Drain, Oregon. Named after Charles Drain. What the hell did he do to warrant a town named for him? It is a good and bad name for a town. It offers its residents a cruel metaphor (going down the drain) or an empowering one (drain the swamp).
Really, what is Drain all about?
Drain is about gravy, legendary biscuits and gravy, the best biscuits and gravy in Oregon or the entire Pacific Northwest for that matter, perhaps the entire country, but not the world because the rest of the world doesn’t matter when it comes to biscuits and gravy. They don’t serve biscuits and gravy in France or Mongolia.
On my previous visit to Drain, I had walked into the second best biscuits and gravy story in the annals of Oregon history. A gas station in Drain serves biscuits and gravy and only biscuits and gravy until 11:00 a.m. or until they run out (they usually do). They serve it out of a monster crock pot on the checkout counter and the recipe comes from the station’s owner, a secret Southern recipe that he refuses to divulge.
The legend is true: I have seen it with my own eyes. People drove, walked, bicycled and skateboarded from miles and miles around to eat Drain biscuits and gravy. Some took it to go. Some ate it right there. Some sucked it up with a straw while riding a bicycle.
No, I had not tasted the legend on my initial visit. I was a vegetarian for over 20 years and feared the power of Drain gravy. But in my former life I was a connoisseur of the dish and once had a breakfast date with the actress Heather Graham where I took her to my favorite dive bar in Portland for biscuits and gravy after a one night stand with her. (See my book Rose City Heist for the full true account.)
I pulled into Food Mart filling station. A 70-year old woman was sitting on a stool near one of the pumps. I told her I wanted 20 bucks worth of regular and asked if the crock pot was still full. It was nearing 9:30 a.m. She told me they had plenty left.
Whatever leftover remained she would no doubt take home and feed to her family and pets for every meal of the day. Imagine that household.
It was time for the legend. I might never return to Drain as I try to avoid going down the drain and drain the swamp of this and that.
I got out of the car and approached the Food Mart. A tall woman in her 30s with flowing blonde dreadlocks and a pierced nose sat at on overturned bucket near the entrance. She was wearing the Food Mart uniform, which made her, impossibly, an employee.
She got up and greeted me. I told her I was there for an order of biscuits and gravy. She had an accent I couldn’t quite place…and then did. South African.
A dreadlocked woman from South Africa with a pierced nose was about to serve me biscuits and gravy in Drain, Oregon. I was getting it to go. The idea was to eat it for breakfast near Reedsport, while looking at elk after the drive through the Coast Range and along the Umpqua River.
We went inside. I was the only customer. I asked her for a half order and how much it cost.
Two dollars she said and ladled up the order into a huge Styrofoam box. She handed it to me and I opened it. There was enough biscuits and gravy to feed four people and two dogs. This was a half order? It was a $17 full order in a fancy breakfast joint in Portland where people wait two hours in line and the gravy is more gruel than gravy. I tipped her two bucks. She winked.
I smelled the legend and immediately wanted a bloody mary. If we lived in a civilized country I could have gotten one to go as well.
Time to head west I thanked the South African and the gas pumper and edged out onto Highway 36. The biscuits and gravy rode shotgun and its aroma quickly enveloped the car. I was getting a bit dizzy and turned on some air and the radio, and locked in a FM station.
Thirty seconds later, I was stopped in the highway behind a dozen cars. An ODOT crew was clearing a landslide and clearing it slowly.
I looked at the Styrofoam box. Why not? I wasn’t going anywhere for ten minutes, maybe longer. I opened the box and found a plastic fork ready to Gravy and Roll. “Beat It,” by Michael Jackson came on the radio.
There was congealed crawling movement inside the box. I forked the legend into my mouth. My God! The lard. The chunks. The texture. The spice. I ate half the order by the time “Beat It” concluded. The flagger turned her sign around and we started moving. A few seconds later, smoke from slash piles aflame in the nearby hills drifted across the roadway and visibility all but disappeared. It was smoke the color of gravy. Things begin to feel heavy, leaden. “US Blues” by the Grateful Dead came on the radio. My eyelids collapsed every now and then.
I woke up looking at a herd of elk in a field. They were sitting down in a circle. The Styrofoam box was licked clean. There were also my notes written on the box. I gathered I wrote them although I ha no recollection of doing so. They were notes for a murder mystery where biscuits and gravy played a sinister role.
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