(My friend Chris in San Diego mentioned a person we knew from High School that I’d not thought about in years. She deserves a post.)
Summer nights in Batesville, Arkansas offered more options to entertain one’s self than you might imagine.
We rode the predictable fun trend waves—roller-skating (big in the early 80s) and video arcades (early mid-80s). Some of our friends passed the time at the river numbing their senses on Bud Beach or over at Barnett Farm.
As the tail of the video arcade comet trailed from sight a group of generous parents decided that the area’s youth needed a few more alternatives to these last venues. In a gesture of sweet concern, they purchased an abandoned 1920s furniture store on freshly depressed lower Main Street and turned it into a dance club for us.
Madonna’s Like a Virgin album was a hit machine at the time. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Midnight Star, Chaka Khan, early Janet-there was no shortage of music to keep us moving. Dancing in this abandoned storefront made it all the more obvious that downtown Batesville lay perfectly still all around us.
Once the clock struck midnight even the dance store closed, snuffing out the last bit of light on Main Street. Or so we thought until one night one of us noticed a light on at a little cafe even further down the street.
It never occurred to any of us to wonder what kind of cafe on an abandoned street stays open after midnight. From the window we could see there wasn’t a customer in the place. We peeked in to find out if they were still open.
A woman shouted out, “Oh yes, Honey! We’re open ‘til 2! C’mon in.” She ended her sentence with a burst of laughter that sounded like Ann Richards channeling Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, “Aahh! Aaahh! Ahhhh!” She had cropped, fried and dyed reddish hair and wore purplish red lipstick popular with TV preachers’ wives of the time.
Six of us squeezed into a wooden booth made for four. “My name’s Ruby. Y’all look hungry! Aah! Aaaah!” she laughed as she passed out laminated menus. “What can I get for ya?” From this distance I could see that Ruby had replaced her eyebrows with graceful thin lines the same color as her lipstick. Her melon-colored polyester tank top covered most of her enormous breasts. They lay comfortably on top of her round stomach. She looked like she was standing behind a giant porterhouse roll.
“Are your hamburgers good?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. Don’t serve ‘em on buns though. Aaahh!! Just toast. But they’s good,” then hollering back over her shoulder to another waitress leaning against the counter, “Ain’t they Vonda?”
“Oh,” Vonda took a drag on her cigarette and with a raised eyebrow and a sweet smile, exhaled, “They’s real good.”
“I’ll take one, with lettuce, tomato and mustard. Oh, and some fries.” Everyone else ordered, too. When the food came, Ruby pulled up a chair, lit a cigarette, and with a loud “Aaahh! Aahh!!” opened up to us a side of Batesville we never knew existed.
(Ruby deserves two posts. I’ll write more later.)