Life is Simple: Adventures in college-date dining

In my high school days, on the rare occasion of getting a date with a girl, the options for what we could do were pretty limited. We could drive 28 miles south, across the state line, to go to a movie in the closest town with a theater—or we could drive 25 miles north to go to the other town that had a cinema. Those were our only two basic choices, and if I was really trying to impress the young lady, we might stop at the drive-in restaurant afterward for a cherry cola.

When I went away to college, the standard movie “ask-out” just didn’t cut it.

In one class I was lucky enough to sit by a cute, little blonde girl for the entire semester, and I tried to work up the courage to ask her out on a date. I had made some small talk by asking her where she was raised. When she said she was from St. Louis, I responded, “Yeah, I’m from just south of there” (about 250 miles south). When she laughed out loud and told me I had a funny accent, I decided the time was right and asked her out for the coming Saturday night.

“What will we do?” she asked.

“How about going out for dinner?” That seemed to be the go-to date for all my friends.

Surprisingly, she said, “Sure, that sounds nice, but just so you know, I don’t do fast food.”

I quickly agreed, even though I had no idea where we should go.

In the early 1970s, Columbia, Missouri, was full of burger joints, pizza parlors and taco stands, but the only nice restaurants were pricy venues that generally catered to wealthy parents who came to town to take their kids to a nice reprieve from dormitory food. I was surviving on my 25-hour-a-week job at the seed lab, earning a whopping $1.35 per hour. So I had some thinking to do.

I picked up Wendy at seven that evening and proceeded to drive to the only sit-down restaurant in the city that I had eaten at previously—the Salebarn Café, in the lower section of Columbia’s Livestock Auction. 

Now, I’ve never eaten at a salebarn that didn’t have delicious food that was reasonably priced, but most are open only on sale day. Columbia’s was open six days a week and even had specially priced plates on Saturday night. Wendy’s mouth was agape as I parked the car.

The waitress seated us at a table between a working cowboy and an old farmer who had brought his wife to celebrate their anniversary. She handed us a menu, and my date began to smile as she saw that night’s special paper-clipped to the inside. “I love oysters!” she shrieked.

Shocked, I asked, “You do?”

“Oh, yes,” she responded. “My parents and I order them every time we go to either coast.”

I didn’t brag, but I had been to both coasts, too—Lakes Norfork and Bull Shoals.

When the waitress brought her plate, the attractive girl looked at it and asked me if they had given her the wrong order. “I’ve always eaten them raw, right out of their shell,” she said. 

I almost gagged.

“I’ve never had them that way,” I say. “We cut them out of their ‘shell’ at the chute, wash them, bread them and deep-fry the little ones. If they’re too big, we fillet them before frying.”

“What’s a chute?” she asked.

Needless to say, there was not a second date. 

Copyright (c) 2018, Jerry Crownover

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