Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Hidden culture

Who says culture is something only found in cities? Who says that there is no such thing as American culture? Well, probably no one. However, sometimes you’re reminded of the down-home roots and how deep they reach at the most unexpected of times.
To find the true American culture, the one that knows no outside influence, that has not become enlightened through the years, the one that has embraced the vinyl covered booths and spinning stools of the 50’s and never looked back, you have to go deep into the middle of nowhere. Nowhere is a destination found without looking most of the time, and it’s found all over the country.
One such cultural epicenter is located 10 miles up a river valley in Central Washington. The town of Ardenvoir is one building called Cooper’s. Inside is a post office, a general store and a café. The floor is paved in old rusted license plates and the beer cooler is from the last century and may still need ice blocks in it to keep it cold. There are ashtrays with COOPERS stamped on them, cans of vegetables, extension cords, glass table decorations, signs that say “I’ve been in two wars. I’ve been married twice.” There’s a wall of Polaroid shots of hunters in camouflage, holding deer heads with no hides, no bodies, or blood soaking the fur around their throats.
The café has old-fashioned bar stools and a sloped floor, so you can lean against the wall as you eat the huge plate of cheap and greasy fare they set in front of you.
The woman that runs the café – waitress, cashier and cook – commutes up the valley in a monstrous truck with a grill to ward off the deer that try to bar her way. I asked her where she got the cups she served the coffee in, and she smiled. “Wal Mart.”
She’s exactly what she needs to be: gray long hair, laughing eyes, crooked teeth and a comforting motherly figure. She tells the locals how it is, and treats everyone the same. No one complains about the service, or the undercooked eggs, or the cheap plastic tablecloth, because that’s not what they came here for. This cultural oasis is where you come to meet your neighbors, talk of your pending divorce, and drink beer at 10 a.m. for a dollar a can out of the refrigerator with the “please do not serve yourself” sign.
If this isn’t culture, then what is?

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