I’m sitting on a bar stool in a swanky restaurant. Beth is seated next to me. Food will be served soon, which means that this qualifies as a date. It’s only lunch on a Friday. And the place is actually not swanky at all. I made that up. But, still, it’s a date.
Dating has changed for us over the last 45 years. Our first date was a night out for Pizza at Tasty Pizza in Hapeville, GA. Maybe it was College Park. Somewhere close enough to the Atlanta Airport that we could hear the planes overhead, thinking one might land in the middle of our table.
When you first step out into the dating world, the point is to explore the possibilities of romance. You wear nice clothes. At least, clean clothes. You polish your shoes. Lace up ones with 2” heels. You might even iron your plaid bell bottoms. Holding hands and stealing a kiss is the icing on the cake.
The old married couple date looks more like a trip to the Dollar Store. In fact, a trip to the Dollar Store could actually qualify as a date. Going out somewhere, anywhere together. We have been on dates to Winn Dixie. And if we work in a side trip to Walmart, it’s like a double date.
Today we are looking at shower fixtures for the bathroom remodel that has been going on since November. I agree to take a couple hours off work. She agrees to meet me. My work boots and dirty jeans were neither polished nor ironed. And the amazing part is that she did not mention that I looked like a slob.
What made this a date is that I promised to buy her lunch.
“You wanna go look for this bathroom stuff ? I can take some time off late Friday morning.”
“Sure. I guess we can do that.” She says this with the same excitement she reserves for a trip to the Dentist.
“How ‘bout I buy you lunch, too?” Which suggests more.
“Oh wow! That would be great. It’s a date,” she says. The mood just got better.
I took her to a place she’d never been before. Which is hard to believe. We’ve eaten at most every place within 30 miles of home at least once over the last 25 years.
We were cross-eyed from looking at chrome shower heads and getting hungry.
“Where you taking me?”
The fact that she only now asks me this question is testimony to how much easier it is for married couples to date. The destination didn’t matter. The idea of going out held enough promise of its own.
So, back to the beginning. We are sitting on bar stools at Charlie Joseph’s in LaGrange. The swank about this place is simply that it has been around since 1920. For a hundred years these folks have been serving up hamburgers and hotdogs. The menu is simple. Although there are two large menu boards on the wall, the list fits on a small piece of paper the size of a 3×5 index card. Check marks for ketchup, mustard, or onions.
Joey Keeth is the grandson of the founder. He runs the place and works the counter every day. His son is handling the cooking. His other son runs the downtown location on Bull Street. And Joey greets everyone like he knows them and is best friends with them. He doesn’t know me at all still he talks like he does. The food is not other-worldly, but good. The friendliness is superb and genuine. That’s how you stay in business for 100 years.
Eating at Charlie Joseph’s is full of nostalgia. The floor is red and white checkered tile. The bar stools are chrome with red seats. The counters are white. The walls are covered in memorabilia of a time past, mostly Coca Cola.
While we wait on our food, a man asks, “You folks mind if I sit next to you?” The place is crowded. He greets Joey like he does know him.
“You come here often,” I ask him.
“Not as much as I would like to. I live up north of Atlanta now. But I was raised here. When I’m down this way, I have to come in and get my fix. Man, I miss this place.”
And that is the sentiment of most anyone who has ever eaten here. There are plain dogs, chili dogs, slaw dogs, cheesy dogs, scrambled dogs and double dogs. And the hamburger options are about as plentiful. Brunswick stew is on the menu. I’ve had that and it’s good. No fries at all, just chips. Ice cream sandwiches. Tea. And, if you want, a Co-Cola in a glass bottle. Where else can you get that?
The pace is fast behind the bar stool counter. All the cooking and stirring around is right there in front of you. Kind of like being at one of those swanky Japanese restaurants where they spin sharp knives right under your nose and serve stuff you’ve never heard of over rice with a flaming onion. But with hot dogs.
Word is that Charlie Joseph’s has always has been and remains a family run business. When one of the kids turns 12, they go to work behind the counter. And they smile because they like it. To me, it seems like the real American diner. Griffin had Dunks. LaGrange has Charlie Joseph’s. You should stop by.
The date was successful. Cost me about $8 for the lunch and about $$$$ for the shower stuff. But we did it together. I love the fact that she puts up with me. That she doesn’t seem to mind my ways. That she will go to some kitchen/bath warehouse in an industrial park and eat hamburgers and meet strangers, and still call it a date.
I really should dress up and take her somewhere swanky. Does Cracker Barrel count?