Dothan, Alabama—Ray’s Restaurant. This place is nothing fancy. A plain building with fluorescent lighting, decent coffee, and Bear Bryant photos on the wall.
Inside, it smells like bacon.
There is a table of white-haired men. They wear camouflage caps, jeans, suspenders.
A placard on their table reads: “Table of Knowledge.”
I overhear their discussion. They’re chatting about politics. They laugh while they do it.
You don’t see folks laugh about politics much anymore.
The men are from different walks of life. They meet here, swapping stories, remembering what this world was like before cell phones ruled the solar system.
They solve problems. Talk philosophy. They flirt with waitresses.
In my booth: a police department chaplain, and two South Alabamian belles. It’s early. Our conversation is a tired one.
I order grits, eggs, bacon. The waitress brings coffee. She looks as tired as she is skinny. Her accent is pure Wiregrass.
I ask her which booth Bear Bryant sat in when he visited long ago—I bet all out-of-towners ask her this.
She points across the room. “He sat over there,” she says. “All the out-of-towners ask me that.”
Welcome to Circle City. They say that the peanuts in your American supermarket come from this local soil. And that’s what this place is known for.
But it’s more than just a peanut capital. It’s rural communities that surround the city.
Places like Slocomb, Wicksburg, Malvern, Rehobeth, Taylor, Cowarts, and Hartford.
Towns where tractors outnumber steeples. Where men still wear neckties to church and use twist tobacco recreationally.
The waitress brings our food. The chaplain says grace.
His prayer is poetry. He’s an Episcopal priest, he knows how to recite a blessing sweet enough to knock paint off fire hydrants.
We talk. We eat. Our coffee kicks in. My friends have good stories.
I hear about the old days. About how this town looked before Best Buys and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I hear about an era when men still went coon hunting, fox hunting, and bred hounds.
About farmers who paid with cash. About crazy ladies who rode horses through their living rooms.
The chaplain has seen some things in his time. Beautiful things, not-so-nice things, and all kinds between.
“Dothan’s special,” he says. “Not like any other city. We have salt-of-the-earth folks here. Real folks.”
If you don’t believe him, just take a drive downtown. This place is big, but small at heart. You’ll see men in hunting boots, muddy trucks, rusty horse-trailers.
And if you stop at Ray’s, you’ll meet old, talkative fellas who look just like your granddaddy.
When our meal is over, we’re chatting in the parking lot. I get hugs, and a firm handshake from the Houston County clergyman who calls me “brother.”
“Don’t be a stranger,” he says. “Whenever you’re here in town, you’re home.”
Well. As it happens, this place is something more than a home. It’s old men with coffee and eggs. It’s Dothan, Alabama. The Peanut Capital.
This is America.