Oregon Tavern Age: The Narrows

Crater Lake was mostly shrouded in fog and wildfire smoke, so my associate and left after a brief visit. We hit the road on Highway 138 and just when I thought OTA was just about gone, there appeared The Narrows, a rectangular wooden joint across the road from the Lower Umpqua River, a few miles east of Glide. All around the building were burned trees and blackened landscape from a 2020 forest fire that roared through the canyon. That The Narrows survived this conflagration is, well, a miracle…or maybe not, as I was about to learn.

We ordered our drinks from a convivial female OTA bartender. Three other OTAs nursed beers and nobody was playing the slots, something unheard today in OTA country.

On television, the Ducks were clobbering the Buffaloes in a meaningless but lucrative allegedly amateur football game. Country music from the 70s played on the jukebox.

The d├ęcor was mostly typical OTA roadhouse stuff, antlers and photos of famous dead patrons. But two stuffed owls mounted on the wall made it memorable. Stuffed owls! With rhinestone eyes! Praise the Lord! These creatures so warmed my heart with their ultimate sacrifice.

We sat at far table and admired a large black and white poster of an older bearded man holding an acoustic guitar who bore a a remarkable resemblance to Papa Hemingway if Papa had ended up an aging folk rocker and hadn’t blown off his head with an elephant gun. I had to know who the mystery man in the poster was so I went up to the bartender to ask about him and request a pen because mine had died.

The bartender handed me a pen. One of the OTAs remarked that people didn’t write in longhand anymore. I said I did and still wrote letters and post cards, not that anyone wrote back. He said he’d recently thought about writing his son a letter. Do it! I screamed. Nothing excites people like getting a real letter or post card. Damn right, the bartender said.

She did not know the identity of the man in the poster. It had been the subject of much speculation among the regulars and several maintained it was the late great country singer/actor Hoyt Axton who apparently once owned a cabin on the Lower Umpqua.

Hoyt Axton! Of Gremlins fame where the cute furry demons killed him in some horrific manner? How in the world could that be?

The bartender walked over to the jukebox and punched up some Hoyt Axton. It occurred to me that we might be the only people in a world of eight billion souls listening to Hoyt Axton at the time.

Hoyt sounded great, not like modern crap country and its phony narratives of an America that never existed. It’s all nostalgia today.

My associate dialed up images of Hoyt on her phone for comparison to the poster. The Ernest Hemingway look-a-like was not Hoyt Axton. That was plain.

But who was he? The bartender said the owner bought the poster somewhere in Oregon years ago and then hung it up in the joint six years ago when she took over.

The truth will probably never be known. Good!

As for The Narrows miraculous survival from the forest fire, it was no miracle. As the bartender recounted it, when all seemed doomed and the non-local firefighters said it couldn’t be saved and they had to move on and rescue homes, the OTAs rallied, broke out the hand tools and chainsaws and cut a fire break around The Narrows. Others hosed down the roof and outbuildings.

Doubtless they were drinking the whole time.