Posted by: Abe's Blog | March 11, 2010

Crazy Robinson’s Hardware Store

I live in a small town in Oregon, and I love it. Here, in what you city slickers like to call “The Boonies”, we tend to have a higher nutty to normal ratio than in the fancy big towns with their shiny buildings and brand new cars. Perhaps this is because the intelligent folks leave and travel to those shiny cities in hopes of getting a brand new car of their own. Don’t think I haven’t noticed how uppity y’all get, sitting down to drink cappuccino or lattes. Yeah. We know how to say that. Schmitty’s Market just got a new cappucino machine the other day. Now there’s a line of people trying to decide between lotto tickets, beer, or a hot sugary drink dispensed at the push of a button. Schmitty’s is right across the street from the Sleepwell Motel, which still has a sign up advertising “Color TV!”

I prefer coffee of the gourmet persuasion, and fortunately I have my choice of two drive-through coffee stands. My preferred stand is Cafe Oasis, located just under the Giant Flag of America, which may or may not be the largest American flag this side of the Pecos. The coffee girls–excuse me, baristas–who work in that stand know me by sight. No matter if I’m driving El Jefe, the Family Jeep Truck, or the White Workerman Truck, by the time I get up to the window, a hand is already extended with my coffee steaming hot and ready for me to grab without even slowing. They even give me a tab there.

Within the last couple of years, in precisely the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, some wise investors built a bundle of pretty new retail and office buildings near Interstate 5. These forlorn buildings serve as silent welcome banners to unsuspecting tourists who’ve gotten lost on the freeway. Getting lost is really the only excuse to come to this town unless you are invited. A few years ago, AM radio stations ran an ad for our town, touting it as “The Gateway to the Umpqua”. Let’s think about that term for a bit: Gateway. Doesn’t that just mean it’s the doorway to something better? Why do you want to hang out in the gateway? The only thing you do there is use the toilet in the McDonalds and get a steaming cup of English Toffee Espresso from Schmitty’s new machine. Then you pass through the gate into the cool stuff. Those marketing analysts really need to talk to me before they put that stuff on the air!

Us locals, now we know where to get the goods. For example, if you break a hydraulic line on your log skidder, you want to check up at Cray Robinsons On The Hill.  Although the employees are ex-cons and hard-luck cases, you can find pretty much anything in the vastness of half-organized junk and sundries, and they can make you a new hydraulic line for half the cost of anybody else in the whole valley. This is also a good place to find parts for Korean track-dumps, tiny cranes, and Chinese tractors.

Now let’s say that your oldest son kicked a big hole in his bedroom door in a fit of rage when you told him that he couldn’t drive the wife’s car up in the mountains to shoot cans. Well now, there’s no need to drive all the way down the interstate to the Home Depot. That’s nearly 13 miles away! We got all we need right here. What you do is you stop at Crazy Robinson’s Building Supply next to Abby’s Pizza. Just look for the giant teetering building that has been added to by generation after generation of crafty fellows, surrounded by hand-lettered signs. The signs are unique and interesting; each looks as if the sign-painter forgot that what he was painting had twice as many letters in it than it did. They start out strong, then fade to squiggles at the end of the phrase. I learned the hard way that you need to avoid Old Man Robinson. He is usually sitting in the sun in the parking lot with a wool fedora on. He looks like he’s dead, but he isn’t. If you try to tip-toe past him, he sometimes will snuffle and start and grab your arm and ask if he can help you. Us small-town people are nice, so we have to say “yes”, which means we spend the next forty minutes or so waiting for Old Man Robinson to point us in the direction of the doors. If you get past Old Man Robinson, then you need to watch out for Farty Man and I Dunno Boy. Farty Man will stand as close as he can to you and let ’em rip. They are soft but smelly, often leading one to quickly step away around the corner of some haphazardly piled tin stove-pipe, right into the path of I Dunno Boy who says, “Can I help you find somethin’?”
“Yeah…looking for doors. Inside doors.”
“Well…I dunno where they at…I’ll go ask somebody.”
This is an excellent opportunity to ditch all of the help and wander the jumbled halls until you find your own doors. Nothing is marked here; the price is completely dependent upon who rings you up. Expect to pay between $5.00 to $75.00 for your door.

Famished from your excursion into the world of used building supplies? We have a surprising variety of dining choices for a town of our size. In fact, in this valley it seems that we have about one restaurant per family. The dining business is cut-throat in Douglas County, and getting worse by the day as large chains throw in their lot in the neighboring metropolis of Roseburg. But here in our little town, you still have choices: Mexican, Chinese, Korean/Japanese, Chinese/Thai/Korean, American, Italian, and five choices of fast food next to the freeway. If you are in a hurry, I would recommend the Chinese/Thai buffet, as the food is authentic and the staff is appropriately sullen and suspicious. If you are in the mood for a big greasy burger and you don’t care if a few flys are buzzing around your plate, might I suggest Digger Don’s, which offers the 6 Pound Burger plate, “You eat it all and it’s free.” Maybe so, but that ambulance ride is gonna cost you. My wife and I went to the Japanese/Korean restaurant once and found it quite good. The nice Japanese hostess told my wife, “Ah, you ah so pletty!” She liked that. (She really IS pletty…I mean pretty.)

At the moment, our little burg is experiencing a temporary slump in the number of used junk stores. In fact, I believe we only have three or four on our main street right now. We also have a Cyber Cafe, which is open sometimes and also boasts handwritten signage across the windows, a bookstore, a couple of beauty salons, a handful of churches, and twice as many taverns.

There are always those hardy entrepeneurs who refuse to listen to the naysayers and open their Pet Photography or Totally Vegan Groceries or Hydroponic Supplies, only to see 2,000 conservative residents of our town completely ignore their Open signs. I’ve thought that perhaps I should open a shop of my own downtown and advertise my services as an New Business Consultant. I would have a desk and two stamps. One stamp would say  “no”. I don’t think I would need the other stamp. But I think I could save many people a whole lot of money and heart ache.

Small town folks are nice, for the most part. We are friendly to each other when in line at Bi-Mart, often teasing and joking in the check-out lines. But don’t expect to get the kind of service you might find in your big towns. No, we do things a bit differently in the outback. We know you want it done now, but we’ll get to it eventually. Just hold your horses and don’t get snippity. But if you get a feeling like you want to visit, come on down. Just don’t expect too much. In fact, if I were you I would go right through this gate and into the garden.



  1. I dunno. Sounds like a town I’d like to visit, Abe.

    (And it also sounds suspiciously like Mayberry) 😀

    Your town has an Aunt Bee, doesn’t it?

    • I’m sure we have an Aunt Bee…that’s a person, right? I get irritated at the ugliness of this little town. I actually live in the better-looking small town right next to the ugly one I wrote about. We don’t mix too much…we just go over to the ugly town to get what we need. Our stores only sell antiques and wine. Hmmph.

  2. I agree with Wolfie! Actually that it sounds like a town called Mayberry! I’m not sure I could visit for too long, but I could be passing thru, you know…gateway and all!

    It’s not that I don’t appreciate a small town — lived in Vermont for four years and I almost lost my mind…I was there for college! Now it could’ve been the weather, but yup, I’m a city girl who loves the mountains and oceans, but only combined with my love of the city. I guess I just want it all (selfish me, huh?).

    My favorite line: “..the price is completely dependent upon who rings you up. Expect to pay between $5.00 to $75.00 for your door.” I love that! Exactly what I remember from my days in VT! Ha!

    • I’m pleased to have triggered memories of your small town experience, no matter how unpleasant that may have been 🙂

      I grew up in small towns and prefer them to the “hustle and bustle” of the city. See what a bumpkin I am?

  3. Honestly, it sounds a lot like my town … or at least how my town once was prior to the casino invasion. I never understood why a town like this would be welcoming to casinos, I guess cuz we’re on a beach and at the gateway to either New Orleans or Pensacola, however you want to look at it… lol. I enjoyed this slice of community, but it made me want coffee. Oh, and do tell the Mrs I still want to be adopted and I hope my room is ready now.

    • Casinos invade because people want MONEY! We have a small town to the south of us that somehow re-conglomerated an ancient indian tribe and built a gigantic casino. There are a few of these spread throughout our state and they make me suspicious. Do the indians really own them?

      We have your bedroom all made upstairs. Watch your head on the ceiling–it’s a dormer and I’ve smacked my head so many times!

  4. hahahahahahahaha…… great blog Abe. I loved it! Cracked me up.

    Interestingly I was exposed to both growing up. Lived in Houston throughout the school year a huge city, and then in the summer spent all three months in 2 small towns. We spent August in Mississippi in Susan’s home town. That is where my mother is from. It is kind of a dual town two small ones around 5k each or something right next to each other on the highway.

    June and July we spent those months in the country where my Dad’s parents had a vacation spot. A town of less than a thousand. Going to town meant the neighboring town of over 10 thousand people. 7 miles away. Whoa boy it was a big deal to bother making that trip. haha…

    I loved how you pointed out that promoting yourself as the gateway is really kind of dumb. haha….

    That would be like someone knocking at your door to your house, you open it and they stop in the doorway. You know that is where they want to hang out. haha… Not on your couch or anything. haha…. Nah, just pull up a couple of chairs and hand in the doorway.

    • Yeah, that’s funny isn’t it Drew. I actually hadn’t really thought about the Gateway thing until I was writing the blog. Hanging out in the doorway instead of coming in is just…crazy!

      Ha! Thanks for writing, Drew.

  5. I grew up in a suburb of Philly. I’ve been going farther and farther in the opposite direction of Big City every decade.

    Sometime I’ll get video of the spontaneous cock fights over underage hens across the street. And walk around the corner and beg some cow manure for the garden.

    • Yeah, I had my brush with city life years ago and unabashadly embrace small town life.

      Did I mention that I love chickens? 🙂

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