I took my mother to dinner last night at the newest restaurant in town, Ruby Tuesday. It’s one of the many franchised “dinner houses” (as they’re known in the food business) that dot the American landscape, and its presence in my home town is an anomaly. When I was young, the only restaurants in the area were fried-chicken-and-steak affairs, and there weren’t all that many of them. Most families ate at home, and they ate as families, gathering together at the table at a fixed hour to discuss the day’s events. Eating out was something you did on Saturday night, usually not all that often.
In time, the major fast-food chains made their way to southeast Missouri, and every new McDonald’s and Pizza Hut was a major event. By the time I left home in 1974, there were many such places in town, but nothing much more ambitious. It was the conventional wisdom that “dinner houses” would never take root here, even though they were doing a booming business in the college town 30 miles north of us. Then, last year, an Applebee’s opened on the south side of town, and drew customers with a vengeance. It seems that the eating habits of the younger baby boomers and Gen-Xers in town had changed without anybody noticing. They were no longer committed to dinner at the dinner table: wives were working, children busier, and dining out had become, here as elsewhere, less a luxury than a necessity, even in a small town like this.
After Applebee’s came Ruby Tuesday, to which I took my mother for the first time on the night before the night before Christmas. It was shiny-new, the waiters were friendly and helpful, and the menu, if not exactly continental, was nonetheless worlds away from what one ate at the Charcoal House circa 1966. I dined on a nicely blackened piece of fish accompanied by rice pilaf and steamed broccoli. As we departed, I noticed that Thomas Dolby’s “Blinded by Science,” one of the very first rock songs I ever saw featured on MTV, was playing over the restaurant’s sound system.
It seemed to me that we both needed a bit of countervailing nostalgia, so we drove around town after dinner and looked at the Christmas lights. They’re not as spectacular as they used to be, but I’d still say that one out of three houses in my home town is electrically decorated come late December. Then we came home, watched a Randolph Scott video, and went to bed, there to rest up from the encroaching onslaught of modernity.
(P.S. Speaking of Lileks, he had a nice posting yesterday on holiday lights.)