I stood in line to pay my gas and coffee bill at the Food Mart filling station in Drain, Oregon, gateway to Highway 34 to Reedsport, the most sublime drive from the Willamette Valley to the Oregon Coast.
To me, the line seemed surprisingly long for a weekday morning in Drain. A few seconds into my waiting, I noticed most customers weren’t paying for gas or any other food or drink item. They were just waiting.
Something resting on the counter near the cash register caught my eye: a large crock pot of gravy, thick and steaming, with a shiny metal ladle sticking out. I’d never seen such a thing in all my years of noticing of rural Oregon convenience store oddities and there are a lot of them out there, I assure you.
A middle-aged woman ahead of me ordered a basket of biscuits and gravy. She started fishing out change, but the female clerk preparing the order reminded her the price had just gone up 50 cents to $2.50.
She didn’t have it. A customer behind her threw down a couple quarters and solved the problem. The woman gathered up the basket, walked outside, mounted a bicycle, and rode away.
Yes, I saw a woman riding a bicycle in Drain, Oregon with one hand while carrying a basket of biscuits and gravy in the other. I also saw gravy spilling on the street.
When I came to the counter, I asked the clerk about the gravy as she was ladling up another order. They were ten people deep for gravy in Drain. My curiosity had dammed up gravy.
She told me the tradition had been going on for over a decade. Customers came from Eugene, Roseburg, Coos Bay, Elkton. They always ran out by noon and they never whipped up a second batch. You wanted good gravy in Drain, you had to get up early.
I started taking notes about gravy on a napkin meant for gravy. More people entered the store and got in line.
The Food Mart’s owner materialized and I introduced myself as a writer researching a book about the Secret Oregon Coast. I told him this Drain biscuits and gravy story was simply incredible and must be included. I asked him if anyone had ever written a story about it. No one had.
I would scoop them all on this second greatest Oregon biscuits and gravy story of all time. Back in the summer of 1993, in Portland, I lived through the best one. (Read my true crime book, Rose City Heist, for all the tasty details. It sold out a couple of years ago but is available as an e-book on my web site.)
The owner beckoned me away from the line so I wouldn’t continue to impede the flow of gravy and interrupt the natural workings of the universe in Drain.
“Tell me a hot biscuits and gravy story,” I said.
He then told me about a man on a 200-mile walk for charity who had walked into the Food Mart and wolfed down an order. He reappeared several days later and said he had walked an extra hundred miles so he could eat another order.
A man walked a hundred miles for gravy in Drain.
I know that somewhere down the line, this sentence is going to end up in my detective novel called The Watershed and that book will make me an existential fortune. I might even get rich. I’ll be in the gravy.
There is something about writing “gravy” and “drain” in the same sentence that excites me in a way I can’t yet comprehend. Perhaps I never will.
“Tell me about the gravy,” I said.
“It’s a family recipe,” he said.
“A secret one, right?”
“That’s right, from the South.”
I left it at that. I’ll make it up later for the novel.
The owner seemed happy about the prospect of a story. We shook hands and I drifted away to take a photograph of the crock pot. More people started showing up. They came on foot, bicycles and skateboards. A cop car rolled into the parking lot, too.
Dear reader, I know what you must be wondering:
No, I didn’t put in an order. I haven’t eaten biscuits and gravy in 20 years.
Next time, though, I will, and shatter the vegetarian within me. And whatever unfolds after that, will become the Legend of Drain Gravy—Part 2
(If you found this post enjoyable, thought provoking or enlightening, please consider supporting a writer at work by making a financial contribution to this blog or by purchasing an NSP book.)