This place used to be a barbecue joint. It’s not anymore. It’s under new ownership. They’ve renovated. They have a summer beer menu with eighteen-dollar maple-bacon flavored beer.
Years ago, this place was duct-tape on the seat cushions and a water fountain in the back. Pork sandwiches for three bucks. People asking how your mama’s doing.
Now it’s burgers made from Colombian black beans for eleven dollars. What’s next? Rapping in country music? Say it ain’t so.
“There are no hole-in-the-walls left,” my friend suggests, screaming over the music that’s playing overhead. “I think we’re seeing the end of the local dive. Everything’s going big-business corporate.”
I can hardly hear what he says over the techno music. This particular song sounds like a young woman brought a guitar to a chainsaw fight.
So, I walk to the jukebox to look for something with more fiddle. And I’m remembering when this place used to have a traditional lit-up jukebox that played Patti Page, Haggard, and Ernest Tubb.
This new juke-shaped super-computer has a digital screen. No quarter-slot, only a credit-card reader and a keypad.
“Corporations,” my friend says again. “They’re taking over the world, I tell ya.”
I hope he’s not right. Because I miss mom-and-pop restaurants, beer joints, country stores, ice-cream shops, and side-of-the-road barbecue pits with waitresses bearing double first names. And I don’t want to lose them.
I don’t know where they have gone, but I miss them enough to go look for them. I miss vinyl stool-cushions, dartboards, rotating pie-coolers, and servers who make small-talk because you look like you “ain’t from around here.”
Daddy used to carry me to a barbecue joint that had a jukebox. For a dime, I’d enjoy “Waltz Across Texas” while I ate. The restaurant menu consisted of three things. Smoked pork, fries, and Arctic-cold beer. I was allowed two of the three.
I was much too young for fries.
A few years ago, I visited a joint in South Georgia, a cinder-block building with a steel door and glowing signs in the windows. A dog named Charles roamed the place.
“Charles is here to keep away feral cats who always hang around,” the owner told me.
Patrons got in the habit of feeding the dog, and they told me Charles gained twice his bodyweight in his time there. A wonderful place.
They tore the joint down to build a Hardee’s.
Now, I don’t have anything against Hardee’s, iPads, computerized juke-like machines with thumbprint readers, or burgers made from beet syrup. But I’d like to see more cheap decor and less maple-bacon beer.
Yesterday, a man named Dave wrote me:
“My dad used to own an old bar and grill… He had to shut it down…”
The county widened the highway. It was a scene you’ve probably witnessed before. Men in neon orange vests running bulldozers straight into an old building. They knocked down a few live oaks, too.
“I grew up in that place,” Dave writes. “It was like they were killing my childhood.”
Dave’s father sold his kitchen equipment for pennies. A local church bought the tables and chairs for their fellowship hall. The jukebox and the pool tables went down with the ship.
“Some of our old regulars stood and watched,” Dave goes on. “One guy took his hat off and put it over his heart when the bulldozer hit. It was sort of a funeral.”
Anyway, I don’t mean to depress you. In fact, I’m writing this for the opposite reason. The truth is, I’m looking for All-American Hole-In-The-Wall joints. Real eateries with real food, and waitresses who call you, “sugar.”
Barbecue is appreciated. Burgers, catfish, or collards work, too.
There are rules:
Jukebox would be nice. Dog friendly would be nicer.
No bacon beer.