Observations of Small Town Living (OOSTL)

I meet with some friends at The Hoot Owl Cafe on Friday mornings. If you only come for the food, you miss half of what this place has to offer. The more I go, the more I like. Unlike the chain restaurants, the Hoot Owl is only open for breakfast and lunch. Probably because they understand the value of money compared to having a life. Unlike chains, the staff feels free to joke around, greet customers, give personal advice, criticize, and deny service. They’ll jump right in on conversations about things happening around town. This place has to be experienced. It is what many restaurants wish they were. Locals come and go and almost everyone (except me, but I’m working on it) know each other. I mean everyone. When Jenny and I first went there together there was one guy going from table to table showing everyone (‘cept us) a funny toy that he’d gotten for his brother in the hospital. The waiter invited a couple to his wedding. Folks talk across tables like they were at home.

If you have a beard, baseball hat (or better, a feed-and-seed hat), work boots, overalls, old t-shirt and work hard for a living you’ll fit right in. Anyone who knows me, knows that they look at me askance as I pass in my button-down shirt. Please don’t tell them that I don’t even own a pair of jeans… Or… maybe they’re just looking me in the eye. This common practice here in small town America is something to get used to. It’s called “greeting one another”. Where I was raised we just didn’t do this to strangers, and a majority of people are strangers. I missed out on a lot in life, but the folks here are like therapy. They’re helping make up for this childhood deficiency. It’s easy to get used to “kindness” and “courtesy” if you let it. Total strangers look you in the eye and they say, “hello” or “how are you?”. They wave from their trucks as you pass them on the road. And at the Hoot Owl, they look you in the eye and greet you as if they’re actually glad you took the time to stop in. Kindness extends beyond what you might expect. If you’re a regular and forget your money like my friend did the other day, just write you name on the check and pay next time you come in – amazing!
In addition to the people, this place has other elements that make up it’s atmosphere. Dozens of cheesy plaques that the look like they’ve been their since the miners used to eat here, extolling the virtues of good county living and jokes about marriage and money, to name a few. Each item that isn’t a regular part of food preparation or eating, such as the porcelain figurines, sugar dishes, plaques, plastic flowers, etc. is covered with thin layer of dust. The wait staff have no uniforms. It’s pretty much their day-to-day clothes, which can include t-shirts and jeans. There’s enough classic green and white cottage-motif paint coating the walls and window sills to increase the insulation value 50%. It’s so thick that it rounds the edges of all the wood and coats right down to the first coat of paint from when railroad workers ate here many generations ago.
I recommend the pancake – singular. I ordered pancakes once, had to take half of them home. The pancake is a disk of fresh and fluffy cake just like my grandma used to make, only bigger. It’s about the size of a Frisbee and the weight of a shot-put. It wouldn’t be complete without the heaping amount of butter, warm syrup and a personal comment (good, or sarcastic if they like you) from the waitress that comes with it. And if you’re a regular and your party can drink a pot of coffee, they’ll kindly make you a pot with double the grounds than their usual. Nothing like a good kick to start the day. On your way out, don’t be rude, be sure to say hi to anyone who looks you in the eye.

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