Last weekend was probably the last decent riding weather of the year, and boy was it spectacular. The temperature was exactly right for cruising in my preferred gear: A waxed cotton jacked and moto jeans. The colours in the county were spectacular, and the low afternoon sun over Lake Erie and her tributaries was as enchanting as I have ever seen it. It seemed that every rider in the region was out and about, and happy to throw up a wave on way pass. I was riding my beloved T140 and Jenny-Mae was on her modern quarter litre Honda. The roads were dry. The air was warm. The leaves were red, orange and chocolate. We went out for a ride with no defined destination, as is our custom. We just head for the county and decide which way to turn once we get to an intersection. Pure zen motoring.
On this particular occasion we ended up at Ure’s (pronounced “Yers”) which is a charming little gas station/lunch counter /convenience store/single family home. It resides at the entrance to one of my favourite motorcycle routes: Hwy 50 along the north shore of Lake Erie. Ure’s has apparently been around since God was a boy, and it is exactly the kind of county gem I really love to search out when riding aimlessly. It’s not what you would call an avant-garde menu, and they can’t tell you the specifics of the coffee beans and their planation of origin but that’s not the point. The point is you can get bacon, eggs, diesel, firewood, worms, and a warm sense of well-being in one location. Jenny and I took a breather to sit outside and sip our coffees and share a butter tart (with coconut), while we watched a parade of bikes bending their way onto Hwy 50. Ure’s is the kind of place that shows clear signs of natural evolution: add-ons, and renovations are well executed, but the seams are visible. Like a well-worn, and oft-patched pair of jeans. This is the kind of comfortable that only comes from the polishing effect of time.
While Ure’s is assuredly unique and unmistakable, there are other unique and unmistakable cafés in Essex County. Not far from our home is John’s Place, which is attached to a mechanics garage. When it was vacant I used to say to Jenny as we passed it, that we ought to buy the whole building and call it Mike and Jen’s Lube and Lunch. I was only half joking…. Maybe a quarter. This place does a very satisfying steak and eggs, and has a charm all its own. There is a poster on the wall that challenges the viewer to count all the horses. There are the obvious ones, but then the hidden ones in the bark of the trees, or the clouds. I think there are 14. I’m wrong, for sure, but that’s my opening bid. If you turn up at John’s during the weekend breakfast hours there is generally a lively bullshit table. You know; a bunch of old dudes with John Deere hats complaining about this or that with emphatic head shakes and myriad references to the wayback. I eavesdrop every time. Most of my knowledge about soy comes from eavesdropping county bullshit tables. I know absolutely nothing about soy.
Out past John’s Place and right a bit is the Arner Stop. This is another example of the under-appreciated fuel station & restaurant combination. No, the food does not taste like gasoline, that’s absurd. The Arner Stop has the additional distinction of having a raised dining area, which overlooks the integral convenience store area. You can peruse the fishing/hunting licenses, tin signs, and lottery tickets from the comfort of your table while you chomp away on your banquet burger or BLT. The Arner Stop is full serve, and has one of those old-school bell-lines running past the pumps. Every time someone pulls in you get the PING-ping of the bell as the axles roll over the hose. Sometimes a PING-ping-ping if they’ve got a small trailer, or cross at a sharp angle. The floor of the dining area is hollow underneath so it’s a bit like walking on a platform stage. Your footfalls carry much gravitas on your round trip to bathroom. You don’t get that at a Denny’s or insert-name-here franchise shop, all you get there is the beginning of a saga of intestinal distress. None of these places are in strip malls. None of them have centralized corporate ownership. They are living fossils, and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. They are emblems of a by-gone area, be it better or worse, that have now largely moved on. I never lived in the countryside as a kid, I lived in the ‘burbs of Toronto, so maybe I would look at these county diners differently if they were more familiar. At is stands, I look at them with a certain kind of sweet sadness. I know their days are numbered, that Maw and Paw are going to retire and that the next generation probably isn’t interested in selling butter tarts and coffee by a dusty lot. I feel a certain need to enjoy them while they last, while the butter tarts still have coconut in them.