Saturday, April 23, 2011

Eating out in rural Arkansas

Once you drive past all the towns large enough to offer restaurants like Denny's and Cracker Barrel, you will find one of two things: A tiny place set into the side of a cliff with a breathtaking view of the mountains in the springtime, or the Memory Lane Cafe. I imagine the Memory Lane Cafe started out as a woman in a kitchen who made good hamburgers. Then maybe she got her Big Idea, bought a small house and converted it into a place that could eek through a restaurant inspection. As popularity grew so did the haphazard additions marked by uneven floors and single doorways connecting them to the rest of the establishment. That's what I was thinking about when the waitress came in to replace the three burnt-out light bulbs above our table and I realized I was actually sitting in a small shed with one doorway to the original dining area, one doorway to the newer "Game Room" and one doorway outside with a doorbell sound to alert the staff that someone has just come in the back.

The menu at the Memory Lane Cafe is what you might expect, hamburgers mainly, but what is exciting is the selection of things not otherwise ever fried. The fried pickles are always good, but can be found in a lot of places now. I got the fried green beans. With a side of ranch dressing. It seemed like the healthiest choice, and I would never get on my high horse to order a salad or seasonal fruit in a place like that anyway. I don't care for the "so you think you're better than me?"-look. Best just to try to fit in.

On the walls were things that might take you down memory lane, if your particular lane went straight to Graceland. There were the typical lacquered tree-trunk-clocks with airbrushed Elvis, but there were also photographs of Elvis with grease stains on them that had finally been taken down from above the stove of a person whose lane might really have lead to Graceland and put in a frame for all to see. There were drawings of Marilyn, and lunch boxes with Buddy, all the typical "Memory Lane" stuff. In addition to the memorabilia there were posters for local events and community projects, such as the "Eating Our Way to Proficiency!" program with the local grade school, and the upcoming "Donkey Basketball" event. That one had to be explained to me. The donkeys don't play basketball, people do-riding donkeys. People attend because it's funny. Also funny is that while the rest of the country takes on the childhood obesity epidemic, we're eating our way to proficiency and playing basketball riding on donkeys.

It was nice though to sit there and listen to the people around me, especially right before lunch time. Everyone knows each other, of course. Most of them come there every day. When a couple walks in the woman requests the seat facing the door, "in case anyone I know walks in." The Memory Lane Cafe was more of a curiosity to me, but for the people who eat there it really is a kind of time capsule. They've lived in that town their whole lives and knew everyone who walked in the door, their parents, and their children. Curious though it was, it seemed like the familiarity could be kind of comforting. It would have to be, right? It made me kind of want that life, just the knowing what to expect out of every day and every person. That might have just been the ranch dressing talking though. Everything is better with a side of ranch dressing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Once again, it's been a long time since I've written anything. Mostly that's because I've been lazy and have had nothing to write about. About the time I started feeling guilty and getting serious about writing something, I got sick. It started last week when I was getting headaches everyday. It's been years since I've gotten headaches on anything like a regular basis and I attributed it to the horrifying green wind that we get down here this time of year. I think it's the pine that irradiates everything with its pollen stuff. About this time of year everything is green, and not the good "everything is so GREEN!"-green like you might get in the Pacific Northwest. The worst is the cars, everyone's car is coated with a thick powder that looks like pale moss. It's awful. I feel safe in saying that that is why I was getting headaches. Then the headaches turned into a persistent cough and congestion, which I called "really bad allergies." I never had allergies until I moved down here, but Arkansas will test even the most healthy. And that got worse and worse and worse, quickly. My whole body ached, I was going to sleep at 8:00 every night, my eyes felt swollen shut, on and on.

I have a thing about going to the doctor. I don't like doing it. I'm not totally against doctors in general, it's just a major inconvenience and I never seem to get out of the office without a prescription for antibiotics. I do have a thing against antibiotics. I think their over-prescription is contributing to the very real possibility of some sort of virulent superbug that will wipe out most of the world population. Plus I feel like they throw my whole body out of balance and it takes a month of eating yogurt to get all the internal flora back in order. The major inconvenience is mainly because I don't have a "regular" doctor. I only get sick once a year and it's about this time of year and it's always bronchitis and I have no need for an annual physical, so when I get sick I call the local clinic and they squeeze me in to see whatever doctor is on call. Which means I spend two hours sitting in the waiting room.

So yesterday every breath felt like it was ripping my lungs in half. I could hardly swallow anymore and would have liked to cough, but couldn't for fear that my whole head might explode. I called the doctor. As usual it was a doctor I had never seen before. I think I waited about a day too long because I couldn't do anything but calculate my odds of being the next person called the whole hour-and-a-half I was in the waiting room. I watched people and figured the probability of them being a regularly scheduled patient (who will go in before me) or someone who, like me had called in to take their chances (who will only go in before me if they got there before me). I counted the number of people who went in versus the number of people who came out. "Why aren't they calling someone, I know there's an empty room back there!" It was all I could do. I was desperate to get through those doors.

The doctor on call yesterday was a woman. Most women down here seem to be either gynecologists or pediatricians, so it was nice to actually have a woman doctor treating me, looking in my mouth. She didn't take any x-rays or anything, which they usually do on my annual bronchitis visits, but I guess she pretty much had the case closed when she opened my chart and saw my history. All she had to do was listen to my lungs and ask me how I was feeling. I left with an inhaler and some antibiotics.

I'm feeling a little bit better today. I've got to go to the store and buy some yogurt, but at least I'm starting to feel up to it. I'll try to write more regularly. Thanks for sticking with me.