something else I like to call “white-trash gourmet”. Actually, my husband coined that term. He went through a brief life stint in which he wanted to write that recipe book.

I think he lost the desire when he realized that kind of food was already popular in many venues…and especially in Oregon. It was certainly part of the back alley mystique. As I don’t eat wheat, my options are always limited. Nowadays, I eat no grains of any kind nor any starch, but in those days, I still ate potatoes. There was, therefore, about one item on the menu I could eat: fresh from the potato french fries smothered with an elegant cheese sauce made with white wine and topped with homemade corned beef and chopped parsley. I ordered a decent glass of cabernet to offset the grease.
Then Sallie and I sat on tall stools eating this…this…over-the-top cuisine. It was a noisy and crowded place, despite its obscured location. After a second glass of wine, the adventures of the day hit me hard, and I can’t remember much else except the buzz in my brain caused by too many people and too much action.

If I were to write a song about the day, it might follow this model: I remember girls in hats, big bananas, and loony chats. I remember snow. I remember snow. Okay, that might need a little work. I’ve never yet come out as a singer-songwriter, and there’s probably a good reason for that.

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