VOL. 129 | NO. 178 | Friday, September 12, 2014
At the Counter
By Dan Conaway
THE COLLEGE INN, FULL CIRCLE. The future was in my hands. My parents had set me free and I sat there all by myself for the very first time, my own stool at the counter, my own menu in front of me and a cool new show on the TV above. It was 1957. I was eight. The show was Perry Mason. And I was in control.
That seminal moment was at the College Inn, a little neighborhood meat-and-three just down the street from my house on Highland. Okay, I had a budget limit of a dollar, I couldn’t order all desserts, and my parents were about 20 feet away. But it was the first time I was allowed to order for myself and sit by myself. And that and Perry Mason were very cool.
It was a test. If I passed, Mom and Dad were going to start letting me go the Toddle House – virtually next door to our house – on my own before the babysitter got there on evenings they went out. The aforementioned dollar at the Toddle House would buy a combination salad with 1,000 island, a hamburger steak, hash browns, two toasted hamburger buns, a slice of icebox pie and a Coke.
I was sitting at that same College Inn counter today, now breakfast-exemplar Brother Juniper’s, relating the story to a smiling server feigning interest when a voice a couple of stools down said, “Mr. Conaway?”
His name was John, a friend of my son. They met through a young men’s service organization called The Phoenix, started almost 60 years ago by Memphians home from WWII and Korea who wanted to do something to help inner city kids. They started the Boys Clubs here in a church basement, and they’re still here, a second and even third generation of Phoenicians raising money and support for the thousands of kids now served by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis.
One of those guys, my first boss, got me in The Phoenix. I later served as president. My son served as president.
John and I were catching up when I discovered he’d bought the house of a friend of mine, across the street from my wife’s college roommate, just down the block from where we raised our kids, around the corner from the cornerstones of our life.
It’s John’s turn and his generation’s at the counter, so much common ground shared and so much yet to be built on that foundation, so much new ground to be covered with uncommon ideas.
Counters play pivotal roles in our history – who sat at them and when, who was served and who wasn’t, what was discovered and changed. While I have absolutely no regret that I can’t go back, I do regret that I won’t be around to see who’ll be sitting here 50 years from now.
I’d like to see that, because I think it might just be all right after all.
I’m a Memphian, and it’s time to place a new order.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.