“Come by anytime, Jack. Lots of marmot in the graveyard, getting fat.”
It’s an email from Mike, the owner of a chuckwagon diner at the Gold Trail RV Park in Clinton, B.C.
Scott, my Cariboo sidekick, and I dug into the “world famous” barbecue after back-country horseback riding. Wayne, our wrangler and trail guide, recommended it.
“You’ll get a good feed at Mexican Mike’s Roadkill Grill.”
Mike, I later learned, was born in Mexico, of Spanish and French parents.
A sign in The Road Kill declares, playfully, “you kill it; we’ll grill it.”
But rodent isn’t on the menu.
“The marmot’s fresh this morning.” Mike’s standard welcome amuses farmers, ranchers, townsfolk, and RVers here for the buffet: “organic” garden vegetables, garlic toast, a choice of grilled salmon, steak or pork ribs, and, of course, a cowboy’s staple – baked beans, all for about $13.
“This is cowpoke country,” Mike, a long-time restaurateur, told me when he moseyed over to our table with a Budweiser.
“When I got here 18 years ago, I thought cowboys gotta like beans and barbecue. I was right.”
A woman displaying books at a table smiled. Joei Carlton Hossack, a travel writer, was singing along to Patsy Cline on classical country radio – Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius XM – in Nashville.
“You walk by and I … fall to pieces,” they sang.
Hossack, a regular fixture here, told me she was writing a book about Mike.
“He’s a real character, and a great chef. Come back tomorrow for more. Most people do.”
Mike dismissed the cooking courses.
“Anybody can cook,” he insisted, plopping two racks of ribs on the grill.
“Have these ready in few minutes,” he told Scott, who was scooping beans and casserole onto his plate.
“Make sure you use the right ladles,” Mike ordered.
“Okay, buddy,” Scott replied, obediently.
“But, where’s the salad kept?”
“Salad’s for rabbits,” Mike retorted. “This food’s for men,” he added, with a wink.
I make a note of laughter at the table behind me. Mike’s persona is a crotchety Gabby Hayes, the crusty cook on a John Wayne cattle drive who rustled up grub for hungry cowboys while barking stern warnings like, “keep your gal-darn hands out of the sugar jar, you polecat, and stay outta that cookie dough.”
In true form, Mike noted that I hadn’t picked up a plate and seized the moment.
“What’s your partner doing over there,” he said to Scott. “Tell him to get his arse off that chair and help himself. Nobody going to serve him.”
“Yes, sir, Cooky,” I replied, digging into spicy rice and a zucchini and cauliflower casserole any chef would be proud of.
Mike’s visitors include Europeans in search of an authentic wild west, and Americans on route to the Yukon or Alaska who will never be without it. Their comments fill guest books that Mike was happy to share, testimonials praising a unique host and Texas style “barbecue” that reminded them of home.
“This place is a kick in the pants,” wrote Gary from Washington State.
“Great food and sarcasm,” noted another.
“Fantastic meal, and the comedy act ain’t bad either.”
Mike says he’s lived in 12 countries, and now spends half of each year in the Philippines, having acquired a fondness for the people and the country.
When you pay your bill, he shows you a photo of orphaned kids there opening presents he’s delivered. It’s wrapped around a jar for tips Mike says fund the gifts and annual Christmas parties.
“This year, the event is for homeless street kids,” Mike told me.
Like Gabby in the movies – he’s crusty on the outside, softer in the middle.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.