Posted by: George | July 15, 2010


July 14, 2010 (morning)

Retracing some, certainly not all, of Steinbeck’s trip fifty years later can provide some perspective on America. Some of Steinbeck’s concerns, like the wastefulness of Americans and our impact on the environment, are still relevant. So, too, Steinbeck’s lament about our loss of localness.

I left Crater Lake early, at about 6:00 am. I thought I would start heading for the Redwoods and just grab breakfast on the road. After weaving through a number of roads that apparently had no name or number, I made my way into Medford. I would drive in circles around Medford for the next two and a half hours (more on that in another post).

When I started looking for a place to eat breakfast, I saw nothing but chains—McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell. I also saw three separate chains of coffee kiosks—the small drive-thru espresso shops in a small building in the middle of a parking lot. I saw three of The Human Bean (get it?), two of The Pony Espresso (get it?), and four of the Dutch Bros (nothing to get, unless I missed some subtly). Oddly, no Starbucks.

Steinbeck was concerned about how every American town was becoming like every other American town. His fear has been realized. Just about every American town has the same kind of hotels, fast food chains, and the same muffler shops. Some of the chains are regional, like grocery stores. A driver is rarely startled moving through an American town or city.

I stopped into Dutch Bros, bought a latte, and a muffin top that was baked in Seattle. One of my concerns about American culture is the way that we tend to have pastries that look good but don’t taste very good. My muffin top was not very tasty, though I have to admit I don’t know what a muffin top is supposed to taste like.

As I continued to drive in circles for no apparent reason (except that the state of Oregon seems to want to save money on street signs), I parked on Front Street, which might have been in Medford or a town near Medford. On foot now, I saw a restaurant, the Pioneer Family Restaurant, attached to a bar, which was already open. At about 8:20 am.

I went in and ordered one of the specials—ham steak, eggs, toast, and hash browns. Two women around sixty or so, a little on the large size, were running the place. The waitress (didn’t get her name, so we’ll call her Rose) was singing along with the radio, a 1960s and 1970s format. She didn’t sing the entire song, just a phrase or word here and there.

“. . . low-rider, doo, doody, doody, doo . . .”

“. . . alone again . . .”

She sang really loud and not at all on pitch. Her voice lacked resonance.

When she paused for a few minutes, three people at a table started to applaud, and she said, “Throw money.” They said, “We applauded because you stopped.”

They probably play out this scene seven mornings a week.

When Rose delivered my breakfast, I said, “That’s a big ham steak.”

“I told you it was 20 ounces.”

“I guess I didn’t hear that part.”

I was only able to finish about a third of the ham steak, even though it was very tasty. Rose offered to pack the leftovers up. I told her I was on a road trip. She said, “I can pack it in ice.” I told I would just cut my losses.

As I was leaving, I told Rose that I liked her singing. She let out a hearty laugh.

I had a break time at breakfast. So many Americans would never think of taking a chance on a place like the Pioneer Family Restaurant. They seemed to prefer the assured mediocrity of fast food over the uncertainty of local fare.

As I drove around circles for the next few hours, I thought about returning for lunch. Rose might have saved my ham steak.



  1. Here’s hoping the slow-food movement changes the thoughts of American people to the restaurants that serve whole food, over processed. This is one American who envy you and your ham steak breakfast at the Pioneer.


  2. Maybe they were going for the “Dutch Brews” as a take off of the “Dutch Boy” paint. I don’t get it either and my head hurts trying to stretch to make a connection.


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