People & Places

Best place to soothe urban nerves

Photo By Larry Dalton

Fair Oaks Village

Despite its flowery namesake, the Sunflower Drive-In in Fair Oaks Village is essentially a glass box with one window where the orders go in and a second where the food comes out. During the summer, the staff runs the fans full force to counter the waves of heat that rise from the grill. The resultant breeze tugs at the corners of the all-vegetarian menu taped to the glass before pouring out the windows onto the patrons in the parking lot. Everyone is teased by the smell of nut burgers, spicy tacos, sweet fruit smoothies and peppery potato salad.

The drive-in’s order window attracts a never-ending line of stoned 20-somethings in rumpled cotton clothes and 50-somethings in athletic gear who sparkle from clean living. On any given afternoon, the group of scratched wooden picnic tables that surround the drive-in hold a cross-section of the village population: happy babies slurping thick smoothies through plastic straws; pairs of older women whispering secrets about their lives over baskets of chips; and courageous diners who, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or fear, attempt to eat in the company of chickens.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Fair Oaks Village is full of chickens. Not just for sunrise anymore, the roosters’ triumphant crows can be heard at any hour of the day. They roam the streets in packs—sharp-taloned gangs of poultry in blazing plumage. Scouring the Sunflower’s parking lot for stray chips and sprouts is a routine stop on the chickens’ daily cruise.

When the chickens round the corner onto the Sunflower blacktop, some patrons gleefully feed them while others furtively whisper, “Shoo!” and pull their legs up onto the benches. Children and tourists often will experiment with the chickens’ eating habits, sharing chips, then potato chunks and finally lettuce. They quickly learn that chickens will eat anything. At least, anything from the Sunflower.

After assuring the roosters at their feet that every crumb of food has been consumed, the full-bellied Sunflower patrons wander lazily back to their cars or saunter to the nearby Village Park for a nap. In the afternoon heat, the circles of shade under the park trees are the most desirable lounging spots. Some will be occupied by Fair Oaks residents dozing on blankets, their arms flung over their eyes and their mouths agape. Those left vacant by humans are sure to be occupied by at least one chicken, nestled in the grass like a feathered cobblestone. The napping villagers exhibit the increasingly rare quality of being completely at ease in a public environment. Outside of their homes, people are usually on guard for panhandlers, kidnappers, potential suitors and old acquaintances. But the small-town charm of the village seduces people out of their usual pretenses.

After all, this is the town where the local hardware store sells popcorn from a machine labeled “Food for the Soul.” It’s a place where students at Rudolf Steiner College patiently practice forgotten arts like veil painting and eurythmy. Here, the river runs slow and green under a wooden bridge, and pigeons who have escaped city living rest in pairs on the banks. Creatures that can fly anywhere decide to settle in Fair Oaks Village, in a place where even the burgers are kind. The residents dozing on their blankets know nothing will disturb their dreams this afternoon. Nothing, except the odd rooster crow.
On Fair Oaks Boulevard, immediately off of Sunrise Boulevard in Fair Oaks;