Monday, April 06, 2015

HOW I SPENT MY EASTER VACATION

There's a Bar & Grill in Adams County about 15 minutes from Prairie Pond Woods in the middle of nowhere. We used to pass it on field trips to a local nature preserve or when my husband and I would take the back way to Route 52 along the Ohio river. I often wondered what it was and what went on in that mysterious, half-dilapidated building.  

It looks like it was converted from a big, old white farmhouse about 30 years ago...and it appears that absolutely no updates have been made outside or in since then, except for current beer logos on the back-lit signs and the "juke box." There are several pool tables, but it's so dark inside I don't know how anyone could see the balls. The country music is loud, when someone eventually moseys over to put a few quarters into the high-tech music box/photo booth that hangs on the wall. And what eating establishment in the Midwest would be complete without a big screen TV with football and NASCAR on every Sunday.

My husband and I affectionately call the place, Lolo, the town where the McLean boys would go to a dingy, backwoods speakeasy in the movie, A River Runs Through It.  Probably not very gracious, but it's what came to mind for both of us the first time we went. One of our neighbors solved the mystery, after telling us about "best place to get a steak in Adams County." For my birthday last September, I suggested we go there just to check it out and do something different.  We sat in the dirt parking lot (in a Prius, of all things), staring at the house-turned-bar wondering which door to go in. Front door? Side Door, with its kennel full of twelve-pack Bud Light cartons (yes, an actual 4x8 chain-link dog kennel)? Was there a back door? And would we be shot should we choose the wrong entrance? Finally Craig spoke. "Now, I would be more than happy to take you to a nice restaurant for your birthday."

"No way, I said, let's go in."  We approached with caution.

Like Lolo, this place seems to function off the radar. People smoke inside, like the outdoor grill cooking up steaks in the back, even though lighting up in a restaurant is now against the law in Ohio. And even though Adams is a dry county, they were either grandfathered in, won an appeal on a township technicality, or somebody is just looking the other way.  I'm not sure.  Either way, they raise their Budweiser freak flag strong and proud, and would probably blow smoke in your face if you questioned it. Last Sunday between 1:00 - 2:00, at least 4 groups of people came in to buy a 12-pack of  Bud.  So, why do we go there?  People are not friendly to us at all. People drink a lot...or already had before they got there. Most look like they just rolled out of bed. No doubt they are all packing heat of some kind.  And the owner doesn't show up to cook until he wants to (anytime between 12-1:00 has been our experience). 

But we like it because on Sundays you can get a really good steak or ribs or Adams Co. farm-raised shrimp in season.  The couple that owns the place also has a farm we pass each time we drive to Prairie Pond Woods, so we see the pastured cows and the pond where the shrimp are raised.  You would pay twice as much at a city restaurant for the size of the meat, potato and salad you get there.  We make four meals out of it.  And it feels good supporting some kind of local mom and pop place...even with all its quirks. So far no food poisoning.

We also like the cultural shock we get (and probably give) when we go there. Its a reminder that not everyone is like us. It challenges us. It makes us wonder what kind of life the petite, white-haired lady with missing front teeth leads...good or bad?  Is she happy?  She seems to be some kind of Matriarch in the bar and laughs readily.  And what about the guy who burped out loud seven or eight times while he sat at the bar or milled around.  Is he struggling in life? Or does the fact that he felt no compunction to muffle them or excuse himself just make make him enviably freer than most? Or does he feel as though he is with family...except for us.

We notice the community that seems to gather on Sunday afternoons, lined up on stools in a horseshoe around the bar, taking communion with their aluminum cans. Their relationships and interactions are puzzling. Often they will just sit and stare, their drinks on the counter, no one speaking to another, like a Quaker meeting gone bad. Occasionally, someone cracks a joke at the expense of another and laughter quickly rises and falls. Then someone walks in the door. If they are known, the crowd greets them like Norm walking into Cheers.  If they are strangers, like us, we are looked over but not greeted, or maybe just the slightest nod to acknowledge our existence if they make eye contact. They take our order.  They serve us.  There are precious few pleasantries. We leave. We are the outsiders, and this is not Carvers.

It is a glaring illustration of the cultural divides that exist, and probably always have. I don't understand their world any more than they would understand mine. I'm filled with suspicion and I judge their imagined lifestyles on what I see on the outside  I'm guessing, by the cool responses we get, they are suspicious of us. They probably imagine we are uppity, and would not understand why my husband and I are having a deep, theological discussion in their bar on Easter Sunday!

We will continue to go back now and then.  I'm hoping on one of the visits, we can experience a moment when all the guards are down...maybe around a football game, the Great Uniter.  Or maybe one of them will greet us in a friendly way and we will respond in kind and a bridge will be formed.  I'd like to know what they think about things. I'd like to know who they are and what draws them to this oasis. I'd like to find out if we are really that different deep down. I'd like to share a great steak with them...and a laugh.