By Chuck Woodbury
There’s a little town in Minnesota called Welcome. Gail and I spent four days there last week in Korte’s Checkers Welcome Campground, a quiet, tidy park with lots of shade, just a third of a mile off I-90. With a Passport America discount our four-night stay cost $92.
Our first night, we decided to dine out. I love to experience the local cuisine wherever I go, and the smaller, more out-of-the-way the place is the better. So far, in at least 1,000 such eateries, I’ve only experienced one serious case of food poisoning (bad potato salad in Kanab, Utah). I have savored at least 200 burgers through my three decades on the road. That does not include fast food burgers, which don’t count because they’re boring.
I can’t remember my best burger ever, because there were plenty of truly outstanding creations. I do, however, remember the worst, the Earl Burger at Miss Piggie’s Cafe in Tygh Valley, Oregon, population 220 at the time. The Earl Burger was memorable for three reasons:
• First, my waitress could not tell me how Miss Piggie’s Cafe got its name.
• Second, she could not tell me how the Earl Burger got its name: One would logically assume it was named in honor of someone named Earl. I will never know, but I sincerely believe that for a time that particular Earl was perhaps the most celebrated man in Tygh Valley.
• The third and most important reason the burger was memorable was it taught me an important lesson: The longer a burger’s aftertaste, the worse the burger. After leaving Miss Piggie’s, the Earl Burger lingered on my palette through two counties. I believe, to this day, it still holds the record as the longest aftertaste I have experienced of any food in any place I have dined in the world. The Grouper eyeballs I ate in Singapore paled by comparison.
I passed through Tygh Valley again a couple of years ago, perhaps secretly yearning for another chance at an Earl Burger (to see if it had improved). But, alas (and not surprising), the cafe was gone. The little plywood shaped cutout of Miss Piggie was also gone. Earl, I strongly suspect, is no longer celebrated.
AND SO IT WAS a few nights ago that Gail and I dined at Korte’s Bar and Grill, which I believe is the only restaurant in Welcome. Its appearance is okay, nothing special – lots of signage for Budweiser and the local favorite, Grain Belt Beer. We grabbed a booth alongside two other older couples, both from our campground. Merle Haggard was belting a tune on the fancy jukebox.
Our waitress, about 22 years old, came by. Gail ordered a glass of red wine. “I don’t know if we have that,” she said. “But I think I’ve seen it ordered before.” She went to look, in a cold box, which of course would not be the place to look for red wine. She returned with a little half bottle. The wine was pink. “Is this okay? It’s the closest to red I could find.” She examined the label: “It’s Zin-FAN-dell.”
Then two guys, one about 40, the other 60, walked in and sat at the bar. Then a man and woman, 50ish, walked in the other door — he, 6-feet-3 or so in tall black work boots, she, an attractive middle aged woman — I suspect quite a looker in Welcome. The first two men ordered rum and Cokes; the couple opted for Grain Belt.
AND THEN, THE ENTERTAINMENT . . .
They started talking, in what soon struck me as one of the most impressive displays of both stupidity and rude behavior I have ever witnessed. They paid no attention to other diners, including the four women. I swear – and I am not exaggerating – every 10th word they spoke started with F, and every 20th word started with S. The following sentence was spoken at least 30 times in the half-hour we were there: “You’re f&@#ing full of s%#t!”
Then two other guys showed up and sat across from the original foursome at the horseshoe-shaped bar. They possessed the same gifted vocabulary. At one point the chef walked out from the kitchen and greeted one of the guys: “How you f&@#ing doing?”
They argued about who had the most money, and who rode the fastest on a recent motorcycle excursion. “No f&@#ing way you were keeping up with me,” one guy said loudly. “I was going 120. You were going maybe 105. You’re f&@#ing full of s%#t!”
Then everybody at the bar started discussing if they were related to one another. The waitress mentioned an older woman she had known. “She was related to you,” one of the guys said. It turns out half the people at the bar were related to at least one other person there. The thought struck me that “this is what happens with inbreeding.”
Three of the original foursome, I deduced, had been regulars for at least 20 years. “I remember when I was 19 coming here,” the 40-something guy said to the tall, older guy who had apparently once tended bar at the Bar and Grill. “You f&@#ing served us even though we were under f&@#ing age. One of my buddies stuck a Q-tip in your eye.” To which the tall guy said, very loudly, “You’re F&@#ing full of s%#t. That never f&@#ing happened.”
You may call me a prude if you wish, but I am here to tell you that based on having studied both Psychology 1A and 1B in my formative years, the collective IQ of these people wouldn’t be enough to get them through junior college.
Gail and I polished off our $6.75 daily special – two pieces of broiled chicken (pretty good, actually), mashed potato with gravy, cole slaw and a slice of white bread. The tab with the wine: $20.32.
As I left, I wished I were Superman, and not a mere mortal adverse to fist fights, so I could walk up to these mentally challenged Neanderthals and scream “Shut the f%^k up!”