I discovered America alive and well over a bowl of chili the other day.
Romance is a funny thing – our hearts and minds working together to present an edited version of the past. One where the burs are softened the unvarnished is touched up here and there. Artist Norman Rockwell made a good living tapping into this vein of Americana.
But on the corner of two well-worn streets, America is still living as true as red, white, and blue.
Grey skies and cutting northerly winds instinctively send me searching for a bowl of chili. This week, however, I found warmth is not limited to a ceramic bowl and stainless steel spoon. In a small, community pub, you would be hard pressed to find a better slice of Americana.
Darkened wood, black and white sports photos, and dollar bills lightly draping from the walls and ceilings, these bastions of our history would make Norman Rockwell proud.
The waitress takes my order without needing to write it down, greets people by their first names, and connects with every patron on one level or another. The menu is simple but honest. Some sandwiches appeared to be originally named after star athletes who now sit in their respective sport’s halls of fame. Larry Bird and Ryne Sandburg should be honored.
The door, cut at a 45-degree angle and facing both streets, swings open and patrons purposefully walk in taking a seat at the modest bar. Never reaching for a menu, the waitress many times simply confirms what she thinks they want. Drinks, similarly, arrive without spoken communication. One man’s shirt reflects the contractor he is working for while the person next to him thumbs through the Wall Street Journal. Flip phones competed with iPads.
Americana is alive and well.
In true Texan style, my chili arrives absent of beans.
The door abruptly swings open. A man loudly asks everyone in the room where the nearest Mexican restaurant is located. Patrons offer directions and he is off back into the cold.
Americana is an interesting concept. Honest, authentic, and you can touch it like you shake a man’s hand. Rusted pickup trucks, catching the whiff of a hot dog on the grill, and two people laughing for the sake of laughing. Real. No filter. You know it when you see it, hear it, feel it.
The chili is great. My body sends a thank you card up from my toes – the warmth apparently working its way through my system.
The door burst open again. The returning visitor loudly says that is not the right Mexican restaurant. He describes the booths. Someone gives him directions to another up the street. He turns and exits. The place returns to normal as if loud strangers bursting through the door and abruptly asking for directions is normal in the first place.
The chili disappears quickly, my body hungry for not only the food but for the peek at Americana. Have faith, America still exists.