10 September 2008
A visit to the Doublewide
The time has come for our Visiting Fellows reading group to start meeting. It is 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon and we are beginning to assemble in our lounge. Flavia and I are seated round the table looking at an impressive chocolate cake, decorated with a gold leaf.
"You like to start with a flourish, don't you," Joyce had said to me when she brought her catch in to the Center earlier in the day. Then, leaning forward, she whispered "and I know you like chocolate."
We were now all seated around the cake. I cajoled gently but no one wanted to take the first slice. So I started slicing and plating, handing the slices in whichever direction had a willing hand. The cake was moist and supple and I soon found that a fluid motion worked best: slice, flip, splat, slice, flip, ...
We attended to the business of the day. We need to get to know each other. Just who are these people sitting around the table? We each unfolded short intellectual biographies and soon found those hidden commonalities that make assemblies like this so interesting. I marveled at the varied and winding paths everyone had taken that finally led to this room. Every story revealed a person of diverse interests and rich intellectual passions. There was time for more slices of cake and then, long after we'd started and after everyone had had their turn, it was dinner time.
The Doublewide Grill on the Southside is a gas station converted into a restaurant that preserves the feel of the 1950s. It has ancient gas pumps that recall a heroic era that most of us know only through James Dean movies. They grill all manner of meat and will serve you a lentil burger in six different ways. The beer list is inspired.
What was important for today's event is that this is a place where one sits outside. We should not leave this for later in the term.
Let's go there tonight, I thought, while the weather is still warm and inviting. This time, for once, I had it well planned in advance.
Both Chris and Dan have cars and we arranged that they would drive in so we could all ride with them to dinner.
So we sat out on a late summer evening at a long picnic table. As the sky dimmed into twilight, the ancient star of Texaco shone more brightly over our heads. We are James Dean and Natalie Wood, slicked back hair and bobby socks.
John D. Norton