TABLE OF CONTENTS
FROM THE BENCH
SWALL AT AALL
of SWALL Annual Business Meeting
Okra and Killer Iced Tea
of the Texas 77th Legislative Session, 2001
From The New Mexico 2001 Legislature
From the CoALL Institute
Holterhoff Visits with CoALL
OKRA and KILLER ICED TEA
"Do you serve fried okra?" I asked hopefully. "No," a snooty southern voice drawled "we do not. We serve New Southern cuisine." "Oh. Ok. Thanks anyway." As I hung up the phone, I was processing what "New Southern cuisine" would be and how it could exclude fried okra. I was in Atlanta, Georgia for the 2001 SWALL conference and was looking for a place to get one of my favorite dishes, fried okra. How could any respectable place in the South not serve fried okra??
I pondered about the word "cuisine" as I tried to quiet my rumbling stomach. Anytime you hear "cuisine", you can be assured that you will be talked down to by an uppity server, eat a tiny portion of something you cannot describe, and pay through the nose for the privilege. After a long day spent in airports and crammed into an airplane, I really wasn’t up to being patronized, so I decided to seek elsewhere for my okra nirvana. I was raised in Texas, where fried vegetables are a way of life, and needed to get my fried okra fix before heading back to the land of everything-must-be-healthy-and-taste-awful, otherwise known as California.
In Texas, we fry almost all vegetables before deeming them fit to eat- squash, tomatoes (green), okra, zucchini, pickles, etc. When I moved to California, I was dismayed to find out that not only do most Californians not believe in frying vegetables before you eat them, they actually try to avoid it! Oh the blasphemy!!
As I flipped through the yellow pages, seeking a restaurant that would serve the delicacies I craved, I thought that perhaps the hotel’s concierge might have a suggestion. I picked up the phone, dialed O and barked "I need fried okra and some cornbread and I need it now. Where do I go?" John Michael, the concierge with two first names, detected the need in my voice and decided it would be best to get me some food as fast as possible. He directed me to a restaurant "just a hop down the road." He noted that it was a local favorite and very popular for those wanting "plain down-home food".
Dragging my roommate with me, I waived down the first taxi that pulled up in front of the hotel. "Did you order the taxi?" the driver asked. "Ummm...sure. We need a taxi. Let’s go." We jumped in just as a bellhop came out the door with the people that presumably ordered the cab. But, as we sped off in our commandeered cab, I mused that in the search for sustenance and cab rides, it is survival of the fittest and the fastest. Besides, there was another taxi pulling in the drive, so the stranded guests wouldn’t be left adrift too long.
As the taxi headed we set off down the road, we became mired in the rush hour traffic. This was not ordinary rush hour like we see in San Diego, where you have freeways that are relatively straight but you spend time creeping along at about 20 miles an hour. This was rush hour on roads that meandered, twisted, turned, and were all called "Peach" something and had stop lights about every 20 feet. It was like the starting line for the Indy 500 every time the light changed- drivers jostling for position, peeling out, and lots of fumes and smoke. We took roads named Peachtree, Peachpit, Peachpie, Peachykeen, Peaches ‘n’ Cream and a host of other "peaches" before we ever got close to our destination. While no one shot at anyone or threw dog into traffic, there was still plenty of road rage. But in this case it was more like "traffic rule suspension" than road rage.
See, in Atlanta traffic lights are really only suggestions that one stop and let other people through the intersection. In fact, it seems that many drivers sitting at a stop light obviously feel that the normal rules of traffic suddenly do not apply to them. Hence, there is a large amount of horn-blowing, arm-waving, foul language and accidents which is part of the "normal course" of driving. As we were sitting at the red light at Peach Cobbler lane, the car in front of us, which was also at a complete stop, decided that the time had come for him to proceed across the intersection, regardless of what the traffic lights told him. He didn’t need no stinkin’ red lights to boss him around- no sir! Those rules were for the weak! The simple-minded! Those who liked to play it safe!
So he drove right through the intersection, causing lots of skidding, squealing of tires, and spewing of creative invectives. As we inched forward in the traffic, I asked the cab driver if such behavior was normal. "Oh yeah," he replied. "We gotta listen to the radio all the time to hear about all the accidents and fatalities. Most of the time, it’s better’n watchin’ the Monster Truck Pulls." Needless to say, I was relieved when we arrived at the restaurant in one piece.
However, that temple of the sacred provider of okra was less stunning that I hoped. It was situated next to a cheap motel and sported a plain brick exterior. But when we got inside, I knew we’d come to the right place. The waitresses had beehives, cat’s eye glasses, names like Mary Jo, and cracked their gum continuously. We were seated right away and could tell that most of the other diners were regulars. "Hey there Ed, how’s that new pick-up o’ yours?" said Mary Jo asked while refilling 8 water glasses and balancing several dinners along her left arm. "Jus’ fine, darlin. Gimme some more of that tea when you git a chance," said Ed. I felt like I was home.
We were shown to our booth, complete with paper placemats. Then, like an angel descending from the heavenly realm, Mary Jo reverently placed a basket of corn bread in front of us with real butter and said, "Ya’ll need a menu?" Of course, I am translating because what it sounded like was "Yuh-hall need uh men-you?" But being well versed in drawl myself, I was able to nod furiously while making cornbread crumbs fly as I buttered and stuffed piece after piece of that luscious manna like a starved chipmunk.
When Mary Jo slapped the plastic menus down in front of us, I knew the best was yet to come. They had squash casserole, fried okra, real mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and chicken fried steak, to name a few of the dishes. They had other items as well but I can’t recall them because I was so busy trying to figure out if I should get one serving of fried okra or two.
My roommate ordered some crab cakes and attempted to get a piece of corn bread. However, seeing me hunched over the basket with my arms wrapped around it and growling at anyone who dared approach the basket discouraged her from her quest (I can’t imagine why). She had to content herself with a plain dinner roll.
I did manage to order some iced tea in-between stuffing my cheeks with cornbread and when it arrived I took a hearty gulp, only to find that my blood sugar levels shot up to diabetic coma levels. I had forgotten that when one orders iced tea in the South, it comes pre-sweetened. And they are not stingy with the sugar. I attempted to stir the tea a bit more to see if I could get some of the sugar to dissolve and when I left my spoon in the tea, it was able to stand up by itself. This was killer tea! I ordered a second glass of unsweetened tea and combined the two to make it drinkable.
Soon I was feasting and closed my eyes in enjoyment. This was worth braving the traffic for! It was blissful, fulfilling...and too suddenly gone. But wait, it was suddenly time for dessert! I was thinking of a piece of pecan pie (pronounced pee-cahn by those in the know), but Mary Jo suggested a piece of coconut ice box pie, the house specialty. My roommate and I agreed to split a piece, and when Mary Jo returned with two saucers of pie, I said "Oh, I must have not make myself clear. We wanted to share one piece of pie." Mary Jo looked at me over her rhinestone studded, cat’s-eyes glasses and said "Sugar, this IS one piece of pie. I just split it for you." "Oh." I said, feeling embarrassed. But that feeling quickly turned to one of delight as I tasted that pie. It was like being back on my grandmother’s Texas porch in the summer, eating pie in the porch swing. Pure delight!
As we paid our ticket, I was surprised at how cheap an hour in heaven could be. I knew for sure that I could never have gotten this kind of satisfaction from anyplace that served "cuisine." If I’d had it my way, I would’ve eaten there every night I was in Atlanta, but my roommate pointed out that if we ate like that every night, we wouldn’t be able to fit into our pants and might have to buy two tickets on the plane to get back home.
We departed in a cab and endured the "who wants to be in a wreck" game until we got back to the hotel, where I fell into a deep food coma and didn’t awake until morning. The conference started the next day and it went as conferences do- I met new people, renewed acquaintances, and sat through some good programs and presented a program on how to deal with pro pers in county law libraries. Many people, noting I was from California, said, "Um..I hate to break it to you, but you are not in SWALL’s geographic area." "I know, but I had so much fun when I was part of this group that I just can’t stay away." That’s true, but part of the reason I travel "outside my chapter" is that it gives me a chance to see programs I might not see otherwise and to meet and chat with people I might miss otherwise.
Now that I am back home in sunny San Diego, when I think of Atlanta, I immediately think about that place, and their fried okra, corn bread, and ice box pie. It really let me taste the true flavors of Atlanta- friendly people, excellent food and service, and adventures coming and going. Pass the corn bread please.