Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

Local Color

Deep in rural North Texas we slow down and leave the highway, drawn by our need for breakfast to the towering Dairy Queen sign. We roll down the ramp and into the parking lot. There is one space left between the rows of pickups awaiting their owners and we slot in neatly.

Inside it is clear that this particular Dairy Queen has been here a while. The counters and table tops are worn and the displays and signs are weather beaten and tired. The lady behind the counter looks tired too, with an air that can only mean she is desperate for a cigarette. We order a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and bacon.

I have learned about ordering breakfast in America. No longer do I go from tempting picture to descriptive tantalizer, wondering at the variety on offer. Too often have I fallen into that trap, invariably emerging from the diner half an hour later with distended belly and a weight upon me that does not depart until sundown. No, I've learned my lesson and discovered that you can specify exactly what you want and they will provide it, not even arguing when you forego the suggested side orders and frills. These days I'm happy with just an egg of some sort, bacon and a slice of toast. In fact, I'd be happy with just the bacon (it is so good in America); the egg and toast are purely for form's sake.

We accept our order and sit at a nearby table. I am free to investigate my surroundings. The walls are decorated with baseball memorabilia and posters, helmets and insignia of the Dallas Cowboys. Hope springs eternal, it seems...

There are three groups of men in the restaurant, six seated at a table to one side and four at another in the corner. In between, two men sit at a table and drawl unselfconsciously at each other. The group of six are older, obviously farmers, the faded overalls and regulation John Deere caps clear testimony to the fact. The two conversationalists are slightly younger but wear the same attire as the old group, while the four in the corner are younger still and have converted to jeans and tough work shirts. One wears a black cowboy hat, a stetson as I would have called it only a few months ago.

I realize that we have stumbled upon an old tradition of the midwest: the farmers' breakfast. These old boys have been meeting every morning in this restaurant for years to drink coffee and discuss the price of hogs, the weather and other arcane agricultural subjects. I first discovered the farmers' breakfast in Kansas a few years back and was fascinated at this glimpse of the heartland, the true driving force behind the America of our dreams.

In North Wales, if one enters a local pub, the atmosphere turns icy and the conversation switches immediately to Welsh. You know that they've been talking to each other in that sing-song English of theirs only a moment ago but now all is incomprehensible. This does not happen in rural America. Here the locals will continue as if you had never entered the room, totally secure in their knowledge that this is their place. You are welcome to eavesdrop if you so desire; these folk have nothing to hide.

As I take in the scene, it becomes apparent that, although the groups are separate, they are all a community, for one old boy gets up from his table, walks across to the two other groups and refills proffered cups from a coffee jug in his hand. They exchange a few words, then the man returns to his seat.

The two conversationalists dominate the room, particularly as one has a voice so deep and growling that I wonder if he has been the Marlboro man in a previous career. I become aware that they are talking of the tsunami disaster in South East Asia. My surprise is brief as I reflect on the fact that these old boys probably had televisions long before my father bought his first one, all those years ago in Africa, that these apparently simple men of the farm must have fought in at least one war on foreign soil and could afford to holiday in Thailand anytime they chose to do so.

And it brings to mind, too, that generosity of spirit of the Americans. These men are concerned about something that happened thousands of miles from them in a land they might never see. This country is truly Christian in its basic attitudes.

I cannot follow all of the conversations, partly because the one voice is so insistent in its gravelly utterances and also because the music of this drawling accent is still unfamiliar to my ear. But Kathy tells me later of a story one of the older men told with a grin as wide as a barn door on his face.

It seems he had been on a shopping expedition to the city (presumably Dallas, not fifty miles from where they sat). He had seen a shirt in a store and liked it so much he had bought four of them, all identical. His grin broadened as he approached the point of his story.

"Well, I've been wearing those shirts one after the other and it's driving the wife crazy. Keeps telling me to get changed and put the darn shirt in the wash. Driving her plumb crazy, it is..."


Great story-- particularly about the shirt! I'm glad you're still seeing us in a good light.
Date Added: 03/01/2005

Gone Away
Well, I'm biased, Hannah. I love Americans! ;)
Date Added: 03/01/2005

I look forward to investigating a US breakfast. Did you know that little old Britain has raised and pledged more money than any other country in the world towards the Asian crisis? The Brits have suprised me big time.
Date Added: 03/01/2005

I think I met your man with the four shirts before. When pushed for details about the tiny one acre of land he owned, and asked if he had a registered brand (a necessity for successful Texas cattlemen), he confided it was called Downtown Dallas.
Date Added: 03/01/2005

Gone Away
I did not know that, Mad. Perhaps there is still a breath of life in the old country after all...
Date Added: 03/01/2005

Gone Away
ROFLOL Way. Now don't go destroying my cherished illusions... ;)
Date Added: 03/01/2005

Thats what i like about the small town we live in. You can walk into the restraunt, and see a old man picking up the coffee pot and refilling everyones cup while the waitress is busy with something else, everyone talking about whatever is happening. And having a mutualy respect for one another.
Date Added: 04/01/2005

Gone Away
I think it's great, Beth. And a pity it doesn't happen in the big cities anymore.
Date Added: 04/01/2005

The thing is just as delicious on the second read, Clive.

Now them good old boys, those laconic act-dumber-than-a-pile-of-brick horticulturists, keep us fed, lest we forget, plus they have stories to tell.

Thankfully, there are a few of us non-agrigarians that like nothing better than to spread them stories around thicker than manure, and then pray they smell sweeter.
Date Added: 04/01/2005

Gone Away
You are so right, Harry. There are more fine tales out there on the farm than we could shake a stick at. I love their delivery as well; so slow and unhurried, with perfect timing to the punchline.
Date Added: 04/01/2005

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