Maybe the best thing about Newberry Springs, California, was Christian.
If he lived in Ancient Greece, he would have been a cherub, if a sardonic one. His dark brown hair, probably trimmed at a Cost Cutters, framed expressive brown eyes and the chubby cheeks of a fifth grader. He was hanging around his grandmother’s cafe, fresh off the school bus, helping us kill flies.
“I spend so much time here, it feels like my house,” he said with a sigh as he slumped in a nearby chair, clearly hungry for conversation.
His second home is Bagdad Cafe, a dumpy little place decorated with ripped paper lanterns and T-shirts stapled on the ceiling. While we sipped on cold Coors Lites (me and my Beloved, not Christian), Christian told us that sometimes four tour buses at a time stop to see the place, a stop on Route 66 made famous with a 1987 namesake movie out of Germany starring C.C.H. Pounder and Jack Palance.
Thirty years haven’t been kind to the Bagdad Cafe. Our order began and ended with the beer (to be fair, it was icy cold).
Christian told us his favorite class with his teacher Mr. Cole is science, and he knows how to write Ls in cursive. He’s part Cherokee (“the climbing part”), and he paralyzes flies by spraying them with water before swatting them.
Before we left Newberry Springs, our first stop a few weeks ago on our trip north through California, we enjoyed another beer at the Barn, where there was underwear stapled to the ceiling and the bartender’s shirt advertised her clear understanding of what inspired good tips. We couldn’t imagine ordering anything from the kitchen there either, but we discovered it was Taco Tuesday at the local American Legion, which looked like it had been standing for decades but was clean and filled with friendly locals. The tacos–beef, chicken or pork–were a buck a piece. Add rice and beans for another buck. They were hot and fresh and mighty tasty. Eventually, we ended up back at the Newberry Mountain RV Park, where the lagoon was unnaturally blue.
But back to the 11-year-old, who chatted with us until we were ready to leave the Bagdad Cafe. As I counted out my change for the beers, he helpfully pointed out that I had more than enough $1s for the $4.35 bill.
“Yeah, but I need a tip,” I said, thinking the server could have used a dollar more than I could.
“You got a tip, Andi!” Christian called out. (Tips were rare around there?)
Christian followed us to the door, and we bid him farewell.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, wondering if Christian would grow up to serve cold beers in this place.
“Are you ever coming back?” he asked hopefully, breaking my heart a tiny bit.
“Nope,” my Beloved said definitively.
Christian’s brown eyes peeked around the front door, covered from top to bottom with bumper stickers in every language, his eyes following our walk to our truck.
“See ya never, then,” he said and ducked back inside.