It is years later and I can still remember my first visit to Lou's Cafe. Stopping in to see if anyone could tell us where to locate the turn we had missed, my dad and I received a large dose of culture shock. It seemed as if we had opened the door to a place where time stood still.
Miss Lou Dixon owns and runs that restaurant in the middle of Small Town, USA. Miss Lou has been in business at that location since 1954. Even though the place looks a little squalid, it is not for lack of care; in fact, Lou is proud of how clean she keeps her place. She has often been heard to say, with the strongest East Tennessee accent, "It don't matter how pore a body is. They can be clean." She is proud of her "A" rating and prominently displays it.
It is not a fancy restaurant. The hundreds of booted loggers, railroad workers, and oil field roughnecks trekking through have worn the carpet thin. Chunks are missing from the carpet at the favorite tables of the workers. The hardened veneer on some of the tables is missing a notch here and there. The paint on the walls has cracks and there is a perennial smell of hamburgers permeating the air. The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking the place is about to fold financially; instead, what we found that night was a well camouflaged center of social activity and the finest, most accurate, information available.
When entering the door at Lou's, two things are immediately noticeable: the place is rarely empty and seems to consist of a maze of rooms. The first room, through the door, is the main part of the restaurant. There is another, rarely used, dining room off to the right. It was added during the oil well boom of the seventies. Through the main dining room is yet another room; it guards the door leading into the kitchen. This room contains the most coveted table in the place. The highest tribute Lou can bestow on anyone is to allow them access to seats at this table. This table is the family table; it is reserved for Lou's, and her daughter Karen's, immediate family and treasured friends.
When entering the main dining room, whether by design or by custom, there is a definite pecking order involved in the seating arrangements. The first table on the left, presided over by an elderly gentleman with Basset Hound eyes, belongs to the old men of the town. The table sits in front of one of two large windows; the old men can see and are able to comment on the "doins of them young 'uns running the town these days." It is amusing to discover that the average age of the people under discussion is at least fifty and they took over their businesses from the same old men looking over them now.