My hometown had one restaurant when I was a kid–a lounge and bar called Sammy’s Paddock. Holt had a couple of breakfast spots and a few fast food joints, too, but if one sought a place where one could order fish, burgers or pizza under a single roof … Sammy’s was it.
It was a wonderfully archaic place. It was dim, with plenty of mirrors to throw the light around. The walls were covered with wood panels, old wallpaper and grainy, color-treated photos of jockeys (“paddock” being a sort of horse pen). Beside the entrance, a carpeted staircase led to a banquet room. Between the restrooms hung a giant map of the county. A Pole Position arcade game as old as me stood next to the steps that led up to the bar.
I write all of this in the past tense because, of course, the place is gone now. Oh, Holt reopened Sammy’s not too long ago, but all of the old decor is gone and I can no longer tell the difference between it and any variety of chain restaurant that tacks a load of bric-a-brac on its walls. I’m not even sure if it still carries “paddock” in its name, but maybe that’s for the better … “paddock” seems a nearly malicious word for an eatery–akin to calling a place “Billy’s Trough,” or “Stanley’s Sty.”
It may be needless to say that I ate at Sammy’s a lot when I was younger, but it’s much more important to note that I drew there nearly as often. I’m not certain that I aspired to create anything back then–rather, I drew because I was bored. I mean, there may be children who regularly partake in the conversations between their parents and company of the family, but I wasn’t one of them. What else was I going to do while waiting for my fish and chips?
The elaborateness of a drawing at Sammy’s was directly proportional to the length of the wait. For what you see at the left, my meal must have taken an eternity to arrive.
I still draw at restaurants, but have long worried that there’s a rudeness to doing so. I’m out to eat, yes, but I’m also out to catch up with company, to talk with my wife about my day, to listen about hers. I may entertain myself with a pen and placemat at the dinner table, but I’m also bowing out of the conversation–showing, in one creative gesture, that all I’ll be sharing for a little while is the view of the top of my head.
Sometimes, though, I can’t resist. Like tonight, at a restaurant with Sara, my brother Cim and his ladyfriend Alice (question: when does a man’s love interest stop being a “girlfriend” and start being a “ladyfriend?” Is there an age distinction? Am I being discriminatory? Do I worry too much about these things? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, and yes). I was not bored–far from it. The table, though, had a paper sheet over its entire surface. This is so the servers can artfully write their name upon it with a crayon, and so they can later have an easier time cleaning up after we gluttons.
I had a pen. And while I was waiting for the chicken …