What Happened To Cafeterias?

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When I was a small child, we didn't go out to eat too often. The only time I remember going out to eat when I was little was when we had moved out of state and lived in a motel for a month. We would eat at the motel's adjoining restaurant while hairsprayed waitresses in starched uniforms would walk with their trays through cigarette-smoke laden air with a pencil poised above their ear. Yes, it was a long time ago. Three Dog Night was hugely popular at that time; I remember their songs blaring through the restaurant's jukebox quite frequently. I can't hear "Old Fashioned Love Song" on the oldies station without thinking back to that time. A time when they brought water to your table without you having to ask for it, where cigarette machines faced you as you walked in the door, and you didn't know yet that most of the food you liked clogged your arteries.

Sadly, that restaurant is long gone. I recently moved back to my hometown after being away from it for 23 years. Eagerly I asked my mother about places I loved here while growing up. I found out most are gone, usually replaced by a heartless unneeded convenience store or not replaced at all, but simply becoming a sad,empty building surrounded by tall, messy grass. I was also dismayed to find that not only the record stores and dime stores have disappeared (they left a long time ago) but also that a beautiful, beloved cafeteria was closed, not because it did not do business, but because the rent was too high to keep it open (supposedly). It was a cafeteria we went to when my husband, two sons and I visited at Christmas. They had lovely decorations out and it just gave you a nice homey feeling and of course the food tasted just like what mama would make. And the desserts were always luscious and reasonably priced. I have always eaten dessert at cafeterias, telling myself it doesn't count-lol. As I grew up I remember going to cafeterias quite often as some of my brothers and sisters moved out and there was more of a budget for that sort of thing. It was always a happy outing; my father sprinkling sweet-n-low in his coffee while telling some silly joke while my mother gleefully eyeballed her dessert while finishing her meat and vegetables first.

There was something about eating in a cafeteria that made all my problems disappear for a few moments. It was not like home; home was full of strife and chaos. And you got to pick your food out instantly, which I loved. When I moved out of my parents' house and to another state far away, I still loved going to cafeterias and I went to one to eat on my first date with my husband. We also ate at a cafeteria on our wedding night! I also went to restaurants too of course but nothing beat the homey feeling and good vibes of a cafeteria. But over the years, cafeterias have changed. Some have closed, some have servers that bring you your drinks and napkins and such-I'd really rather get that stuff myself if I go to a cafeteria. Really, I don't mind! And some have become buffet-style places where you have to stuff in the food that you get-you can't take it home. That sucks! One of they joys of going out to eat is getting that little container to put your leftovers in. One cafeteria I really loved that we left behind when we moved was S&S Cafeteria. They let you take home whatever you didn't eat and they had lollipos on a lollipop tree for the kids on the way out. Some of my best memories are there. Yes-in a cafeteria. Memories of going there after a dreaded Dr.s appt. with a good outcome, or on the way to or from shopping in the big city. Memories of my youngest picking out lollipops from the lollipop tree.

Technology and change has taken away a lot of the beautiful and simple things in life. I hope it doesn't find a way to take away the cafeterias that are left. That is something I would really be sad about.


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