by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s blog on May 23, 2019. It is republished here with the author’s permission.
I love sending postcards. I know that’s an anachronism. In this age of texting and tweeting, who sends cards by snail mail? I do. I like postcards because they are tangible. I like them because they force me to say things in as few words as possible; a postcard makes me concentrate and distill my message. I like cards because I write them by hand, and there is an intensely human aspect to that. During the recent road trip with Karin, I mailed scores of cards, to all sorts of people in all sorts of places. Writing the cards was a way for me to sort through our experiences. I was writing to myself as much as I was writing to the recipients of the cards.
Some places do not have postcards. They aren’t glamorous enough or exotic enough to justify such a thing. However, these places all have stories, and some of these stories should be told. Consider the following paragraphs to be postcards without pictures.
The Donald Citrano Coffee Shop is in McGregor, Texas. There isn’t much in McGregor, Texas. It’s a place where two highways meet, and therefore a gas station exists at the crossroads. Otherwise, the town is eminently forgettable. Yet somehow, it sticks in my memory.
Karin and I had left Hans and Gabi’s house in Bryan early in the morning. We had been driving for a couple of hours prior to arriving in McGregor. We had many miles to cover that day. The plan was to get to the San Patricio retreat house in New Mexico by 5:00 PM, and we had all of Texas to cross before we got there. That was a daunting task. We hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, and Karin was interested in doing that soon.
We noticed the coffee shop as soon as we had passed it. I spun the Toyota around, and I planted it in a parking lot full of pickup trucks. Then we walked into Donald Citrano’s.
I noticed something as we strolled into the restaurant. Just inside the door was a rack of Bible tracts. Some of them were in Arabic, just in case we wanted to give one of them to one of our Muslim friends. We had clearly wandered into Jesus Country.
Just to make it clear, Karin and I are Christians. It’s just that we don’t particularly like the hard sell. Donald Citrano’s is not alone among restaurants with regards to having both food and faith on the menu. Sodolak’s Original Country Inn has all of its waitresses wear t-shirts with Bible verses on their backs. In Texas, it’s cool to flaunt your religion, at least if it happens to be Christianity.
There was a sign that said, “seat yourself”, which we did. The tables and chairs in the coffee shop were of sturdy wooden construction. We found ourselves a table, and an older woman, who looked tired and who was very much out of breath, gave us menus. A cheerful young woman came to take our order.
“Y’all want to start out with something to drink?”
Karin and I both ordered coffee, and Karin also asked for some orange juice. The girl left and we looked at our menus. I decided to order the Biscuit Sandwich. I thought it would like an Egg McMuffin. Karin wanted pancakes. As we waited for the waitress to return, I looked around the coffee shop.
The place was full of locals. I don’t know that, but everybody there seemed to know everyone else. Lots of windburned ranchers wearing faded jeans and Stetsons. Music was playing on a sound system. It was apparently from a Christian radio station. I couldn’t make out all of the words in the songs, but that didn’t matter. Popular Christian music has a peculiarly cheesy quality that can be both endearing and irritating. The genre is immediately identifiable, at least it is to me.
The girl returned with our coffees, and we placed our orders. Karin seemed very happy with her pancakes and eggs. She asked me to eat some of her bacon. My Biscuit Sandwich was approximately three times the size of an Egg McMuffin. It was big, sloppy, and delicious. It was difficult for me to eat the sandwich without wearing part of it.
The older lady came to our table. She moved heavily and painfully. She had short hair and a lot of make-up. The woman smiled at us, and said,
“I hope y’all don’t think I’m being unfriendly. I’m just not doing so well today.”
Karin and I made it clear that we did not think she was unfriendly. We asked her how she was.
The woman sighed. Then she said, “Well, it’s been a bit hard. My mama, well, she’s been in the hospital. And I’m not feeling so good lately.”
The woman continued, “But I put my faith in Him”, as she gazed upward. “I know where my strength comes from.”
We nodded again.
The woman thanked us for coming, and she sat down again at a table close by. We finished eating. I went up to pay at the register. A young guy took my credit card. While he rang up the bill, I looked at the sweatshirts they were selling. The shirts proclaimed the glories of nearby Crawford, Texas. Crawford is the “Home of President George W. Bush”.
I didn’t buy a shirt.
Coeur D’Alene, Idaho
Karin and I were on our way home. We stayed overnight at a Baymont Hotel. In the morning we drove to the local grocery store to resupply.
The Lakeside Harvest Grocery is not a busy place. I don’t think that there is any store in Coeur D’Alene that qualifies as being busy. The town moves at a leisurely pace, which is rather attractive. Nobody seems to be in a rush.
Karin and I found what we needed for the journey, and we went to the checkout. A lady started ringing up our items, and she asked us where we were from. It was obvious to her that we were not locals.
The cashier asked us brightly, “Where are you folks from?”
We replied, “Wisconsin.”
The woman flashed a smile at us, “Really? Ain’t that something? I’m from Rockford in Illinois. That’s not far from you. My father, he was from Racine.”
I told her, “That’s pretty close to where we live.”
The woman smiled again. “That’s wonderful.”
I asked her name.
The woman told us, “Denise.”
Karin and I pushed the shopping cart outside to our car. We unloaded our groceries, and then we tried to find room for it all among the other things we had tightly packed into the vehicle.
Denise came out to us and said, “I’ll take the cart inside for you.”
I fumbled around and told her, “Well, okay, thank you. We don’t really need these plastic shopping bags anymore either.”
Denise smiled and said, “You just give those to me. You folks have a safe trip now.”
Then she laughed and said, “Hooray for us Midwesterners!”, as she took the cart into the store.
Karin and I got to the Travel Lodge in the early evening. Karin had successfully made the reservation with Expedia on her phone. At least, we thought she had. We were both a bit ragged from the drive. Karin and I came to the front desk to plead our case.
A young woman checked to see if we actually had a reservation. We did.
The girl asked us, “So, what brings you folks to Bozeman?’
I had an attack of honesty. I told her, “Bozeman is on the way to somewhere else.”
The girl’s smiled stiffened slightly. She got our keys and said,
“Well, you can experience Bozeman while you are here.”
We nodded wearily. I asked the girl,
“Is there a place we can eat…within walking distance?”
She brightened up. “There is the Montana Ale Works. That’s just a few blocks from here. It’s a nice place. They are usually really busy. If you want, I can make a reservation for you.”
We demurred. Karin and I found our room and settled ourselves into it.
Later, we went back to the girl at the desk, and I told her,
“We’ll take you up on that offer. Go ahead and call for us.”
She did. Apparently, the Montana Ale Works wasn’t that busy just then. Karin and I walked slowly toward the restaurant.
Bozeman is a nice town. They have parks. There is money there. You can feel it. There is a lot of new construction, and there are a lot of offices that specialize in “wealth management”. This implies that there is wealth to manage. Bozeman is clean and tidy and obviously on to something. It has a small downtown with a number of chic cafes and shops, all of which require a population with disposable income. Bozeman doesn’t have that sense of desperation that we noticed in other small towns. It is prosperous.
The Montana Ale Works was painfully trendy. It’s a decent place, but it has a total hipster vibe. That is something I never expected to encounter in Montana. The waiter was cool and up-to-date, and vaguely condescending. Karin and I ordered our food, which came to us tastefully displayed in tiny portions. The best part of the Ale Works was the beer menu. The place specialized in local beers, and I always find that attractive.
I had to mentally compare the Montana Ale Works with the Moon Time Restaurant in Coeur D’Alene. Moon Time was a mom-and-pop operation. The people there were authentic, and the food came to us in heroic proportions. I could relax when we ate at the Moon Time. The Montana Ale Works tried way too hard, and I felt it. It was corporate. It stunk of money.
Karin and I walked briefly through the downtown after dinner. It was pleasant enough. We were tempted to buy things in the shops, but we decided not to do that. The mountains shown in the distance. They still had a blanket of snow. The town was beautiful in the twilight.