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 a picture of an edited version of the past. One where the burrs are softened, the unvarnished 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.
Gray skies and cutting northerly winds tend to instinctively send me searching for a bowl of chili. This week, however, I found warmth is not limited to a ceramic bowl and 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 Rockwell proud.
The waitress took my order without needing to write it down, greeted people by their first names, and seemed to connect with every patron on one level or another. The menu was simple but honest. Some sandwiches appeared to be originally named after star athletes who sit in their respective sport’s halls of fame. Larry Bird and Ryne Sandberg should be proud.
As the door, cut at a 45-degree angle and facing both streets at the same time, swung open, patrons purposefully walked in and took a seat at the modest bar. Never reaching for a menu, the waitress many times simply confirmed what she thought they would want. One man’s shirt reflected the contractor he was working for while the person next to him thumbed 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 swung open. A man loudly asked everyone where the nearest Mexican restaurant was, and after patrons offered directions, he was off again 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 scent 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.
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. He loudly says that is not the right Mexican restaurant. He describes the booths. Someone else gives him directions to another up the street. He turns and exits. The place returns to normal as if a stranger 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. Go find it.