When you’re financially poor the guilt factor can register mighty high at times like birthdays and special occasions. The last thirty dollars on my debit card paired with a 30% coupon from Borders was just enough to buy Rick a book on decorating with color for his birthday. Emmy and I wrapped it and she made a card with markers and some yellow craft paper. I had made dinner reservations weeks in advance at L’Etoile, a beautiful French restaurant on the square looking out over the capitol grounds. My sister, Ebby, had given us a gift certificate to the restaurant and we were saving it for a special occasion. Rick’s birthday became that special occasion. We were going to go on Saturday evening, the day before his actual birthday, which this year happened to fall on another one of our favorite holidays, Mother’s Day. When Saturday morning peeked over the horizon Rick rolled over and I could tell his colitis had been staging a fight with his stomach during the night. We were both nervous about spending any additional money on us and if he wasn’t feeling well we weren’t going to want to waste a potentially memorable meal on an iffy stomach. By the time we were supposed to be putting on our dinner clothes it was clear L’Etoile was out and takeout was in. We left the decision up to
Rick and he decided on barbeque. Why? I’m not sure. If Rick’s stomach was a little queasy, barbeque wouldn’t be my first choice, but the decision was his. We had heard about Smoky Jon’s from my sister Ebby. Ebby’s a wealth of information. She had gone to high school with Jon, the one thumbed owner and chef of Smoky Jon’s. He was the kind of kid who had to take all kinds of shit from the other kids.
“Hey Jonnie, thumbs up man!” Well Jon ended up with the last laugh and his thumbs way up in the air:
2005 – 1st place, National BBQ Festival (Douglas, GA)
2006 – 1st place, National BBQ Convention (Knoxville, TN)
2007 – 1st place, National BBQ Convention (Raleigh, NC)
2008 – 1st place, National BBQ Convention (Austin, TX)
2009 – 1st place, National BBQ Convention (Austin, TX)
His ribs are damn good, finger-lickin’ good. Our challenge was to get there before the takeout window closed. I thought I’d call the order in; two full racks with creamy cole slaw, spicy butter corn, garlic mashed potatoes and skin on French fries. I must have dialed Smoky Jon’s a half dozen times before I decided they didn’t take phone orders. At this point time was really running short. I could see disappointment settling in on Rick’s face. I grabbed the keys, his debit card (he was going to have to pay for his own birthday dinner) and dashed for the car. Less than six minutes later I was pulling into Smoky Jon’s parking lot. SJ’s was on a corner in the same building as a printing company that then connected to a local bar. The parking for all three of these establishments totaled no more than eight spaces. Where the patrons for these businesses parked their cars I have no idea. Once inside the front door the log cabin-like entry had an additional two doors; one clearly marked enter and the other saying this is the exit. The six table dining area was full of locals licking their fingers and wiping sauce from the collective corners of their mouths. A log railing defined the take out queue I stood in waiting to place my order. When it was my turn my first question was why they didn’t take phone orders.
“Oh we do, but last night someone came in and cut all our phone lines. Our phones haven’t worked all day long”. I was feeling a little less stupid. I placed my order and dug out Rick’s debit card.
“Oh no, no, no. No phones, no can take credit cards, you’re going to have to go to the bar next door and try their ATM.”
“I’ll be right back”. I circled the tables to the exit door and off I ran to the bar. I could hear the din of Vince Gilley’s country twang well before I opened the tavern door. Smoke circled like little tornados over the heads of a clientele well on their way to having their car keys revoked. T-shirts saying, “John Deere” or “Viagra is for pussies!” flopped over the bar on guys with grizzly beards and fading tattoos. I inched my way past the amber lit pool table and around the square shaped bar into the back room with all the video games and a single ATM. As I fished Rick’s debit card out of my wallet ready to swipe it and get back to Jon’s I noticed the screen on the ATM said, “Out of Service”. Back to the bar and the mercy of the bartender. The only place I could find to wedge myself in was between a guy with little wisps of white hair and a sleeveless t-shirt who kept laughing at anything anyone said and a fortyish guy in a short-sleeve flannel shirt who kept screaming at the laughing man, “Hey Joe, you fuckin dickwad”. Stuck between a drunk and a dickwad I finally got the bartenders attention and asked him if he could pull some cash off my debit card since their ATM wasn’t working. He was fine with it. I asked him for fifty and handed him my card. Unfortunately I had handed him my card, not Rick’s. He came back saying the card had been declined. The three hundred pound crew-cut owner came over adjusting his waistband wanting to know what was up. I giggled and apologized for giving him an old card. That was my story and I was going to stick to it. I handed him Rick’s card hoping he wasn’t going to beat the shit out of me. (Because this part of the story takes place in a bar, swearing is acceptable). Rick’s card worked, the bartender handed me the money: two twenties and a ten, and I took off, the owners eyes trailing me all the way, a scowl carved into his forehead. The minute out the front door I went to recount the money. WHAT THE FUCK! I still had the two twenties but the ten was gone. I was almost willing to let the ten go but forty bucks wasn’t enough to cover the rib order. With my eyes pointed upward I spun around and grabbed the door back into the bar. WHAT? I can only swear so much. The door wouldn’t open. Was this some sort of scam? The restaurant says no phones – no cards, the bar’s ATM doesn’t work, the bartender slips you a retractable ten then they scare the bejesus out of you and lock the door behind you once you’re outside. That old guy at the bar knew the joke all the time. That’s why he couldn’t stop laughing. I walked around the side of the building where the three hundred pound owner was now playing a game of sheepshead for money with group of three other guys. I knocked on the window and pantomimed the locked door. With an “oh geez” look on his face he swung off his stool and duck walked over to the door. He fiddled with the lock, pushed the door open, Kellie Pickler blaring in the back, he bent down and scooped up my ten off the floor, knocking his butt into the gum for the blind candy machine, then straightened up and handed me my ten.
The ribs were waiting for me when I got back to Smoky Jon’s. I brought them home, we ate them like wild dogs on a dead buffalo and I never told Rick or Emmy a thing about it. Happy Birthday Rick.