Don’t Pet the Cougar

Life growing up on the Oregon Coast was not like being raised in other parts of the United States. One day while I was traveling from my home in Oregon to San Jose State College where I went to school, I stopped at a Sambo’s restaurant for breakfast. I think it was in Eureka, California. You may remember it as the breakfast place whose logo was an unfortunate takeoff on The Story of Little Black Sambo and featured a black boy eating a pile of pancakes while a tiger circled him.  Founders Sam Battistone, Sr. and Newell Bohnett thought it would be cute to play up the reference to the popular book by Helen Bannerman, despite the fact that they were just combining parts of their names for the restaurant.

[This might actually be a photo of the Sambo’s where I stopped, although this photo is from 1974, probably 10 years after I was there. Note the more generic logo.  Out of 1200 restaurants in its heyday, only the original in Santa Barbara still exists.]

But the name is not what I’m writing about.  After I ate, I was walking back to my car when I past a dusty, beatup car parked on the street.  A movement in the vehicle caught my attention for a second and I glanced in as I walked past to see a large reddish-brown dog climbing over the seat.  It wasn’t until I was 10 steps past that it dawned on me that it had an awfully long tail for a dog.  I started back for a better look and pulled up short as a huge cat face stared out at me.  It was a mountain lion, often called cougar or puma, or even panther depending on where it roams in the world.

I could see that it didn’t have a chain or collar around its neck.  No, I didn’t go up and pet it.  Thankfully the window was rolled up. If I had had more time, I might have waited to see who came out of Sambo’s and got into the car.  But I needed to get to San Jose to pick up my roommate at the San Carlos airport.

At the time, it didn’t strike me as too odd for someone to have a mountain lion for a pet.  Today, looking back, I understand why everyone I’ve told who was from outside of Oregon was amazed.  But that was life in rural Oregon.  In fact, my wife laughs that, while other kids had bomb scares at school in the 1950’s and 1960’s, we sometimes had cougar scares.  They would infrequently be seen wandering the school grounds.

Life on the Oregon coast is still rough in many places.  But that’s part of its charm.  If you haven’t visited, do so.  You never know what you might see.

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