Seventeen years ago, a few miles east of the Three Points Cafe, Donald Lien saw Bigfoot scurry across the road. Honest. Today, perched upon a bar stool, he'll even show you a plaster cast of the hairy beast's footprint.
Lien's colorful tale is old news among the regulars at this rural cafe, a combination tavern, short-order eatery and country market nestled next to the remote junction of Pine Canyon and Three Points roads 35 miles northwest of Palmdale.
For more than half a century, the Three Points Cafe has been the only public meeting place in this scenic, sparsely populated settlement at the northwestern edge of Los Angeles County. High Desert ranchers, bikers and refugees from smog-choked city neighborhoods have sauntered into the cafe for beer, burgers and banter.
In recent months, however, this local landmark has approached its own fork in the road.
Burdened by health problems, the owners of the Three Points Cafe put it up for sale in November. While awaiting a buyer, the owners have been opening the once-bustling business just two afternoons a week. Two prospective sales have collapsed, but a third is being negotiated, leaving some patrons concerned about the future of this rugged outpost.
"I hope they don't turn it into an ice cream parlor," said Jim Bowman, a longtime resident of Three Points.
The cafe's origins are as hazy as its future.
On the barroom wall are some old black-and-white photos from the early days of the business, including one depicting its first owner and builder, the late Bert Gookins. Gookins' grandson, a Three Points resident named Bill Hart, isn't clear on when it was built.
"Some say 1912, some say 1924--I think it was just a grocery store at that time," Hart said as he sipped a Pepsi at the bar one recent Sunday afternoon. Hart, 54, believes that the restaurant and bar were added in the 1930s or '40s.
Today, eight stools with well-worn, red vinyl seats are lined up against the bar. The dining area has four tables, covered with red-checked tablecloths. The grocery counter is mostly stocked with snack foods, including popcorn and candy.
Three Points, a loose-knit, unincorporated community, is one of the last stops along a county road leading to Interstate 5 near Gorman. An old sign puts the population at 150, but longtime residents insist that the figure should at least be doubled. In recent years, many people who work in Los Angeles, particularly in the movie and television industries, have purchased homes in and around here to escape the noise and congestion of the city.
That was the appeal for the cafe's present owners, Michael and Anita Felix. They were living in the Carson area in the early 1980s when they got a glimpse of the cafe and answered the call of the wild.
The Felixes liked the idea of running their own mom-and-pop business and putting aside the profits for their retirement years. In 1984, Michael Felix quit his $80,000-a-year job as a machinist and the couple bought the cafe.
One of their goals was to make it a family-oriented focal point for the community, using the park-like grounds next to the bar for special events and a small greenhouse for a meeting room.
Although they hired some help, the couple underestimated the demands of running a busy watering hole from 10 a.m. to midnight each day, taking breaks only to buy supplies in nearby Lancaster.
"Sometimes I had to run the people out at 2 a.m.," said Michael Felix, 63. "You make it your life."
The stress took its toll when Anita Felix suffered a heart attack in December, 1986. In the years since, the Felixes have leased the cafe to three other operators. The last leaseholder changed its name to Nancy's Up the Road Cafe. In recent years, it has attracted a diverse, occasionally rowdy crowd, said Bowman, an electronics technician who has been coming to the cafe since 1978. A few brawls have erupted around the pool table.
Anna Dozier, an 80-year-old retired nurse, sometimes sells her drawings of horses at the cafe for $5 apiece.
"It's a place to come and talk," she said, seated with a glass of white wine. "It doesn't have the old pot-bellied stove you read about in the Old West, but it's practically the same thing. It's a place to come and gossip."
Yet another familiar face is that of Lien, a 61-year-old unemployed truck driver who didn't have much luck cashing in on his close encounter with Bigfoot.
Soon after spotting the creature outside the town of Lake Hughes, just east of the cafe, Lien said, he affixed a yellow and black "Bigfoot Crossing" decal to the side of his blue Ford pickup. He ordered T-shirts and sweat shirts that said: "Bigfoot--Alive and Well in Lake Hughes, Calif." He didn't sell many, however, and blamed a meager marketing budget.
Nevertheless, over a cold beer at the Three Points bar, he insisted that his sighting of a creature, more than seven feet tall and weighing more than 450 pounds, really happened.