by Dan Johnson
Log cabins are not an exclusively American tradition. Every society around the globe with ready access to timber and a cold climate has pioneered some variation of the iconic mountain hut. Yet, we Americans tend to bogart the log cabin.
It’s a symbol of piety and self-sufficiency. Looming and large figures from the American past, be they Abraham Lincoln or Ted Kaczynski, center the myth of the log cabin with independent minded, strong willed loners capable of making bold statements despite their humble roots.
The Log Cabin is a metonym for the American character. It’s a loaded symbol that generation after generation have stocked with meaning like rich fucks in Idaho put Rainbow Trout in a manmade fishing pond. It’s nice to think about, but it’s grown a little faded over time.
I came to this conclusion down at 11th St and Hill St across from the Belasco where the down-home looking Hill Grill has taken up residence in an old log cabin grill shack.
By all appearance, the Hill Grill is a page taken directly from an old, dog-eared book of hidebound Americana. Look at the frying pan!
This ain’t your grand-pappy’s Civilian Conservation Corp work camp. This isn’t the greasy spoon where Paul Bunyan and John Henry have a flapjack eating contest. This is post-Disney country.
I can’t afford most of the stuff on the menu. $8.72 is a cruel mistress. There are some mighty pricey items for sale including a $13.99 surf and turf sandwich and an identically priced salmon burrito.
I opt for the breakfast sandwich, which is extremely filling for $7.99 (if you go home immediately after and eat an apple with two handfuls of walnuts). The sandwich isn’t bad. It’s egg, mayo and avocado with optional bacon on wheat bread. It ain’t great and it ain’t huge, but that’s not really the issue.
The thing that most unsettles my stomach is the proliferation of kitschy signs clearly purchased from the nostalgia corner of an extremely folksy Bed, Bath & Beyond somewhere deep in Red America.
“We do real. We do hugs. We do grace. We do mistakes. We do food really well. We do second chances. We do love. We do I’m sorry.”
“Happiness is a kitchen full of family.”
“Happy is what happens when all you dreams come true.”
It feels like a Cracker Barrel lobotomy. What does any of it actually mean?
Look around you: this is the America we inherited. A bevy of empty symbols and lip-service paid to the appearance of hearty root values underwritten by expensive commodities and a lackadaisical generica that leaves you poor and feeling empty inside.
I’ve got no beef with the people at Hill Grill. They want to sell fourteen dollar burritos at 11th St and Hill St, that’s up to them. Further, they’re probably ahead of the times given the Herald Examiner project, the Geoff Palmer Broadway Palace and all the other high-priced housing going in near them.
To say nothing of the supposed future street car (that gimmick of gimmicks) that will “activate” that stretch of 11th St by connecting it with the already eminently walkable parts of Downtown to create a new loop of prosperity!
In Trump’s America where “waving flag” and “freedom” become kernels at the root of an idiotic hate machine supporting short-sighted and cowardly oligarchs, I feel like it’s my duty to call out misused or empty symbols.
But then that starts smacking self-righteousness and false purity and all the other bull shit, so let’s split the difference.
Buy less dumb shit for your restaurant’s walls. Let an artist mark them up. Save the fourteen dollar specialty items for Centeno and Company. They do them well and they do them cheap. Create something affordable and good and you will be supported.
Don’t buy into that mammon shit where dying old and alone with a fortune and Cheetos skin is confused for an earnest and authentic American life worthy of hardscrabble log cabinites.
Lastly, sell me a five dollar fuckin’ sandwich.
I award Hill Grill a “1” on principle and ask that they copy “I will not perpetuate simulacra” endlessly on a chalkboard for two hours of after school detention.