Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Lonliest Man, Continued: The Eureka Cafe

Driving through Eureka after dark, I spotted a sign for the Eureka Cafe advertising "American and Chinese" food. I found a booth and ordered the #1 combo for 1: sweet and sour pork, chow mein, chicken fried rice, and tea. In a place like this, where most if not all of the customers are non-Asians, the food is drastically modified to suit the local tastes, a far cry from what you find in the Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area, who have mostly Chinese clientele. The Eureka Cafe does not have any barbecued ducks hanging in the window or live shrimp and cod waiting their turn on the chopping block like I often see at Chinese restaurants where I live.

While I waiting, I read from Hermit Lady's Guide to Route 50. A young Chinese waitress wearing the same type of thick-soled shoes that were the style in San Jose waited on me. The sweet and sour pork was tough and came without the pineapple and green peppers I'm used to seeing with that dish. The chow mein noodles were like the dried ones you can buy in cans in grocery stores--except bigger. The decor hinted at the restaurant's earlier life as a frontier-style restaurant with pine paneling and rustic metal chandeliers.

Highway 50 goes mostly east and west across the middle of Nevada. The Hermit Lady illustrated the ranges that the road passes over in cross section with the name of each place along the way and its elevation. Eureka, 6,XXX feet. East about five miles, the road rose to 10,xxx feet, and then dropped again into the next valley. There were several more of those roller coaster rises and dips before Ely, the next big city.

When I finished my meal and stood up to prepare to leave, I put my hand on the back of my booth at the same moment the big bearded man behind me leaned his hairy arm back and draped it on the back of the booth. My nails slightly grazed his arm, and I apologized for scratching him, exagerating the apology for humorous effect (since I was well aware that I had done no damage to his arm). I looked at him and I thought, "Hmmm."

The woman sitting across the table from him chimed in, "I saw you reading. What are you reading?"

I said, "I picked up this book from the Cold Springs bar and restaurant. It tells about points of interest along this road."

The woman, who introduced herself as Annabelle, said she'd noticed the cartoons as I was reading. I opened to the page that described Eureka and showed them.

Annabelle told me she had never stopped at the Cold Springs bar before. I told Annabelle about the sign at the bar that advertises a drink called, "The Cold Springs Duck's fart." I said I'd asked the bartender, and she'd told me that the drink is a combination of five liquors. Annabelle said that this year she had learned to be a bartender herself, and although she had heard of the drink before, she hadn't tried it.
I think we were still chatting about the book when Neil came in. They both recognized him, and introduced him to me. "Neil is the best dancer." Annabelle said. "He comes into the bar where I work. Everyone knows him. He can teach anyone to dance."

Neil said, "You're right," and then said, "I'll prove it," and held out his arms to me.

"No, no, I can't," I said, thinking about how long it was that I'd had a chance to follow a man in a dance. "Yes, you can," Neil said. He took me in his arms, right then and there, and suddenly, with no music, we were dancing.

It was very nice. Then, reality struck. I looked at the waitress, who was waiting to get by us, since we were partially blocking the door to the kitchen. Feeling lumpy and self-conscious, I pulled away. "You're right," I said. "Neil can teach anyone to dance, even me." Playing my reaction up again. At the same time wondering at what had just happened. It wasn't a head thing at all, learning to dance. It was something else.

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