Cheesy Western all the way

I drank too much. That’s my excuse. I drank too much. I try to be an accurate reporter, a memoirist who remembers, but during that stretch, age eighteen to twenty-one, I drank too much. I’ll do my best, but I won’t guarantee accuracy.

During my four years in college, among the hundreds of party nights, countless nights ended with a trip to the “T.” On the far side of downtown Lynchburg, just before Fifth Street crosses the James, a divey burger joint clings to the edge of a cliff. Saturday night, between midnight and two, when not passed out, I crammed into the back of any ride I could find. We drove to the Texas Inn.

When I catalogue the times I’ve been in physical danger throughout my life, those trips to the T sit high on my list. As Fifth Street changes from a fast suburban throughfare into an urban road lined with businesses, a massive hill looms ahead. The driver, always drunk, punches the accelerator. As we crest the hill, as the tires lose connection with the roadway, the dark deserted city behind us morphs into bustling nightlife ahead. Streetlights. Clubs. White-suited cats with wide-brim hats hang in clumps, brown-bagged forties dangle at their side. A half a block ahead, a traffic light threatens: green, no problem; red, hope we can stop in time.

And then starts a long coast to the T. The parking lot, flat and dark, surrounded by a low stone wall, faces the cliff. An urban legend: a student, just a few years earlier, leaving the T, put his car in drive instead of reverse. He hopped the wall and plummeted to his death.

The décor is diner. Red vinyl stools surround a U-shaped steel counter. Booths sit in the dimly lit reaches of the single room. The booths are for couples and the blackout drunks and the out-of-place adults who showed up late night for some food.  The action’s at the counter. The waitress taunts departing diners in a high sing song voice, “Tip, Tip, TipTipTip.” She must do this dozens of times a night, and maybe goes home with a handful of nickels and dimes. When no one’s leaving the restaurant, she gives the recent arrivals shit.

Like everyone else, I order a cheesy western all the way—truly heaven on a bun. A burger, a fried egg and American cheese. ‘All the way’ means chopped onion and relish. Mustard’s available on the counter. They keep the ketchup hidden away. I ask for some but get razzed. They only offer it if you buy some fries. “Cheesy western all the way and a James.” In the parlance of the T, a James is a glass of water, purportedly pulled from the factory-flavored James River flowing behind the restaurant.

At lunch today, I made myself a western burger. This is my go-to lunch on Saturdays these days. I always skip the cheese, and instead of beef, I use a Garden Burger. I lay a couple of vertically sliced pickle chips on top of the egg and give it a healthy squiggle of ketchup because it’s my house, dammit, and I like ketchup on my burger. I’m sure my Garden Burger would make most of my college friends moan. It might even kill that waitress if she’s still alive and singing for tips.

In 1998, Susan and I visited Lynchburg. She worked for the American Hiking Society and Lynchburg was dedicating a hiking/biking trail in the newly gentrified downtown. As Susan spoke to the crowd about the importance of outdoor places to exercise, I gazed a half mile away at the familiar Texas Inn sign and dreamt of distant days. As the crowd broke up, I gave Susan a congratulatory kiss and said “Hey, are you hungry? I know a place.”

16 thoughts on “Cheesy Western all the way

    • Thank you Wynne. The drunken trips to all night food establishments *seems* like a universal thing we can all relate to, but now that I no longer drink, I realize that’s not true. I’m glad it landed for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This description is VIVID. Nicely done, Jeff. I am fairly sure that I haven’t been to this actual establishment. But reading this, I’m like, “Yes, I remember this place!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this story, Jeff. The red vinyl stools remind me of a common burger place here going a fair way back now. It was the Wimpy Bar. They specialised in burgers and all-day grills. I remember their circular hot dog! Goodness knows how they produced those. It didn’t have booths like your place, but we have Wetherspoons pubs over here that do. Don’t know if you know either of those names.

    The burger sounds good, although, for me, they’d have to replace the burger with a vegan one, omit the egg and give me vegan cheese. Then, I’d be happy 😉.

    I never drank at the age you mentioned, 18 – 21; my drinking came much later than that. I’m just very glad and grateful that I’m now about ten years sober and clean. My drink of choice at 18 was a Cinzano Bianco (now, I’m showing my age 🥴!!) 😂

    When you mentioned the tyres leaving the road, it made my stomach lurch. Believe it or not, my wheelchair does that now. There’s a small hill on my way home, and the front tyres lift up and land with a bump every time. It scares the living daylights out of me!


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