a memoir of a Jim Dandy day

January 10th, 2015, 2pm

The culmination of a humorous, ditzy day with my Mom is this photo of… a dinky strip club named Pirate’s Cove on Sandy Blvd. with this gem of a sign, absurdly proclaiming, “Packed with Gluten!”

How did we get there? No, actually I didn’t take my Mom to Pirate’s Cove, which is re-purposed from an old A&W root beer stand by the look of it. She had forgotten her cane elsewhere on Sandy….

That elsewhere was Jim Dandy’s, a little automobile roadside joint, which I had previously noticed dates its establishment to 1937. This makes the diner positively antiquarian by West Coast restaurant standards, and I was curious what we’d find inside that gave Jim Dandy’s such staying power, as I had hopes for a breakfast all day kinda place, slinging classic dishes straight outta the time warp of timeless Americana like we’d found a dusty detour to getting our kicks on Route 66.

Alas, breakfast had ended at 10:30 AM as it does everyday, with lunch until 8 PM consisting of a motley assortment of burgers or hot dogs and mediocre sandwiches, with a dizzying array of soft-serve milkshakes, freezes, and a few old school NW beers. Nothing about Jim Dandy’s is hipster, nor really even ironic. In fact, the sandwiches we had weren’t worth a Dear John letter, much less an exclamation that they were tasty as Jim Dandy, but this isn’t a Yelp review about my sad Reuben or my Mom’s Velveeta grilled cheese sandwich. Maybe the burgers are better, or maybe it doesn’t matter what you eat here so much as that this speck of roadside riffraff remains sitting here.

My dining experience was redeemed by a weird and wonderful milkshake, dubbed the Porky Morgan, featuring the soft-serve vanilla ice cream with a trinity of syrups: maple, rum, and bacon. Yes, bacon syrup! Now as a chef and a Southerner I habitually hoard my bacon fat like a pirate who loves treasure, and of course I have used it in countless ways— including in my own bacon fat caramel sauce for a diabolical ice cream sundae. So I am pre-destined, like a Pilgrim praying in a hard pew, to receive this news of bacon syrup just how a true believer accepts a blessing, no questions asked but ready for bliss.

Now I won’t say the doors of perception opened my Third Eye with this oddly delicious milkshake, but I was feeling a little Jim Dandy, and carelessly failed to remind my Mom that her cane, which she rarely uses, rested beside her next to the booth. She was pointing at the old pair of rollerskates, the kind that used a key of the kind when she was a young girl who zoomed around rinks to big band music, as the skates presided above a glass case filled with Hot Wheels inspired collection of toy cars, which were a relic from my 1960s childhood.

My collection of Hot Wheels disappeared beneath the stagnant busted levee waters that inundated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and my Mom is long past her time of skating, but these keys from the past amused us in a manner of speaking that surely harkens to a Jim Dandy feeling.

We had errands to lolligag towards that afternoon, driving around to an Antioch Orthodox Church on 162nd, buying gas at a price so cheap I almost thought I’d get a Sinclair Oil trinket of a plastic dinosaur, and eventually the return to our neighborhood to make some groceries on 30th. Not until we got out of my car, nicknamed The Igloo for its boxy white shape, did we realize that her cane had been forgotten as an intruder of a symbolic, encroaching Winter while we were soaking up a brief hint of a timeless Jim Dandy nostalgia for the Summer of sweet youthful nonchalance.

No worry, groceries can be made by pushing a large cart, so the cane was not germane to the task, and in the end, it gave me an excuse to get her little dog to take a ride, just me and her and a mutt named Buddy on a mission to retrieve something that Winter had put a claim upon, a cane that carried oh not so much significance as a talisman, no. Just a thing that might be needed now and again, a bulwark on a ditzy day.

We put up the groceries; I walked the little pooch— who has had his own peripatetic life of getting lost in Mexico and retrieved to Oregon by old folks, who in a few years died, and the dog was passed around to their relatives who didn’t much care for Buddy, which resulted in a dog-knapping by a sea captain who just happened to know my Mom, and that’s a roundabout way of how I find myself singing whatever soul song that pops into my brain to a little white pooch to coax him to smell the scents while I learn how to walk again. Lately, it’s been Marvin Gaye (Buddy, let’s not beat around the bush, C’mon, let’s get it on!) but my serenades for Buddy are like a dress rehearsal for mirth, for warding off heartbreaking love by being silly and surreal, because we all like songs sung for no reason than that we’re here for more than exercise and a good poop. If the neighbors hear me, my excuse will always be that I’m from New Orleans….

So, we are ready for our little jaunt back to Sandy Blvd., in my Igloo merrily combusting fossil fuels like we do, past two small old-fashioned pharmacies that still operate their soda fountains, past Clyde’s Prime Rib where some jazz musicians jam on Sunday nights, past the Vietnamese district of pho joints, past the Cameo Pancakes and Steak restaurant where they also hide Thai flair on their improbable menu, and as we’re rolling out to the rest of Sandy, I see the sign for the dinky strip club named Pirate’s Cove except going out on Sandy that side of the sign says, “We care a lot…” and I find myself futilely trying to explain the grunge rock anthem’s idea of ironic fury to my very progressive, leftist mother who nonetheless has never heard that song I’d totally forgotten about, but in the wake of schoolkids slaughtered in America and Pakistan and #BringBackOurGirls and #JeSuisCharlie and #JeSuisAhmed [breathe] well, I tried to get my point across that fury sneaks across the enemy lines of apathy and overwhelming daze when there’s humor, but nobody seems to be laughing, when it seems that we just want somebody to blame rather than admit it’s just you and me and my Mom and a little dog named Buddy, riding into The Future.

The red light changes, and the Lee Morgan playing on the local jazz station is still finger poppin’ & swingin’, and as we cross the highway at 102nd, in the cold, crisp afternoon of January 2015, Mount St. Helens gleams like a majestic reminder of the apocalypse tango, like something too big to overlook or compartmentalize, like it matters that the world should have heft. These volcanoes still operate like ghosts in a Japanese folktale to me, suddenly appearing when I least expect it especially as I’m learning the maps of this country, so to this bayou lad these enormous mountains surprise me with shock and awe but the message I get buries into my brain as always mute, symbolic, majestic: two kings from the underworld who only show their powerful secrets when they’re ready.

We’ve made our circumnabulation back to Jim Dandy, and though the shift change happened, the staff has kindly located the cane. While we first dined there, I had looked up the etymology of what Jim Dandy means and whence it came unto this world. The first published usage, according to the website, Word Detective, dates back to the newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky in 1887, and posits various theories about finely dressed young gentlemen as fops and dandies, etc. tracing a “jim dandy” mood to old baseball lingo, and to older vaudeville songs, and to Scottish dialect for Andrew. Of course my Mom remembers dancing many a mile to the 1950s hit “Jim Dandy to the rescue…” yet today the term is nearly lost and archaic, and as a phrase while it feels deeply Southern to me, as evidence we have this roadside diner begun in 1937 in Oregon which indubitably shows that the rest of America once claimed to know how to feel jim dandy.

We ride back to The Future, passing by a tiny swath of old forest guarding a pioneer graveyard in deepening shades of green that are oblivious to the bustle of a shiny new Metro bus station/highway link of location, location, location across the busy bustle on Sandy Blvd. and where Jim Dandy holds on to their flotsam like a steadfast lichen born to know how to survive here in the Pacific NW on the side of the road, a place that may as well be Route 66.

On the way back, we see the other side, this side of the sign at Pirate’s Cove, absurdly proclaiming, “Packed with Gluten!” My mom starts laughing, for now the fury of unexplained irony has landed the flopping fish of absurdity’s coda. I circle back, past the Chinese restaurant supply store next door to the Pirate’s Cove, past my circumnabulation of volcanoes and bacon syrup milkshakes and past “I got a brand new pair of roller skates…and you got the key” and past “we care a lot” and circle back for just this single day when it really didn’t matter much if Mom needed a cane… here let me share this laughter:


My mom laughs, says, I wonder if there’s anything I shouldn’t know about a hidden meaning, and I reply that if gluten now has sexual connotations then I’m just as glad not to know, either.

Thus this ditzy day with all the forgetting and remembering and goings and the cane, the came and wents and wants and illusions that if we pack a lifetime…. yeah, let me offer you this spectacle of lolligagging here during one Winter moment in an afternoon’s testimony that isn’t it almost, but not quite, enough to feel Jim Dandy?

As to who is coming to the rescue, that’s me and you dancing many a mile.

Adrian, Stephanie and David Wade said thanks.

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Chris DeBarr

Chef who believes in eating the world to save it. Wine & language & sharp knives are the tools of my métier. At heart, I'm a warm & fuzzy Dadaist.

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