Lunch in Eufaula
By Lyn May
Driving back to Georgia from Destin, Florida, where I spent two great days with a good friend, I decided to stop in Eufaula, Alabama, for lunch. If you are African American, no matter your age or status, being a stranger in a small southern town in these times, or any other times, can give one pause.
Sustained by my deep conviction that I have a right to travel unimpeded in my own country, I was buoyed as I cruised West Broad Street looking for a parking place. Still learning to take pleasure in life without Lee, I’m exceptionally tickled whenever I become aware of having a good time.
Finding the middle of town, hungry, I parked my car facing into the curb - as was once the most common way to park in towns with wide streets - and set off in what seemed a good direction.
Travel tip: When you want to eat decent food in a strange town avoid chains and find a business- a bank is usually a good bet – and ask for a recommendation. Real estate offices are even better because everyone is so relieved that you aren’t trying to buy and settle down that they’ll send you to the very best place in town in sheer relief.
After an informal guided tour and a cheery visit with two retired teachers – one black, one white – at the Chamber of Commerce office, I took their advice on where to eat and headed back up the street past my car. I only mention that because it was about 90 degrees and backtracking felt painful.
The directions were perfect and I was pleased to walk into the dark bar out of Eufaula’s pressing heat. I was led into the dining room at the rear by a smiling host. I chose to sit in the back of the room, facing the bar, so I could see everything. There were people at three other tables in the small room - all white and mostly older.
As I sat - content that someone else would fix my lunch - a very large, old white man came shambling through the bar, into the dining room, presumably headed for the bathroom. When he saw me he came to an abrupt halt and just stared at me for seconds that felt longer.
“Oh, oh,” I thought.
Then he bellowed across the room, "Hey, you sure look lonely sittin’ back there. If you'd like some company, I'll come sit with you!"
Surprised but hardly missing a beat, I smiled sweetly, put my hand to my heart in that time-honored southern gesture of respect and pleasure and – resisting a terrible impulse to do an imitation of Scarlett – said,
"Thank you. That is the best offer I've had today.”
I had the self-control to pause ever-so-briefly before adding,
“But, then again, it IS only 1:00."
The entire room burst into laughter and the three very dignified southern "ladies" sitting closest to me spun in unison, and one said, "That was a fantastic response."
I gave a pseudo-Gallic shrug, and said, “Men.”
It was a good reminder that not every long look is necessarily hostile and so, with shared understanding and sisterly nods at what mannerless oafs that other gender can sometimes be, they turned back to their plates, and I resumed my anticipation of a good lunch.