Some of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in are known as Mom and Pops. These are typically small, independently owned (sometimes by a family) restaurants, that are usually one-offs (not franchised) and can be found at only one location. They specialize in foods eaten by the people who live around them and they cook them with secret family recipes that made them famous.
There used to be one such restaurant that specialized in hot dogs with a sign that stated "Famous since 1946". It must be nice to be able to point to the date of your notoriety. Fame usually happens so incrementally that it is hard to tell when you got that way.
The waitresses at Mom and Pops all call you Shoog and Honey and Sweetheart, even though you don't know them and have never been there before. They will encourage you to take your time when you are ordering, and when they bring your ticket to your table they will apologize and say something like, "I'm sorry. I'm just laying this right here. Now y'all stay here at this table as long as you want to, I'm just bringin' this so you will have it, but if you want anything else you just holler."
Some of the waitresses even have their own clientele who ask if they can be seated where "Jamie Sue is waitin' on tables". Once seated, Jamie Sue will come to their table and greet them with a hug.
Some (but not all) of my favorites:
The Dam Restaurant near a dam in Baltimore, Maryland where we had Dam ham sandwiches, Dam french fries, Dam potato salad and Dam iced tea; and where the waitress asked if we were ready for our Dam ticket.
Bob's Grill in Kill Devil's Hill, North Carolina whose restaurant motto "Eat and Get the Hell Out" is on their sign out front. Nobody seems to pay any attention to the motto. The restaurant is always full. Nothing else needs to be said.
The Four Corners Diner in Atlantic Beach, NC . The name does not come from the owner's love for UNC basketball, but from the fact that the Diner sits at a crossroad. This is where my father and brothers and I used to go and drown our fishing sorrows in bacon, eggs and lots of hot coffee.
The Shiny Diner in Rocky Mount, NC. It has another name (The Highway Diner) but everyone I know that eats there calls it the Shiny Diner, because it is shiny, outside and inside.
The Conscious Coffee Cafe in Talkeetna, Alaska. They advertise that the average person spends 25 minutes to 1.5 hours there. My wife and I ate there for 1.35 hours several years ago and we spent most of that time talking with the owner who told us her story of moving from Maryland where she was a veterinarian and how much she loves Alaska, and the 35 feet of snow they had last winter and how her home is off the grid and she powers everything with generators.
The Soda Pop Shoppe in Savannah, Georgia where we ate hot dogs and we met a lawyer at the table next to us who told us about meeting Tom Hanks when they filmed the movie "Forrest Gump" and how there was not really a bench in the spot where Forrest sat with his box of chocolates. And then he told us about meeting Clint Eastwood when he directed the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", and how nice Clint was to everyone and how he got to be an extra in the movie. Exciting stuff.
You can find these restaurants almost anywhere you travel, but you have to search them out to find them or you have to have luck to stumble upon them, and then you have to be there at just the right time. But, if this happens, you will never forget it.
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
I went walking in the rain the other day. I had on a waterproof jacket with a hood, old running shoes that have seen better days but were used to getting wet, a pair of faded jeans, and a T-shirt I got back in the days when I was running in races with the face of a Viking on it.
The rain had turned into a slow, steady drizzle and I quickly realized that my glasses were of no use so I took them off and put them into my jacket pocket. The world looks different when you are nearsighted and not wearing your glasses; foggy and mysterious, soft around the edges.
The fall rain, combined with fallen leaves has a unique smell that is only present that time of year, that I associate with high school and wrestling season and endless running drills in a sweaty gym. And on this particular day, I was back in that gym, on those mats; young again with boundless energy. And I wasn't even aware that the drizzle had turned to downpour and that I was soaked from the waist down.
Despite the rain, I crossed the highway and walked into the park across from our neighborhood. Because of the rain I had the entire park to myself. I walked the trail that wound through the woods and listened to the sound of the rain coming through the trees, like whispers on the wind. And then I walked to the small stream that was near overflowing, its waters reaching the top of the bridge. Rain changes things.
Soon, I found myself in a road near the field that months ago during summer was planted with corn. This was the field that I had walked to the day before my sister died three years ago and had been followed by a dragon fly. I had told my sister about it and she said that lately dragon flies had swarmed her each time she went outside. And now, every time I see a dragon fly, I think of that day and this field and the quiet summer corn, and her.
From the field I walked back home, and the rain fell steadily all the way back. And as I unlocked the door to my house, I was thinking about what a good walk it had been.