Dedicated readers will recall that in my last post I was in Biggs Junction, OR, getting gas and talking with the station attendant about that famous collection of rocks in China: Stonehenge.

Fast-forward approximately four minutes: the tank is full and I run into the nearby McDonald’s to fill my water bottle. I come out and return to my car. Standing outside it is a young lady smoking a cigarette. I say Hi. She says Hi. I say, How are you? That was all it took, and soon she tells me all of the following:

  • Her name—Kayla.
  • Where she is going—east along 84 past Pendleton.
  • How long it will take to get to Pendleton—an hour and a half.
  • How long it will take to get to my destination—a good hour past Pendleton.
  • Where she works—The Wildhorse Resort and Casino outside Pendleton.
  • What she does at work—food services.
  • How much she enjoyes her work—very much.
  • Why I should stop at her work and eat—They’ve got a nice buffet.

A note on buffets: I am not above a good one. I eat at an Indian buffet down the street with some consistency, and at the mention of The Wildhorse my ears perked up. I also spent a very memorable 4th of July at The Old Country Buffet with several buddies about a decade ago. Why?—Because it was the 4th of July in America and I am an American. You find a better way to celebrate your country than by grossly over consuming sub-par food-like items.

(Anyone who remains unconvinced by this line of reasoning is invited to try the following experiment: look up Patriot in your Webster’s American Dictionary. Surely you’ll find a photo of the three of us at The OCB, our trays overflowing with lasagna and fried chicken, iceberg lettuce slathered in ranch dressings, jello salads [plural] and chicken noodle soup, carrot cake, pizza, and three types of milk: 2%, whole, chocolate. And no, this was not the college dining hall, it was The OCB, dammit!)

  • The best thing about The Wildhorse Resort and Casino’s buffet—free refills on soda.

A note on eating and food: I like food but I am not a foodie. Mostly, this is because I’m not an asshole (or, if that’s too general a statement, then at least not that sort of asshole). For proof: I would never insult the world by creating a food blog; I have never Instagrammed my dinner, and I don’t give a shit about your Instagrammed dinner; I have never eaten somewhere because Saint Anthony Bourdain told me to; and while a good meal might be something to tell me about, the odds are solid that I’m not going to care very much, so save us both the hassle and skip the blather and let’s talk about a food topic that’s truly interesting, such as Donald Trump’s love affair with burritos.

The converse of my snobbishness about foodies is that I am not a snob about actual food. That is, I will eat just about anything, anywhere, anytime, and have a smile on my face while I’m doing it.

A note on Kayla: I liked her. She was chatty as a morning dove but also sweet as pie, and I appreciated what she was contributing to my trip (viz: this essay). I wanted to support her by going to her buffet, but then I had the following thought:

If the best thing about your restaurant, the selling point, the reason why I should stop and eat there, is because for one reasonable price I can consume all the soda I want…, well, perhaps it’s just not my sort of joint.

A note on sodas: I am not above a good one. Roughly once every six weeks I drink a Coke. It is always delicious. Always! For that—thank you, Coca-Cola people.

At the end of the day, and for better or worse, I passed on seeing Kayla and the Wildhorse buffet. It was a conscious choice—from the highway I saw it gleaming like a pearl on a pillowy dais—but I decided to skip it. I’ll never know if that was a mistake. I pray it was not.

When I arrived in Pendleton I did drive through town, which was one of the more depressing undertakings of my drive. The first thing any visitor with functional eyes will notice about Pendleton is that they have a rodeo. It’s called The Round-Up. It’s a big deal—people come from all over to attend it. The next thing you’ll notice about Pendleton is that when The Round Up isn’t happening there’s nothing else in the town to fill the void. Perhaps the town leaders should consider marketing Pendleton during the non-rodeo times as a “living ghost town,” because sadly that’s what it felt like.

A note on rodeos: I love them for the same reasons I loved eating at The Old Country Buffet.

As for Pendleton: as quickly as I arrived I scurried on, east and south into the Blue Mountains. The following day I went to a rodeo and drank a soda. The soda was a Pepsi, my grandfather’s favorite, and the rodeo was swell. I only drank one Pepsi—refills were not an option—and frankly that was more than enough. But man was it was delicious, and the whole experience can be summed up in two words:

Oh America…