We lost track of the days, we forgot it was Thanksgiving.
We’d just crossed back into the states and Canada has its Thanksgiving in October, so it wasn’t hot on our radar either.
When we pulled up to Astoria on an early Thursday evening, looking for cheap gas and maybe a pizza on our way to our planned pit stop in Tillamook (where a free RV site had our name written all over it) we were a bit taken aback by the fact that the Costco was closed.
We remembered then that it was Thanksgiving and headed back into town to find ourselves a meal before heading off into even less populated areas, figuring at worst the McDonald’s would be open.
We’d been sleeping in our newly acquired Westfalia (Big Blu we called her) on a McDonald’s parking lot for a few days in Vancouver, while waiting for the last repairs and the green light to go ahead down the coast and away from the persistent rain.
It took us 3 days to realize that the community centers in Vancouver have complimentary showers. Well, not even complimentary, just free. For everyone. No Joke.
Unfortunately we found out on our last day there, and it had been a couple days down to where we now found ourselves, in Astoria, Oregon, on a sleepy, rainy, Thanksgiving evening, where the radio announcer had just finished naming the three places that were open for dinner service tonight, too fast for me to register either the names or addresses.
“Oh Boy!” I said to Gabriel as we crossed the bridge, back across the Young’s Bay Bridge “Might be Cliff Bars for dinner tonight!”
While our home on wheels should technically aid us in preparing a meal, the fridge needed repair since the day we purchased it, and the propane tank valve, we found out a couple nights before, had an issue that kept us from using the stove. Namely it spewed out propane when we tried to open the tank. That’s a story for another day that involves the fire department, kind-of.
So we weren’t stocked, and we were unprepared for a total foodstuff lockdown.
As we rolled down Commercial we found a darkly lit pub that seemed to be open and a short drive down the end of the strip confirmed that was about it.
As we came back down towards the pub on the parallel one way, we came upon a chowder house, Charlie’s Chowder house, which was the only beacon of light in the whole “downtown” core. Passing by it it, we noticed some people gathering around a lit dining room and it seemed to be open, so I pulled into the first parking lot I saw.
Local chowder in a nicely lit dining room was much more appealing than some pub grub in the dark. Maybe this was one of the places the radio announcer had been talking about!
As we walked up to the counter and stared up at the menu, deciding what kind of beer we were going to pair with our chowder, ecstatic to have found an open restaurant, and as if it took that long for the image from our drive past the place to finally fully hit my consciousness, I realized most of the people who had been hanging around the place seemed homeless, an impression now confirmed by a quick glance around the premises.
And it’s at exactly that moment that a very nice lady approached us to let us know the restaurant wasn’t actually open.
Oh, my bad.
Well I can definitely see how we didn’t raise any alarm bells on our way to the counter.
Hastened by trying to reach San Fransisco before my parents’ departure, while uncompromising in the sights we had to see on the way down, our outward appearances were the first to get cut out of the daily routing. At this stage in our unkept travels, we looked all but homeless. In fact, looking around, it was clear to me we weren’t the cleanest of the bunch.
“Sorry” I muttered to the lovely hostess, “We’re just rolling through and we thought you guys were open for business!”
“Oh no no” she corrected very amicably “you’re more than welcome to stay and have a plate, we’re not open for business, but this is a party Charlie throws every year, everyone’s invited!”
She grabbed a couple paper plates which she shoved in our hands, as if we had no choice. The matter had been settled, we were staying for dinner.
“And here are the glasses, you can help yourselves to the wine” She said, and walked away after having asked where we were coming from.
Gabriel and I looked at each other and had to speak no words to understand we were both uncomfortable with taking food made for those less fortunate, but it had been made clear that we were welcome, and did we really have another option?
I looked around, baffled and humbled, and wondered what my next move should be when I finally came to the conclusion that there was plenty of food to go around and that the mood was jovial, as it should be on thanksgiving. I warmed up to the idea of just blending in for the evening.
So we stood in line, filled up our paper plates and took a couple seats where they were open and shared a delicious meal with complete strangers. Our table mates told us this wasn’t necessarily advertised, but by word of mouth got to those who were in need of it year after year for Thanksgiving, and for Christmas.
Not everyone here lived on the streets, as we came to realize, this was really a party for all, no reservations. About half way through our meal a gentleman came over to chat us up. He’d been told we were from Canada driving down the coast. We soon came to find out he was the Tsunami guy here in Astoria and he assured us that driving to Tillamook in the dark would cost us some of the most gorgeous coastline in Orgegon. We absolutely had to stay the night right here in Astoria and leave in the morning.
On our way out the door we went up to thank Charlie and slip him some cash so he could keep giving those without families a warm place to enjoy a holiday meal.
That’s when we were told over and over again by everyone at the bar that driving on to Tillamook was a mistake. Then we sat down for a beer and chatted with a local metalsmith and surfer who recounted his memories of surfing with pro snowboarder Craig Kelly when he took to surfing his local break (seaside) before getting buried in an avalanche. It was a long and heartfelt story that took us through many years of his life, including a few road trips down to Baja, just like the one we were about to do, and it really felt like we were spending Thanksgiving among family and friends.
He too told us to wait for the morning, and it was the whole bar’s conclusion we should spend the night at the Tsunami guy’s place, where we’d have the best bed and a nice warm shower before heading off the next morning.
He’d had a couple drinks and needed a ride home anyway. So we took him home and proceeded to chat through the evening, and some of the night too.
After 3 days in the damp cold van, it was definitely nice to enjoy a real turkey dinner, fluffy warm bed, and a warm shower, but what was more appreciated was the wonderful Thanksgiving memory, the great company, and the reminder that no matter what the news tells you, there’s still great people out there, looking out for their community and beyond, making sure they’re spreading their fair share of the love, and that no one’s left in need.