Confessions of a Breadboard Addict - The Breadboard
Well, a new year has arrived. We are safely past 1914, 1929, 1984 and Y2K. Now, as we start a new decade, of course, I thought the most important thing anyone could do is be the first customer of the year at the Breadboard. This place has been around since 1983 so it is entering its 37th year. I knew there were certain important things that I could find comfort in knowing they would remain satisfying, unchanged and up-lifting. I could count on a great cup of better not bitter locally fresh-roasted Goodbean coffee, I could count on cheerful and welcoming personal service where they know my name and expect my visit, and I could count on a monstrous Marionberry muffin and more delicious breakfast options then a normal starving picky breakfast eater could ever need. But what I didn’t expect as I listened to the sometimes inappropriate but always interesting banter of the employees was that there was a new family at the helm of my Breadboard. What? Panic. Confusion. Disillusionment. Dread. Nikki? Kristal? Pete? What about the delicious sausage country gravy? The Mountain Man? My Marionberry muffin? Nikki’s Nightmare Spinach and Cream Cheese omelet? Kristal’s Killer Chicken Sandwich? I was disoriented, even a bit woozy. My eyes started to moisten, my throat started to clench and my fingers tingled and my right arm started to throb a little and I could feel the optimism and hope that comes with a new year slipping from my grasp and as I watched my coffee cool, the steam evaporating into the air, uncertainty, and dread were just about to overwhelm me when I realized the Breadboard family was just going about their business as usual. Energized, Wholly unconcerned. Happy. I took my first sip and the coffee was, as usual, strong but not too strong. My huge Marionberry muffin was huge and familiar and my server, Kerri (who has been there longer than any of the owners – combined? haha..) was just as loud and loving as ever and I just looked at her and squeaked, “Wh-wh-what happened? Pete? Is he-?” Kerri cut me off, “-older than me? YES!” But I continued, is he d-d-d…?” She jumped in, “Done? Yep. 23 years. Oh, he’s around, loafing more than ever, and Kristal and Nikki will still be pitching in and Pete will probably show up unexpectedly and try to get his food for free, but you know what’s really cool is that a lot of times a guy works really hard and puts his heart and soul into his work and most people don’t really get how hard being a line cook day after day is and they take pride in what they do and they are really skilled and they fix stuff and clean like crazy and don’t expect anyone to notice and they are genuinely kind and really care about people and they never get a real opportunity to own something and get past just living month to month as they put two kids through college and others benefit and profit from their diligence and hard work.” My first thought was, “Wow, that was a really long sentence, but then I asked, “Ok, so?” She explained, “Pete is turning the reins over to Gilberto and his family. Gilberto loves this place. His kids have worked here. He takes pride in the Breadboard. He’s one of the best cooks the Breadboard has ever seen. He’s younger than Pete, as most people are – haha, and he’s got passion. And we are psyched!” As I pondered this new revelation and gazed at my monstrous muffin and the aroma of better not bitter Goodbean coffee massaged my senses and the throbbing in my arm relented and things started to come back into focus, the dinger at the kitchen window dinged and Gilberto hollered out, “Kerri, food’s up – it’s gettin’ cold!” And she rolled her eyes and warmly barked back, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll give ya’ something cold!” Well, that’s what I call a happy new year.
He was ruggedly handsome with an impish grin and was considering kayaking from Port Orford to Maui. At least, that’s how the woman at the table next to me was describing him. She said she’d asked if she could follow him on Instagram but he said he only believed in land-lines and still had a rotary phone. Her friend rolled her eyes and continued scarfing down a Mountain Man. Between shovelfuls she asked what this guy did for a living and she said he described himself as an adventure barista and one day he was going to travel by kayak and mountain unicycle to every place on the globe that produced fair trade, shade-grown, vegan, raw, organic, happy coffee and make the perfect almond milk, lavender latte. I took a sip from my better not bitter Goodbean coffee and thought that someday I might ride a bicycle all the way to Jacksonville where the fabulous Goodbean coffee was roasted – kind of like him but, you know, different. And for some reason this made me think about the honey badger and how after it gets bitten by a cobra it actually goes into a coma for an hour and then it’s fine and then my cheerful server delivered my pumpkin pancakes because now is the time the elusive pumpkin pancakes begin to appear at the Breadboard and I thought I would sort of be in a food coma in about half an hour and it might be fun to get a pecan muffin to take home because it would go great with my coffee at the Goodbean and then my phone whistled and I checked my text message and thought how I missed land lines and rotary phones but the idea of being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at night in a 21 foot kayak sounded like a nightmare, not an adventure and I don’t care how politically correct the coffee might be in exotic locales and foreign lands, I never like to be more than a two day’s ride from the Breadboard because unlike the honey badger, I’m actually really afraid of cobras and it reminded me of the ancient Zulu saying about the dung beetle and the happy bean and the family with no hut but I couldn’t remember the point of the saying but I sipped my cup of black, better not bitter, fresh roasted award-winning local Goodbean coffee and took my first bite of pumpkin pancake and wondered if my grin could be described as impish.
I was at the Breadboard the other day, relishing the final days of a basically smokeless summer. Because my Veggie Benedict with creamy hollandaise was so tasty and the setting was so pleasant and my old dog was sitting there so contentedly, I was launched into a creative reverie that would probably amaze German Gestalt scientists were they to do a quick brain scan. Possibly because of the perfectly seasoned home-fried potatoes, a story popped into my awareness and I thought I should write a novel but I immediately remembered Somerset Maughm’s famous maxim that there are three rules for writing a novel; unfortunately no one knows what they are and my motivation instantly withered and my attention shifted to a teenage girl at the table next to me playing with a slinky but then her Dad told her she was too old to be playing with slinkies but with the verbal agility of an Olympic fencer, she was quick to point out that NASA engineers conducting zero-gravity expirements on the Space Shuttle weren’t too old or that soldiers in the Vietnam war jury-rigging field antennas weren’t too old and that the Naval Civil Engineer in 1945 who was in the process of designing cushioning devices for sensitive equipment on destroyers didn’t seem to be too old and my dog seemed to be as intrigued with the movement of the coil as I was by her knowledge of the modest little toy and then she added that so many slinkies have been sold since 1945 that if you connected them all together they could wrap around the earth over 200 hundred times and then she added that that statistic was more accurate than the supposedly “accurate” statistic of the number of people like her dad who claim to have been at Woodstock because if you search the internet and calculate all of the people who claim to have been there it would come to over 47 million people, half of which were 2 years old, driving 22 million VW buses and everyone knows that’s impossible but the advertising jingle “everyone knows its slinky” is possibly one of the most successful jingles of all time. Touché. Double wow. Slam dunk. I was just eating my Veggie Bene, slowly savoring every bite, resisting today’s culture of immediate gratification and it occurred to me that I get most of my brilliant ideas in the afternoon and that there are night owls and early birds but what is someone whose productive peak is in the afternoon called? And it made me think of Napolean because someone asked him how much sleep people need and he said 4 hours for a man, 6 hours for a woman and 8 hours for a fool and I thought I need at least 8 and my old dog seems to need 23… Then the slinky girl ordered a Veggie Benedict and I knew. I just knew. Kismet. Cheerful chatter, wonderful morning ambiance, delicious food, and tremendously useful slinky trivia. Maybe the slinky is a simple little kid’s toy and maybe I sleep too much – but hey, I’m sitting here with my old dog enjoying a perfect morning and Napoleon ended up exiled on an island and the girl’s Dad never made it to Woodstock and the closest thing he probably ever had to a VW bus was an Outback and she might end up being the first person to play with a toy on Mars. So I raised my cup to the slinky girl and my old dog took a satisfied slurp from his water bowl…another marvelous day at the Breadboard.
There’s a popular expression in Botswana that seems like universal wisdom. Monks in caves repeat the same idea over and over. Most popular books of “wisdom” drone on about it and self-actualized parents in Ashland pretty much hammer it into their children. I guess it’s kind of like a mantra or a timeless principle, a fundamental truth, a foundational belief. Here it is: “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Simple sounding and yet, oh so profound. Now, some gullible YouTube surfers claim this was a slogan invented by the marketing gurus at Kelloggs in the 50’s. Other people spread harmful propaganda about fasting or the benefits of calorie restriction or the danger of high cholesterol … Poppycock. Balderdash. Ok, ok… the Atkins diet was on to something because everyone knows bacon is basically the miracle drug of foods except the diet was unsustainable because it was woefully lacking in Belgian Waffles and thick creamy sausage country gravy and flaky homemade biscuits and perfectly seasoned home-fried potatoes and homemade Marionberry jam etc…Yes, fasting of some sort may have benefits – BUT – and this is important – your fasting window must not prevent you from indulging in the most important physiological and spiritually cleansing experience of the day: the all-important nirvana-like breakfast experience at the Breadboard – sipping lattes and just sharing in some good old fashioned conversation and up-building social interaction. Listen to that all-knowing internal voice that simply tells you to eat breakfast. Eat. Yes. Eat my friend. The specials change pretty much daily and you might be busy tomorrow.
“Call me Ahmed.” That’s what the young man said when he joined his family on the deck at the Breadboard after 6 months of torturous awesome food abstinence while he was away in Eugene. He was like a conscriptee returning from the Russian front. 6 months of no country gravy, no Breadboard omelets, no Breadboard Huevos Rancheros, no Kristal’s Killer Chicken Sandwich… tribulation… torture… A beautiful sunny day on the deck and the little sister said, “who’s Ahmed?” To which the prideful young man said, “not being a lit major like me, I wouldn’t expect you to recognize the most famous opening line in literary history. “ To which, she replied, “if you’re referring to Moby Dick, that would be “Call me Ishmael” and contrary to popular belief, it’s not the opening line of the novel, so I’m not impressed.” Then the scholarly duck said, “I heard you let my bird die while I was in Eugene because you didn’t give it enough water” -and they had just seen each other for the first time in 6 months and were already going at it, but the mom intervened and said it was time to order because the amazing yumminess of Breadboard bacon always brings peace and everyone agreed and the server started describing the special frittata for that day, then the girl whispered to the mom, “birds drink water?” And the mom sighed, “Maman died today” and the scholarly duck said, good one ’etranger! And the lil’ sis said, “ touché” Camus! High fives all around as the smell of better not bitter Goodbean fresh roasted coffee and grilling bacon filled the morning air and everyone settled into a state of pavlovian breathless anticipation as each ordered their favorite dish.
Graduation time again and the conversations at the Breadboard can start to get kind of weird. A gaggle of recent grizz grads were sitting on the deck the other morning and it started to turn into a kind of mad hatter tea party moment as the conversations left the parents behind and the recent milestone achievers disappeared down the rabbit hole. The conversation that set the party in motion was a heated discussion about Le Grand K losing its special status as the international prototype kilogram and that by tying the kilogram to the Planck constant, which is based on unchanging natural properties, a much higher degree of metric accuracy can be achieved. One dad tried to participate by saying that the kid that would be going to MIT wouldn’t be able to find enough kilos of awesome country gravy anywhere on the East coast which he thought was pretty clever but everyone ignored him while a philosophical fidgety bespectacled teen scholar started lecturing about how Argentinian literature and science fiction could explain the whole capitalist based marketing system most people call higher education was really just a manifestation of Enders Game phenomena and then one of the moms piped in that she remembers that when she completed high school she was one degree hotter and no one got it except her husband who said she was plenty hot before she got her degree and they both cracked up but everyone still had no idea what Argentinian literature had to do with anything but it reminded one of the little Helman dragons who clawed his way into the conversation by bemoaning that talking about Argentina had thrown him into a chaotic chasm of indecision because he couldn’t choose between the breakfast burrito, the Huevos Rancheros or the Ole’ Omelet and then a cute sevenish little girl chirped “question the coach and argue with the referee!” Just then, a dapper older gentleman wobbled by and reminded everyone that no matter where you go there you are – to which the server that had just appeared in order to describe the specials for the day added that as long as you hold home within you, you’ll always find yourself. Summing up the whole paella of pontification, the Dad concluded that the biggest lesson he had learned from graduation speeches was to make your bed every morning.
The Breadboard was all abuzz today – not so much because of the yummy food and the fact that the deck is open and the crew treats you like family and the fresh roasted award-winning Goodbean better not bitter coffee is just right – yes, those are always buzzable aspects of the Breadboard experience – but today was different. Apparently, for some bizarre and inexplicable reason, someone dropped off a copy of the Mueller report – I mean, it’s not like the Breadboard is The New York Times or the leading edge investigative rag, Sneak Preview – it’s not even a news organization, but, 7 am, first thing in the morning, Laura cheerfully unlocked the door because she’s always cheerful, and there was the report wrapped in a plain brown wrapper with a Post-It note that said, “Would’ve sent this to the New York Times or the Sneak Preview, but I had an awesome lunch on the deck here yesterday, so here you go,”. Weird, right? I know! The Mueller report. And according to the report, amazingly, Ashland was at the center of some of the controversy, including lurid accounts of Mayor John Stromberg playing blackjack with Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels in Las Vegas; Ashland meals tax money being funneled through Deutschebank in Germany; and harrowing tales of cougar and deer protesting on the White House lawn (the wall apparently couldn’t keep them out). Of course, this is all rumor. No one has actually seen the report, let alone the Post-it, and if they did, they would deny it and just order another massive and sinfully tasty Marionberry muffin and divert the conversation to something more neutrally pleasant like the delightful frothiness of the Breadboard Cappucino or the imaginative tastiness of the day’s Fritatta… buzz, buzz, buzz. Wonder what tomorrow will be like at the BB.
Eggs Benedict with classic Hollandaise made from scratch all day, every day… weird? Nope, just wonderful.
Usually, the Breadboard opens their deck on May 1st but this year, they opened it on April 1st because if the gas stops working in Ashland at least people can sit outside and drink coffee and eat salads and sandwiches and maybe they will fire up the BBQ because the weather is getting weirder and summer might come in April. Things just seem to be getting kind of weird in Ashland lately. Like, I overheard a woman say that she was a vegetarian but then she confessed that the Breadboard bacon is so amazing that’s the one place she makes a compromise – but really that’s not the weird thing. Also, I don’t necessarily want a stranger staying in my house, but there seems to be more and more homeless people in Ashland but I heard some people at lunch the other day complaining that it’s getting harder and harder to find house-sitters lately which, if you think about it, it seems kind of weird. Another thing that pretty much everybody can agree on is that the new animated Spider Man is a better actor and cooler than any “real” spidey, and that’s kind of weird. But what’s REALLY weird is how the Breadboard can serve an eggs Benedict (veggie or with Canadian Bacon) seven days a week, all day long, with classic hollandaise sauce made from scratch and no one in the kitchen is French… although there is a French guy named Pierre that comes to the restaurant pretty much every day but he doesn’t spend any time in the kitchen. That’s weird because Hollandaise can be moody if the chickens aren’t happy so to get it right seven days a week is pretty cool. Also, I guess one of the weirdest things lately is to lose the Ashland Outdoor Store and Cripple Creek. They added charm and character to Ashland and they will be missed.
A great man once said that if the plaza was the heart of Ashland then Lithia Park was its soul and, for me, a perfect day was in the making because I’d had Almond Crusted Nutella Stuffed French Toast in the morning at the Breadboard and their specials change almost daily and this one was another amazing creation and then I had indulged in a long leisurely walk through Ashland’s soul and then, after visiting some friends, I figured why not cap things off with the perfect capper which of course meant going to the Black Sheep because where else can you find a Celtic music jam, Guinness Stout and Irish Stew all merged together at the same time? So there I was, listening to the story of the drunken sailor and the rattlin’ bog and rovin’ about with cockles and mussels and on and on and then a little fellow in a Paddy cap at the table next to me was getting a wee bit loud and he started talking about the Breadboard and how one of the servers there told him that they are happy to have the business from tourists and visitors BUT they’ve been serving Ashland for 36+ years and their FOCUS has always been their LOCALS, their regulars, and how they have just started offering a LOCAL SPECIAL for LOCALS ONLY, seven days a week, where you can get 2 eggs, homefries and toast for $4.99 but it’s for locals only and it’s top secret and it’s not on the menu and they don’t advertise it and you have to ask for “The Local Special” and if you say the “The Local Deal” or “The Ashland Special” or something else, they won’t give it to you at the special price because they’ll know you are faking it and you probably don’t even know what the Helman mascot is or where the fairy ponds are – kind of like a secret knock kind of thing – and I thought it felt kind of mysterious and Irish in a revolutionary speakeasy old country kind of way, but, you know, for breakfast, and everyone started cheering and doing an Irish Jig and it was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Apparently, there is a new bohemian inspired mom uniform emerging in New York involving number 6 clogs and a thick colorful detachable handbag strap. Its a shift from the Amazon parka and sneakers and two steps past the yoga pants and Uggs get-up and while I was having breakfast at the Breadboard the other day a Grizz high school student was trying to explain this to his mom because she had on this sweater with shoulder pads and he was trying to explain that she was stuck in the 80’s and it was embarrassing and she was trying to explain that the 80’s were cool again and he was insisting that the 80’s were to fashion like Spam was to food and that, yes, some things never go out of style like say the Breadboard Omelette but Spam was never in style and shoulder pads were meant for football. And she tried to shift the conversation to his Senior project and he said he’d been doing “deep research” on YouTube and he’d found that there was a new-agey fad in South Korea where stressed out busy executives were paying to go to “prison” where they were locked in a room for 5 days and could only eat porridge and had to do semi-hard labor and while he was shoveling in a big plate of homemade buttermilk biscuits smothered in thick country gravy he was saying that he wanted to be locked in the shed in their backyard with no food or water and record the experience and that he would need to miss a week of school but it was worth it because he could complete his entire senior project in 5 days and the mom said she thought that was an excellent idea but it would need to be 10 days with no phone and he could do it over spring break while they rest of them went to Maui and he could have the cat in the shed with him which solved their vacation cat-care problem and there was this long awkward silence as he shoveled away…