Here’s an expanded version of an Adventures in Food column I wrote for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. …
The Chinese restaurant in Doraville where I attend a monthly lunch club features delicious Cantonese entrees, but the real main course is stories told about some of the legends of rock ’n’ roll.
The ATL Music Lunch Club is an informal gathering at Bo Bo Garden Asian Cuisine on Buford Highway. The club, which has been on hiatus during the pandemic, is a mix of folks somehow connected with the music biz.
John McKnight plays drums, Joey “Papa J” Sommerville plays trumpet, Don Dunlavey plays guitar; Randy Roman, Steve Jones and Dave Dannheisser are former record label guys; Rick Diamond is a photographer; Vince Canipelli is a veteran concertgoer who recalls seeing the Allman Brothers at Piedmont Park in 1969.
Shortly after I retired in 2017, I was invited to join the group by longtime friend Mark Pucci, whom I’ve known since I was The Atlanta Constitution’s rock critic in the 1970s-80s, and he was publicist at Macon’s Capricorn Records (label home of the Allmans).
Thankfully, at my first few club meetings, I got to experience the extraordinary storytelling of local music legend Bruce Hampton, before he died onstage at the Fox during his 70th birthday concert.
The lunch group actually dates back about 20 years to when Hampton and former Capricorn Records Vice President Dick Wooley would meet for lunch at Little Szechuan on Buford Highway. Gradually, others started to tag along.
Chattanooga recording studio owner Glenn Halverson (who drives down for the lunches) was an early member. “I was only 36,” he recalled, “and I was very much intimidated. These guys were the real deal. I was smart enough to shut up and listen … and learn.”
Dannheisser likes that the lunch club is “such a diverse representation of the music and entertainment business — record company reps, radio DJs, studio and touring musicians, writers, photographers, and they all have their memories and stories of the industry’s better days. That makes it so enjoyable. I can’t wait till we reconvene to hear what everyone has been up to during the last year … should be interesting.”
Wooley recently summed up the lunch club as “just a bunch of old farts getting together and swapping war stories. … It’s a good little get-together. We have a few laughs.”
Nowadays, the age range generally runs from the 40s into the 70s — mostly men, but there are a couple of women among the regulars. Although Halverson, who sends out the email notices with meeting dates, has 75 names in his database, the usual attendance is about a dozen, although as many as two dozen folks have been known to show up. Guests sometimes drop by, including former Humble Pie guitarist Tom Johnson and longtime R&B guitarist Hermon Hitson.
Bo Bo Garden has an expansive menu, but the lunch fare is mainstream Chinese dishes. We meet there primarily because it’s one of the few places in town that has a table big enough to seat us all.
Some dishes take longer than others to come out, particularly the crispy garlic chicken favored by Wooley. We all throw a dollar into a pot and the last person to get their food (usually Dick) gets the money, which basically pays for his lunch and share of the tip.
Over such group favorites as shrimp and eggs, shrimp with black bean sauce, mushroom chicken and shredded pork with garlic sauce, we share amusing tales about superstar encounters, talk about favorite performers, tell jokes and just share our lives. You might even hear a couple of folks comparing notes on hearing aids!
“I do love the stories about the music biz from the ’60s to the ’80s,” said one of the younger members, singer Karin Johnson, who performs locally with Blacklight Midnight, Vintage Boogie Band and That ‘70s Duo, and also works with Pucci in his music publicity firm.
Diamond agreed: “There are lots of great stories told every month.”
And, Dannheisser said, it’s “such a diverse representation of the music and entertainment business — record company reps, radio DJs, studio and touring musicians, writers, photographers, and they all have their memories and stories of the industry’s better days. That makes it so enjoyable. I can’t wait till we reconvene to hear what everyone has been up to during the last year … should be interesting.”
Noted Pucci: “The promo guys are the ones that have all the good stories, because they had the big budgets.”
Yes, there are unprintable tales of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll from members’ younger days, but many stories are family-friendly. At my first gathering, I remember former MCA Records sales rep Forrest Haller telling how a cardboard standup of singer Tom Jones wound up with a couple of bullet holes in it.
As Haller recalled, One Stop Record Distributors, where he worked at the time, “was located in a large, old two-story house in a business-zoned area off Peachtree.”
The business took over the downstairs, while a financier named Ronnie was living upstairs.
One day, Haller said, “a record label salesman dropped by with new releases, and one was a Tom Jones album, and for a promotional item, for us to give to some record store for display, he carried in a life-sized cardboard cut-out stand-up of Tom Jones, and stood it up in the corner.
“Ronnie usually arrived later at night, after business hours, and went upstairs. At some point, he thought he heard a noise downstairs and came down with pistol in hand. In the dark, in the corner, he caught sight of someone standing there and, frightened, he pumped two bullets into Tom Jones.
“For several days after, all the record sales reps from around Atlanta came by to see the Tom Jones standup with a couple bullet holes in his chest … to great hilarity.
“At some point, we gave it last rites and buried it in the backyard,” Haller concluded, laughing.
One of Halverson’s favorite stories told by Hampton was about Capricorn Records founder Phil Walden, who had ordered a jukebox that had some problem. Walden got on the phone to the company, and “got so upset he was destroying his phone, beating it on the desk!”
Added Halverson: “The point was Col. Bruce telling the story. How he told the story made it funny.”
He’s also still impressed that Hampton was at Funochio’s, a rock club on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street, when Lynyrd Skynrd was discovered.
Many of the most fondly told stories involve Hampton himself, a mentor to many in the music business, including highly regarded guitarist Derek Trucks. Said Steve Jones, a former Atlantic Records promotion man who recently retired from teaching at Georgia State University: “My favorite stories were any about Bruce. … I miss his presence at those gatherings so much … he was a magnet for uniqueness, creative thought and just downright nice people.”
Actor Billy Bob Thornton was in Hampton’s band at one time. After Thornton hit it big in movies, Hampton had a role in the film “Sling Blade” and the Colonel (as he’s fondly called) loved to recite one of his key speeches from the movie over lunch.
“Bruce was really the centerpiece of the lunch group,” said Wooley, recalling another favorite story told by Hampton, about how he encountered Little Richard in the mid-1960s, outside a club on Auburn Avenue. Richard was chewing out one of the guitarists in his band for daring to outdress him. That guitarist was Jimi Hendix.
Speaking of Hendrix, Sommerville said his favorite story from the lunch group is Pucci’s about the first time he ever saw the guitar legend in concert, on July, 3, 1967.
Pucci and a friend decided to arrive early at The Scene, a New York City club where Hendrix was playing. “We turned the corner onto the street where the club was, and out in front was a large stack of Marshall amps,” he recalled. “And, sitting on top of them was Jimi, reading the National Enquirer!”
They talked with Hendrix for a few minutes, Mark said, adding: “The dope that I was, I didn’t ask for an autograph!”
Of the performance itself, Mark said, “That was the loudest show I’d ever heard anyone play up to that point. I remember he came out and said, ‘I hope you have your Blue Cross paid up.’ It was the first time I ever saw anyone play the guitar with their teeth, which he did on ‘Hey Joe.’”
At the time, Mark was living in New Jersey me and was planning on taking the train home. But, when he got to the station, he discovered that it was after midnight, and they’d switched to the holiday schedule. “There wasn’t another train until 7 the next day. So, I slept on a bench at Penn Station.”
Another Hampton story about Little Richard that Wooley recalls was when Col. Bruce was visiting Warner Bros. Records in Los Angeles with Frank Fenter of Capricorn Records and comedian Martin Mull, who was recording for Capricorn at the time. At the record company’s offices, they encountered Little Richard who “was waiting out in this little holding area, and eight hours later, he was still there waiting! He was out of favor at the time; this is when he was vacillating between rock ‘n’ roll and being a gospel minister.”
Haller also remembers that “Col. Bruce told us once his band was doing some club gigs with Muddy Waters in some nearby states and they were driving together late at night in Mississippi and Muddy told Bruce that they were near Clarksdale, and asked did he want to drive out to the famous ‘crossroads’ where supposedly Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for his guitar playing, and get out and stand around.
“Bruce was a superstitious guy, and said something like, ‘No! Not on your life … I’m good enough.’”
Recently, I was reminiscing with former Memphis club manager Deborah Coons about how we miss our monthly club gathering. “I do Zoom calls all day with my work, which is OK,” she said, but “nothing beats face to face in the same room, eye contact interaction, laughs, breaking bread (twirling noodles).”
After that conversation, I was hankering for some Bo Bo, so my family ordered a takeout lunch from the restaurant.
Wanting to see what Wooley has been waiting on all those times, we included the crispy garlic chicken in our order. As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait on it, but, if we had, it would have been worth it. It was delicious.
The members of the ATL Music Lunch Club know whereof they speak, whether it’s music or Chinese food.
The show is a competition to find “Britain’s best home baker,” and the bakes are judged (frequently rather harshly) by celebrity chef Paul Hollywood. In the early years, he was joined by Mary Berry, known in the U.K. as the “queen of cakes” and prone to declaring dishes “scrummy” (scrumptious) and saying she likes them “cram-jam full” of filling. Since the show flipped from the BBC to Britain’s Channel 4 (and, in the U.S., from PBS to Netflix) in 2017, Hollywood’s fellow judge has been Prue Leith, a South African restaurateur and TV personality with an upper-crust accent that provides a nice contrast to Merseyside native Hollywood’s Scouse pronunciations.
Hollywood is known for his menacing stares and long pauses before rendering his verdict (the expressions on the bakers’ faces are a study in terror), while Berry and Leith are kinder, though no less exacting in their standards. In one episode, Leith said of Hollywood: “You do realize that when he says ‘not bad,’ he means they’re quite good.”
He also likes to lurk while bakers are working (which 2012 contestant Cathryn Dresser called “really unnerving”). Said 2019 baker Henry Bird of Hollywood: “It’s the eyes. Like a shark. Only even less mercy.”
Hollywood has been known to declare some bakers’ efforts tasteless or inedible. He told one contestant: “You’re great with your flavors — a lot of the time. But when you fail, you catastrophically fail.”
On the other hand, when he really likes something, he awards the contestant one of his much-prized handshakes, and their faces light up like a child on Christmas morning.
Sometimes, though, it’s the bakers who are their own worst enemy. In a 2013 episode, the brief for a showstopper was to make an elaborately decorated loaf of bread in four hours. Some of the bakers came up with plaited and highly decorated loaves approximating a wreath, a peacock and even an octopus. But, despite warnings from both Berry and host Sue Perkins that her plan for a tomato-shaped loaf of tomato-flavored bread with several tomatoes sitting on top of it, was too simple, and not going to be much to show for four hours, contestant Lucy Bellamy insisted on sticking with her “elegant” plan. Predictably, she was the baker sent home that week.
Another time, a baker was asked whether he was making his own fondant for his bake, and he said no, apparently not noticing Berry’s glare. He also ended up being the one eliminated that week.
Hollywood isn’t always churlish in his evaluations. While he did tell one baker in a fruit pie challenge in the 2013 season that “One of my pet hates in pies is a soggy bottom. You managed to get a soggy top,” he told another baker in the same challenge that the pie she’d made was “quite frankly, delicious and one of the nicest pies” he’d ever had. Another time, he kept a baker waiting for an agonizing time for his verdict and then cracked a grin and said, “That’s one of the best things I’ve had to eat for a long time.”
The bakers generally take it pretty well when they’re eliminated, though tears aren’t uncommon. Even though they’re going home, they are proud to have been in the competition in the first place. Said Cathryn, after getting the axe: “I’m not surprised … little bit heartbroken … but it’s the best thing ever.”
An evolving cast of cheeky but charming comic duos host the show, describing what’s going on (amid jibes about Hollywood’s moussed hair and spray tan) and acting as timekeepers and cheerleaders/confessors for the frequently harried bakers, who are known on the show only by their first name. More than 10,000 apply each season for one of the 12 or 13 spots on the show, and those selected are a pretty diverse lot with widely varying ages.
(Olivia’s least favorite season was 2019, when seven of the contestants were in their 20s, and only two were over 40. She likes more of a mix, with both older “family” bakers as well as the younger ones. She also thought the challenges that season included too many dishes that no one would want to try to duplicate at home. Thankfully, “Baking Show” got mostly back on track in the 2020 season.)
Watching the various seasons, you get invested in pulling for your favorites. Mine have included a pair of winners — Candice Brown, a spunky P.E. teacher known for wearing a different shade of lipstick every day, and Rahul Mandal, a milk-drinking Indian immigrant who triumphed despite a total lack of self-confidence — as well as adorable quarterfinalist Martha Collison, the youngest ever contestant at age 17. (The oldest winner so far was the unflappable 60-year-old Nancy Birtwhistle.)
Each season runs 10 episodes, with one contestant named “star baker” each week, and another eliminated, until the three finalists face off. And, fortunes can turn on a dime, with contestants talking of “the curse of star baker.”
The bakers, who must be U.K. residents, have included doctors, scientists, photographers, college students, engineers, a soldier-turned-stuntwoman, artists, a truck driver, teachers, a psychologist and stay-at-home parents. Said Hollywood to builder Richard Burr, who was named star baker five times, “You’re in the wrong job, mate.”
Each episode consists of three time-limited challenges (“On your marks, get set, bake!”), two of which they have practiced for at home. However, the middle “technical challenge” is one where they have no idea what they’re going to be asked to bake. These can range from relatively straightforward cakes, breads, pies and “biscuits” (what Americans call cookies) to obscure foreign dishes, or even a dish from the Tudor era that none of the bakers ever has heard of before. For the technical challenges, which are blind-judged, the bakers are provided with a pared-down recipe that omits key details (such as baking time).
The episodes end with “showstoppers” that range from elaborately decorated multi-tiered cakes to massive gingerbread constructions, or even bread sculptures. One showstopper challenge was to make a picnic fit for the queen, featuring 49 elements, including a chocolate celebration cake, 12 puff pastry sausage rolls, 12 savory scones, 12 mini quiches and 12 custard and fruit tarts — all baked in one oven, in 5 hours.
The showstoppers have produced some of the show’s most memorable bakes, including a steam train constructed from cookies, a regal lion’s head made entirely out of bread, and an abandoned Chinese fishing village made of fruit cake, caramel, sticky toffee pudding and spun sugar.
The competition takes place in a large marquee tent in the middle of an idyllic pasture on a British estate, though the 2020 season was shot on the grounds of a manor house-turned-hotel, so everyone involved could be kept quarantined for the duration inside a “bubble.” (My daughter and I noticed that the pandemic season’s group of bakers seemed a bit sassier and teased each other a bit more, perhaps a result of having been quarantined together.)
The temperature inside the tent sometimes tops 100 degrees, making concoctions involving freezing, chocolate or caramel especially tricky. Emotions frequently can run high inside the tent, too, with contestants of both sexes breaking down in tears mid-bake. The dramatic string music used to score the series also builds the tension, as the bakers scramble to beat the clock. Sometimes, there are accidents, too, with one baker having to leave the tent after slicing off the tip of his finger and other incidents involving a broken oven door, a glass jar exploding and numerous ingredients (and even finished bakes) falling accidentally on the floor.
Said 2013 contestant Sarah Jane Willis: “It’s like the craziest roller coaster you’ve ever been on. In a marquee in the middle of a field! It’s mental.”
The contestants’ thick regional accents might be tough for some American ears to decipher; Olivia likes to keep closed-captioning on when she watches the show.
Still, “Baking Show” somehow manages to be both quintessentially British and universal. (In the U.K., it’s known as “The Great British Bake Off,” but the name is changed in the U.S., where Pilsbury owns the rights to “Bake Off.”)
My millennial daughter, son and daughter-in-law all started watching it before me. I’ve now seen all the series at least once, and a few of them several times. They hold up well to repeated viewings. (Olivia once watched three complete series — 30 hourlong episodes — in three days!)
There also are some one-off “Masterclass” specials, in which Hollywood and Berry show the proper way to make some of the dishes featured in the show, and, in recent years, there have been holiday specials featuring past-contestants coming back for a one-episode contest.
Having begun in 2010 (the first two seasons aren’t available in the U.S.), the show has been around long enough that its most recent winner, 20-year-old Peter Sawkins, started watching it at age 12. “I know 12-year-old Peter would be in awe,” he said after his win.
The order in which you view the various series doesn’t matter, which is a good thing, since the British producers, PBS and Netflix all number them differently. Olivia and I generally refer to seasons in terms of the winner, or a favorite baker, as in “that’s the Candice season” or the “Frances-Ruby season.” (There have been two different bakers in different seasons named Ruby, both favorites of ours, and we refer to them as “Ruby 1” and “Ruby 2.”)
In Britain, the show is a really big deal, with lots of media coverage. For each episode, there’s a companion “Extra Slice” program featuring outtakes and interviews with the latest baker to leave. And, the London tabloids predictably delve into the contestants’ private lives.
Young Martha told the London Sun that, being on the show, you become a national treasure, “just by doing it, because everyone in Britain loves the ‘Bake Off’ so much.” In America, there’s a cult fandom on social media. Fans have their favorite winners, favorite contestants and even favorite episodes. (For those of you who follow the series, my own favorite bakers are: Candice, Martha, Flora, Ruby 1, Ruby 2, Andrew, Selasi, Lottie, Nadiya, James, Richard, Cathryn, Chetna, Luis, Kimberley, Ian, Steven, Manon, Rahul and Alice.)
“Baking Show” combines the best of a competition and an instructional cooking show. Mainly, though, it’s just fun viewing, with lots of wry humor, awful foodie puns and the occasional adult double-entendre. (In recent seasons, you hear the occasional f-bomb, but in the BBC seasons you were more likely to get such quaint British oaths as “Oh, my giddy aunt!”)
Also, unlike American competition shows, there’s none of the backstabbing and cheesy manufactured melodrama. The contestants actually will pitch in and help one another.
Perhaps the biggest difference between “Baking Show” and U.S. competitions is that the bakers who participate are competing … for a crystal cake stand. That’s it! No big bundles of money, just the honor of being declared Britain’s best amateur baker.
In times like these, watching “The Great British Baking Show” is good for the soul. The show has been described as the “friendliest competition series on TV,” and “one of the happiest TV series ever made,” and that’s definitely part of its appeal. Olivia started bingeing it while house- and pet-sitting for friends. “When I don’t have access to cable or satellite,” she said, “I always watch ‘Baking Show,’ because it makes me happy.”
Not that there aren’t moments that tug at the heartstrings. Teenager Martha generally had an irrepressible smile, but after one particularly negative judging, you could see her in the background, her face crumpling in tears. That was tough to watch.
(She bounced back quickly, winning a technical challenge and laughingly dismissing her earlier reaction as “weepy Martha with her rubbish custard tart.”)
Also, senior citizen Terry Hartill talking about how much he missed his deceased wife, and how baking helped fill the void in his life, is guaranteed to moisten the eyes.
It also was somewhat bittersweet recently rewatching the 2014 season, featuring finalist Luis Troyano, a big, loveable bear of a man. Luis died this past fall at age 48, and the most recent season ends with a dedication to him.
The winners’ reactions also can get to you. When 2015 contestant Nadiya Hussain completed her journey from unsure baker to overall winner by baking the wedding cake she and her husband never had in Bangladesh, even Berry choked up. Declared Nadiya tearfully, “I’m never ever going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can. I can, and I will.”
Nadiya, in fact, has been the most successful of the bakers, post-show, hosting three of her own TV series. She also was asked to bake Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday cake.
Nadiya also provided one of my favorite “Baking Show” moments. Hollywood, looking over her shoulder as she worked on a bake, asked, “Happy, Nadiya?”
“Yeah, yeah,” she replied.
He remained there, staring at her, but the spunky contestant had a great riposte: “Happy, Paul?”
One of our favorite finals is the one where Nadiya bested Tamal Ray and Ian Cumming, with all three showstoppers drawing raves from the judges. Another favorite is the 2016 final, won by Candice over Andrew Smyth and Jane Beedle.
Probably the least satisfying final was 2019. David Atherton barely scraped into the final, and he is the only winner never to be named star baker. His series win mainly was a result of favorite Steph Blackwell’s emotional implosion during the final showstopper, which even prompted Hollywood to give her a hug.)
Overall, the Mary Berry years are our favorites, with the two judges providing a nice contrast. In one show, Hollywood, who hails from the north of England, was dipping his jaffa cake in his tea and Berry looked at him disapprovingly. “We don’t do that in the south,” she said.
While there isn’t any prize money involved in the show, quite a few other contestants besides Nadiya have had cookbooks published and have gone on to make appearances on British TV. A couple of the contestants have opened their own bakeries, and young Martha is now a food columnist.
As much as we enjoy just watching the bakers do their thing, you actually do learn while watching the show. I’m not a baker, but I now know the difference between rough puff and puff pastry, and how to avoid the dreaded “soggy bottom” on a pie. (Before watching this show I never realized there were so many different types of pastry!)
Olivia, who does bake, has picked up quite a few tips from the show. She learned how to use a piping bag, and she now has a collection of baking tools and “Baking Show”-related cookbooks.
Student life at the University of Georgia has changed quite a bit since I started my freshman year in Athens 50 years ago this month, but one thing hasn’t changed: College students always are hungry.
And, for most college students, who start out living on campus in dormitories, meal plans for the dining halls are how they satisfy that hunger.
By the time my kids attended UGA, students had a lot more (and better) dining options than in my day, when there were just two dining halls and a student center hangout.
Nowadays, UGA students can visit five different dining halls (featuring multiple stations offering varied cuisines), plus more than two dozen retail dining locations, ranging from the fast-food outlets at the Tate Student Center to grab-and-go markets and snack bars located throughout campus. The award-winning UGA Food Services even has its own taqueria truck!
Of course, thanks to the pandemic, the rules have changed a bit this fall, with takeout or Grubhub pickup replacing the usual walk-in-and-eat routine. Limited dine-in is available at some halls, but requires a reservation.
Both my son, Bill, and my daughter, Olivia, used meal plans during their first two years at UGA, when they lived in dorms, and Olivia even had a commuter meal plan the second half of her senior year, when she lived off campus.
She always talked glowingly of Snelling Dining Commons, so, shortly before she graduated four years ago, I joined her there one day for lunch. Even though Snelling was around in my day, I’d never eaten there, in part because I never had a class near its South Campus location, but mainly because, as an Athens native, I was allowed to live at home, so I didn’t experience dorm life.
My meal plan was whatever my mother served at home, or what I picked up in downtown Athens, or hanging out between classes at the Bulldog Room in Memorial Hall (then the student center).
My only dining hall experience was during orientation the summer before freshman year, when we were fed at the old Bolton Hall. To me, the food resembled unappealing school lunchroom fare.
I could understand why students’ nickname for it was Revoltin’ Bolton. It was infamous for an unidentifiable “mystery meat” that was supposed to be Salisbury steak with gravy. Randi Kaye Rehm also remembers one of the servers there referring to another dish as “roast beast.” And, Lynda Harden Powell remembers her first summer at UGA in 1971: “I ate at Bolton Hall, my one and only time. It was my first morning at UGA and they literally poured my eggs onto my plate. That definitely was my worst eating experience.”
Students of my day gave a higher rating to Snelling. The fried chicken was a favorite, and Greer Madden, who was a student worker at the dining hall in 1972-73, recalls “really liking their barbecue chicken!”
Rick Franzman spent most of his time on North Campus, and so wasn’t aware of Snelling until a friend dragged him there one day. “The first visit was truly Christmas morning,” he said. “Like the old Morrison’s and Piccadilly cafeterias, the three-rung rail to slide your tray along passed by dozens of selections of meats, sweets, veggies, manna and more, with each step along the way providing more temptation. I was soon making the trek from the north multiple times a week, making sure to be in a state of full belly growl upon arrival.”
Marcia Killingsworth, who attended UGA in the mid-1970s, liked the variety of dishes at Snelling, “and the quality was always first-rate. I remember one girl on my hall ate there several times a week for the mac and cheese alone.”
Steve Oney also preferred Snelling, but said he had his “best times” at Bolton when he started in the fall of 1972. His girlfriend lived in the nearby Brumby dorm and he’d meet her for breakfast there every morning. “Not only did we get to flirt over scrambled eggs, but after she left for class, I’d spend the next two hours drinking coffee and studying. I aced every course that quarter, and I owe it to Bolton, and to her.”
A couple of decades later, in the late 1990s, Daniel Vasquez lived in Creswell Hall and ate mostly at the adjoining Bolton. As a freshman, he recalled, “I saw a beautiful guy working at the burrito stand and told my buddies ,”Wow. … that’s going to be my husband.” A week later, I unashamedly hit on him by giving him a flower I made out of electrical tape. We’ve been together ever since and officially got married in 2014.”
Joel Provano has a fond memory of Bolton that doesn’t have to do with the food or romance. When a big winter snow came, Provano recalled, “nobody had a sled, so we went over to Bolton and ‘borrowed’ some food trays, which were just big enough to sit on, and went sledding on the grass hill at Sanford Stadium. Great fun. I hope we returned the ‘sleds,’ but I wouldn’t swear to it.”
Jimmy Johnson, meanwhile, remembers Bolton staffers handing out trays for sledding — in exchange for meal tickets. By my daughter’s time, Dining Services had wised up and “whenever winter weather threatened, they’d take away the trays.”
In 1980, Joe Morgan lived in Russell Hall and generally ate at nearby Bolton. One night, he recalled, “they had a special ‘build your own sundae’ night. It was crowded, and all of the sudden the power went out! Somebody yelled ‘food fight!!’ and ice cream flew everywhere.”
You also could get in mild trouble at the dining halls. Mike Webb tried “foodlifting,” when a friend from another university visited. “We went through the line together, and I just put whatever dishes Ron, my friend, wanted on my tray, in addition to mine.” But, he said, “the food police were watching and collared us.” His punishment? He had to pay for his friend’s meal.
And Nick Montalvo remembers riding the conveyor belt for dirty dishes “on my belly” back to Bolton’s kitchen. “They told me not to do it again.”
Of course, students also ate other places, with meat-and-three restaurants downtown always a lure, while those students who joined fraternities and sororities usually had breakfast and dinner at the house.
Minla Shields also remembers “going to Hare Krishna meetings for the free food. I did that a lot.”
And, some dorm residents just cooked in their rooms. My future wife Leslie, who was a year behind me at UGA, remembers groups of students getting together to cook in their dorm. “All you needed was a hot plate, a pot and a can opener.” A favorite was dubbed “dorm paella,” which, she said, was “a mix of whatever people had.”
Then, there were the athletes, who had their own dining hall in the athletic dorm, McWhorter Hall, which wasn’t open to the general student population. “We ate like kings!” said Ed Allen, who played football for the Bulldogs in the late ’60s. “Steak on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Pork chops, baked and fried chicken, lots of good veggies and salad. … It was seven days a week, first-class.”
My brother Jonathan wasn’t a jock, but he got invited to dine at McWhorter once as the guest of someone who worked at the athletic association. “I felt like a midget in there, because everyone was so much bigger than me,” he recalled.
My main dining experience at UGA was the Bulldog Room, where I’d hang out when I had an hour or two to kill between classes. In addition to grabbing a bite, you’d see students studying, playing endless games of spades and bridge, and listening to the jukebox, which, during my freshman year, always seemed to be playing John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” or Ike and Tina Turner doing “Proud Mary.” (To this day, whenever I hear those songs, I think of the Bulldog Room. For my wife, it’s Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and Rod Stewart’s “Maggie Mae.”)
The Bulldog Room had fairly limited American grill-type fare, but Leslie has fond memories of the sauce on the burgers, which was “like a less sophisticated version of the sauce on a Big Mac.” And, our friend Susan Wells, with whom we worked on the student paper, recalls having an “almost lethal fondness for those greasy grilled cheeses and fries. … I gained my freshman 15 during senior year eating those.”
Today’s Bulldog Cafe at the Tate Center (featuring Chick-fil-A and Panda Express) has more options, and lots more room, but lacks the ambience of the old Bulldog Room, which, in my day, saw probably the most diverse gathering of students on campus. It was where you were more likely to see the university’s Black students, and Michael Simpson was attracted to it when he started in 1969, because it was “where the ‘long hairs’ hung out. International students, gays, minorities would hang there, also.”
Also, Jimmy Johnson remembers the Bulldog Room as “a center of the campus political and social scene. … This is where folks explained politics, feminism, and religion.”
Margie Roe remembers that, as wide-eyed freshmen, she and a friend named Susan vowed “we were going to make a friend a day. So, Susan and I were having lunch at the Bulldog Room … and, over by condiments, she said hi to a nice looking fella. One thing led to another; they have now been married 52 years, two kids, three grandchildren.”
Particularly for students from rural or small-town Georgia, the campus dining facilities also provided something of a culinary education. Jonathan Harris recalls a picnic event the food services division staged at UGA’s Legion Field. “It was the first time I ever had swordfish.”
And, Cathy Bowen remembers thinking, “what was this strange concoction of noodles and tomato sauce and cheese they were offering? I’d heard of lasagna, but this was before it became a staple of elementary school lunches, so I had never eaten any. Of course, I learned later that there are actually better lasagnas than the amorphous blob dolloped out at Snelling Hall, but none that have ever given me more pleasure.”
Still, back in the ’70s, UGA’s dining hall fare generally was not all that healthy. “I remember it being a lot of comfort foods and high carbs,” Malinda Teasley Erwin said. And, Gayle Peeples recalls they served “mostly starch. None of this artisanal/organic/grown-on-campus fare they have now!”
Indeed, the dining hall food my kids encountered between 2003 and 2016 was much more varied. You you could eat healthy foods, indulge in the likes of a Philly cheesesteak (one of the most popular items at Snelling), or split the difference, as when my daughter would be at the East Campus Village dining hall and a typical meal might be a grilled cheese and curly fries (“they were the best!”) with a fruit smoothie and steamed broccoli.
My kids agree that the food generally was delicious, and a good value. You paid a flat fee for the semester, my son recalled, and got all you could eat, which led some students to hang out there from, say, breakfast through lunch.
Darren William, who was at UGA in the mid-’90s, took advantage of the all-you-can-eat aspect. “Unlimited dining was great deal for my then on-fire metabolism. … Back in the days when you could eat an entire pizza, drink three sodas, finish up with a few scoops of ice cream, still be hungry two hours later, and be skinny as a rail.”
Still, while the meal plan was unlimited, “the only thing they didn’t allow was for you to take food out,” my son said. “You could walk out with a piece of fruit, but some folks would bring in the Tupperware and try to smuggle food out in their backpacks. They had people watching for that, and it made them very unhappy.”
Overall, my son said, “it was a pretty good meal plan. They put good effort into the food.”
Sravanthi Meka, who went to UGA in the late 1990s and liked the food a lot more than at Georgia Tech, where she later worked for five years, said the difference is that UGA’s dining service is self-operated, while Tech used a vendor. That meant “a lot of temp staff that are employees of the vendor, whereas self-op are university employees, so you tend to have … more connection to the students and campus itself.”
Generally, the dining hall staff at UGA is a mix of full-timers and student workers. Steve Houston worked at Oglethorpe House (“O-House”), one of the UGA dining halls, in the mid-’90s and was in awe of the breakfast cook, “who could have 20 eggs, 20 strips of bacon, and 20 sausage links on the grill at one time, cook them perfectly, and never bat an eyelash. She kicked butt, and she was fast!”
You saw a lot of football players in Snelling, my daughter said. “You always could tell an athlete because they were bigger, and dressed head-to-toe in Nike gear.”
During the summer of 2013, she dined at Snelling every day and frequently saw the athletes, plus trainers keeping track of what they ate. One day, she was sitting at a table by herself eating fried chicken (“I really couldn’t say no to Snelling’s fried chicken”) when future NFL star Todd Gurley walked up with a couple of teammates and asked if they could join her. “They all had fried chicken on their plates, too,” and that’s mostly what they chatted about. My daughter was amused that a trainer came over, bringing them some veggies to improve the nutritional value of their meal.
The football players, she said, were all nice. “I tried to get behind them during busy periods, because they just plowed through.”
During Olivia’s time at UGA, she ate at all the dining halls, including the Niche, out at the health sciences campus (formerly the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School), which offered personal pan pizzas, gelato and fresh, farm-to-table food. “The burgers were a little more gourmet, with grass-fed beef,” my daughter said.
She also ate at both the old and new Boltons. The old Bolton, now torn down, was “the freshman experience,” she said, since it was attached to one of the dorms where many first-year students lived, and “you could go there with people from your dorm.”
The new Bolton, which opened in 2014, has multiple floors, one of which serves breakfast all day. “It takes a while to explore, because there are so many options,” Olivia said, including a milkshake station that looks like an old soda fountain. (All the halls have ice cream whenever you want it.)
O-House had a wok station, but Olivia was partial to the Southern station, which offered fried chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits and mac and cheese. “It was one of my favorite meals.”
Still, her overall favorite dining spot was Snelling, where a worker named Frank recognized regulars and called out to them in a booming voice, and the cashier up front, Miss Sandra, doled out hugs.
In addition to multiple stations offering different dining options, the main line had hot entrees that rotated. “They did a really good pork shoulder,” Olivia said.
Snelling also made sandwiches to order, she said, but the grill line for hot sandwiches tended to be slow, because of all the students who wanted the Philly cheesesteak. So, she found a hack: “I’d go to the vegetarian station and get a grilled cheese there.”
Olivia also loved the theme dinners, like a Hawaiian luau, a carnival (where you could get caricatures done and they had a balloon artist) or Taste of Home night, when recipes entered by students’ parents were in competition, with the favorites added to the regular rotation. For Valentine’s, “a couple could reserve a table that was nicely decorated.”
And then there was “Snellebrating,” the term of endearment for the early hours after midnight when Snelling, the only 24-hour dining hall, put out breakfast foods and, during exams, even beignets. “The late-night crowd was always interesting,” Olivia said. “You’d get spontaneous karaoke, and the workers would dance to the music, like at Johnny Rockets.”
While all the halls had a rotating menu of fresh-baked cookies, Olivia said, “chocolate chip cookie day at Snelling was the best day. The chocolate chip cookies at Snelling were so good! They weren’t as good at the other halls. For some reason, Snelling chocolate chip cookies hit differently.”
Which brings me to my Snelling visit with my daughter in the spring of 2016.
It was a special day. I wound up also getting a hug from Miss Sandra, who took the time to tell me what a sweetheart my daughter is, and, after lunch, we strolled to the nearby UGA Creamery for an ice cream treat.
I had regaled my daughter with fond memories of how, when I was a youngster, Athens moms throwing birthday parties for their kids usually went to the UGA Dairy for ice cream made from milk that came from the university’s own herd. I also recall going on school field trips to the UGA Dairy. So, I was surprised to find that we were served Mayfield at the Creamery, not the treat of my childhood!
(It turns out, the dairy that used to be on the UGA campus was closed years ago due to budget cuts. The animal and dairy science program still has a farm in Athens that is used for teaching, but UGA no longer has dairy processing facilities; all the milk from the farm is sold to a dairy processing co-op.)
No matter, even if it wasn’t ice cream made on campus, it still was a fine way to spend an afternoon with my daughter.
Sitting there, at a picnic table under the trees in front of the Creamery, watching students walk by on a glorious spring day, I think I fell in love with the Athens campus just a little bit more … as if that were even possible!
The Athens where I began school at the University of Georgia 50 years ago this fall would seem rather quaint to today’s students.
It was not yet what historian Grace Elizabeth Hale would describe as “the first important small-town American music scene and the key early site of what would become alternative or indie culture.”
No, the small Northeast Georgia city that would become internationally famous for bands like The B-52’s, R.E.M., Widespread Panic, Drive-By Truckers and Of Montreal was not yet a musical hotbed. That would come a few years later, with the fervid art-rock scene chronicled in a couple of film documentaries and several books — the most recent being Hale’s 2020 volume, “Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture.”
Michael Simpson, whose politically activist hard-rock band Ravenstone would form at UGA a few months later, described the Athens music scene in the fall of 1970 as “nascent.” He said it mostly consisted of “cover bands” playing the hits of the day in local nightclubs.
A lot Athens-based bands in the years leading up to 1970 had focused on playing fraternity and sorority parties on the Southern college circuit, including the Embers (which featured Terry Melton, later of Mad Dog Melton and the Laughing Disaster, and Dixie Grease), the Jesters (featuring Harold Williams and Davis Causey) and King David and the Slaves, a band originally from Jesup that had future local musical hero Randall Bramblett as a member.
Still, the seeds of the Athens scene that the world would come to know already were being planted. Owen Scott, a friend of mine since kindergarten, was playing in a folk/classic rock covers band called Black Narcissus that included Ricky Wilson and Keith Strickland, who a few years later would become members of The B-52’s. (In fact, the first time the B’s played together was in Owen’s parents’ basement.)
Owen recalls Black Narcissus never really jelled, but they spent a lot of time jamming at a farm owned by a couple of local teachers. “As far as I recall, we never played anywhere except at a house we rented on Georgia Avenue in the summer after we graduated. … We did a cool cover of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ [and] also did an unorthodox rock version of the hymn ‘Joy to the World’ (not the Hoyt Axton 3 Dog Night classic).”
Added Owen: “It was a formative time for the future B-52s.”
But, Athens in the fall of ’70 was not yet chockablock with clubs offering live entertainment, mainly because most UGA students couldn’t drink legally (which, of course, did not stop them from drinking). The legal drinking age wouldn’t be lowered to 18 until 1972, when the Athens nightlife scene grew by leaps and bounds.
The main outlets for live music in the Classic City were the Last Resort, open since 1967, which featured mostly touring folk, blues and jazz acts, such as Gamble Rogers, Elizabeth, Odetta and Towns Van Zandt. The first weekend of fall quarter, 1970, Jeff Espina was at the Resort for three nights.
There also were several hotel lounges in town that had live music (with several, like Daddy’s Dollar at the Key to America, featuring country acts, or rockabilly like Sleepy LaBeef), a few rougher spots, like the VFW on Sunset (where there was as much fighting as dancing), and a couple of jazz-pop venues, including the prime date spot, Gigi’s Italian restaurant on Baxter Street, which had singer Myrna Rose and her combo. My classmate Johnny Barrett also recalls dinner music (featuring some members of UGA’s Redcoat Band) at the University Club out on the Macon Highway.
Another regular venue for country music in the fall of ’70 was the J&J Center on the Commerce Highway, which also had multi-act rock music bills once a month, but mainly was known for its Thursday night pro wrestling.
However, if rock is what you wanted, the main off-campus venue in the fall of 1970 was Between the Hedges, located in the basement of the venerable burgers-and-beer joint Allen’s, in the Normaltown neighborhood near the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School (now UGA’s health sciences campus). Simpson recalls he always liked playing the Hedges because “we could play whatever we wanted to, as long as people bought beer.”
(Other legendary rock clubs that many UGA students of the time remember came a bit later: Your Mother’s Moustache in downtown Athens wouldn’t open until February, 1971, next to the Glass of Hill Wall head shop on Wall Street, with which it was affiliated. The Station, a dining and entertainment complex located in the old Southern Railway depot near downtown, featuring T.K. Harty’s Saloon, also would open later in 1971. And, one of the best-known 1970s Athens clubs, the B&L Warehouse, opened in 1972.)
Of course, there was more to local music in the fall of 1970 than just rock and country: R&B star Bettye Swann (“Make Me Yours”) lived in Athens at the time, and a thriving Black music scene centered around such clubs as the House of Blue Lights, Hawaiian Ha-Le and Killian’s, as well as venues like the Army-Navy Club and DAV.
Among the Black acts of the day were Grains of Sand (who toured regionally), the Fabulous Tropics, the In Crowd, Anthony Shield and the Imperials, Family Rebirth (which later became Common People Band), Funk Factory, and a pair of bands featuring local educators.
Walter Allen’s Rhythm Ramblers was led by our assistant principal at Athens High (who always joked he couldn’t read my Mom’s handwriting on notes asking for me to be allowed to leave campus to go to the orthodontist).
And, there was Armell Stroud and the Twisters, featuring one of the high school’s art teachers. The following summer, a couple of friends and I were the campaign staff for a local lawyer who was making a futile longshot run for mayor against the incumbent. One Saturday, we rented the county’s Showmobile (a bus turned into a mobile stage) and parked it at Beechwood Shopping Center for a daylong rally that culminated in a show by Armell and the Twisters, and I manned the mic to introduce them.
There actually was some intermixing between the local music scenes, with my friend Owen playing briefly with the Imperials, which featured a couple of classmates, Bobby Daniel and Reginald Whitehead, on trumpet. “I was typically the only white guy in the chitlin circuit joints we played,” Owen recalled.
And, Bennett Johnson, a local Black musician who had succeeded Dr. Allen as band director at Burney-Harris High School — before it merged with Athens High to form Clarke Central in the fall of 1970 — was a member of Athens’ top rock act of the late ‘60s, Leaves of Grass. While the band was a frequent headliner at Between the Hedges in Normaltown, “we played all over the South,” Johnson told me recently.
Whitehead said the Leaves had an “awesome” sound, and The Athens Observer, in a later history of the local scene — dubbed the Normaltown River of Music — said Leaves of Grass was “considered by many the best band ever formed in Athens.”
Band leader Jack Williams said the original Leaves of Grass “was formed out of what was left of a band called The Nomads, which was originally based in Lancaster, S.C. The Nomads was an R&B group and Leaves of Grass was a response to newer rock music — Steppenwolf, The Rascals, Procol Harum, etc.”
By the fall of 1970, Leaves of Grass had changed its name to Crossover, with the addition of a couple of new members: Bramblett and Causey (who later would gain fame as part of Chuck Leavell’s post-Allman Brothers band, Sea Level).
Another of the band’s members, Linda McMullen DePascale, said Crossover did “mostly covers, which we were spectacular at doing … because there were at least six of us who could sing. The harmonies were very, very intricate.”
Linda was a trained vocalist, and Williams, who was a music major at UGA and had perfect pitch, arranged everything.
The band “rehearsed rigorously every day for at least four hours,” Linda recalled. “It was a deadly serious endeavor to us all. We were most famous for our Crosby Stills and Nash pieces: ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes,’ ‘Woodstock,’ ‘Teach Your Children,’ ‘Our House,’ to name a few. ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ by the Band was another crowd pleaser. … My job was to do ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ by Joni Mitchell, who I actually got to meet at the [Capricorn] Studios in Macon.”
“Crossover found its real strength in the songs that Randall was beginning to write,” Williams said. “We got the attention of Phil Walden, owner of Capricorn Records, who brought us to Macon to make demo recordings of these songs.”
But, he said, there were “some deep rifts” in the band at that point, and Crossover split during the Capricorn sessions, in late 1970 or early 1971. Bramblett and Davis went on to a stint with Laughing Disaster before Bramblett formed his own band.
Still, most of the musical performances attended by UGA students that fall were on (or adjacent to) campus, not in nightclubs.
Famous groups past their prime, and lesser current acts, like Hydra, played Memorial Hall (home of the UGA student center at the time), either in the ballroom or in a club called Dante’s Domain that had opened up a year or so earlier in the former site of the UGA Bookstore in the basement. Originally, rock bands, including the remnants of Big Brother and the Holding Company, played under the club’s black lights, but University Union officials, dismayed that the shows were drawing pot-smoking hippies, decided to switch to a coffeehouse folk music format by fall of 1970.
(Dante’s also sometimes had movies and speakers, including a “Rap Session ‘70” series that featured UGA’s own Dr. Eugene Odum, the father of modern ecology and founder of the university’s school of ecology.)
Also that fall, there was big-name entertainment, presented either by the University Union or the Interfraternity Council. The bigger concerts were held at the Coliseum (not yet sporting the Stegeman name), and, that fall, the headliners included Bob Hope, Steppenwolf, a Homecoming concert with the Chambers Brothers and Friends of Distinction, and a Macon-based group called the Allman Brothers Band opening for Pacific Gas and Electric. (DePascale remembers Leaves of Grass/Crossover opening for the ABB at a Sunday concert in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park.)
For those who wanted something other than rock that fall, pianist Peter Nero played the Fine Arts Auditorium, as did the Atlanta Symphony.
Various religious student centers also offered entertainment, generally of the coffeehouse variety, though the Catholic Center did have a beer and pizza party one weekend. Nancy Miller Sizemore remembers attending shows at the Presbyterian Center. “My parents didn’t allow me to attend a lot of ‘nightlife’ places! They thought the local community theater and the coffee house were OK.”
Mini rock fests featuring the likes of Crossover occasionally were held on campus at Legion Field, or the new People’s Park that students had carved out of an overgrown vacant lot near the high-rise dorms.
The Red & Black ran a review of one such fest, where the rise of the counterculture was highlighted by the reviewer, who complained that those attending mostly were “a motley group, hardly representative of the university’s student body.” While there were “a few well-dressed Greeks,” she said, “the center of the crowd smelled of smoke and body odor.” It was “absolutely sickening,” she said, and “a dirty disgrace to the university.” The paper was flooded with letters of protests for the next few issues.
Actually, the campus cultural divide described there wasn’t always so clearly drawn. We all had denim in common.
Kappa Alpha member Tom Hodgson, with whom I’d gone to school most of my life, recalled “standard everyday wear” for Greeks was “jeans and polo-style shirts. I wore a lot of T-shirts because I worked at Farmer’s Hardware from 7 a.m.-1 p.m. every day. Not the preppy look some might expect.”
I remember a lot of flares or bellbottoms and, like Tom recalled, “lots of weird-colored shirts with huge collars.”
But, looking at the Edwardian dandy stuff that Gunn’s and Gibson’s and the other men’s wear shops advertised in the Red & Black that fall, I have to say I don’t really recall seeing guys dressed like that, even going out on dates, though Tom said that “on the very rare occasion that a jacket and tie were required, we came pretty close to this.”
I do remember a fair number of double-breasted suits and blazers, and, for casual wear, the previous year’s CPO shirt-jackets were still in stores.
Fashion shows for female students were held at Snelling dining hall and the Bulldog Room that fall, and trends included longer skirts, gaucho pants worn with boots, coats, vests, straight-leg pants, shoulder bags, heavy jewelry, T-shirt tunics, wide leather belts, buckskin and snakeskin handbags, and dog-collar necklaces.
Abrams Casual Shop was selling fringed handbags, long coats and jackets, leather and suede vests and pants suits. The University Shop was touting colorful shirt-dresses, desert boots by Clark’s of England, and bandito belts.
In the skirt-length debate — mini vs. midi vs. maxi — most UGA women appeared to go either very short or very long; the midi rarely was seen.
One thing you did see a lot of on women was long leather boots.
You also saw quite a few guys sporting longer hair (not the Greeks) and lots of longer sideburns. Shag hairstyles for women were starting to show up, though the classic ’60s long hair parted down the middle still ruled.
Where did students go on dates? More often than the nightclubs, it probably was the movies.
On-campus movies were presented in the South P-J Auditorium, and the eclectic offerings of older films that quarter included “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” “You Are What You Eat” and “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”
Off-campus, Athens boasted five cinemas (including the newly renovated Palace, which opened that fall) and two drive-ins, but the releases available that fall weren’t among Hollywood’s best. Films playing Athens included Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in “Sunflower,” Brian Keith, Ernest Borgnine and Suzanne Pleshette in “Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came,” Michael Caine and Cliff Robertson in “Too Late the Hero,” Franco Nero in “The Virgin and the Gypsy,” Joe Namath and Ann-Margret in “CC and Company” (a biker movie), Peter Boyle in “Joe,” Liza Minelli in “Tell Me That You Love Me Junie Moon,” Elliott Gould and Paula Prentiss in “Move,” Barbra Streisand in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” Gregory Peck in “I Walk the Line,”
Lauren Hutton and Robert Forster in “Pieces of Dreams,” Michael Crawford in “Hello-Goodbye,” George Peppard in “Cannon for Cordoba,” Carrie Snodgrass and Richard Benjamin in “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” Martin Balsam and the busy Richard Benjamin in Catch-22,” Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in “WUSA,” Jim Brown and Lee Van Cleef in “El Condor,” Lee Marvin in “Monte Walsh,” and such now long-forgotten titles as “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” “The Revolutionary,” “Soldier Blue” and “Savage Wild.”
Probably the best offerings were reissues of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” the Buster Keaton silent film “The General,” “Monterey Pop” and Disney’s “Son of Flubber” and “Fantasia.”
Of course, this was before the movie rating system shut X-rated fare out of mainstream movie theaters, so you could catch the occasional adult film, including the notorious “I Am Curious Yellow” at the Beechwood Cinema, and late-night showings of films with titles like “Caged Desires” at the Georgia Theatre on Thursday and Friday nights. The Athens Drive-In leaned toward sexploitation films like “The Birth of Triplets” (see the actual onscreen births, “nothing left to the imagination!”) and “No Greater Sin.” Alps Drive-In had mainly second-run mainstream features, like “John and Mary” with Dustin Hoffman, and “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”
What else did UGA students do when they weren’t studying? Some joined clubs and organizations; some got involved in student politics; some campaigned against the war in Vietnam.
And then there was the age-old college recreational option: drinking. Although the legal drinking age still was 21 that fall, there was no shortage of drunk 18-year-old freshmen on and off campus.
This is one area that Greeks and freaks had in common.
As Tom remembers it, “Coeds did not feel comfortable going out without dates in 1970. They might go with a date to the lounge at the Holiday Inn and maybe a few other places. But in my little world (frat life) the girls tended to stay in their dorms or sorority houses if they did not have dates.”
That changed in the late fall of 1970, he said. “A little bar with 25-cent draft beer and peanut shells on the floor was right across Hull Street from the old bus station. It was called The Rail [later the Dog House]. For years, it was a guy-only place with the occasional date on a lucky boy’s arm. Then, one night, probably on a dare, a carload of Chi Omegas bellied up to the bar and ordered a beer. They were greeted with open arms. In fact, within a week it was known around town that unescorted girls were welcome at The Rail, and it felt like Mardi Gras every night.”
Bars did their best to entice students, too. Joe Costa remembers the Cave (formerly the Big Bamboo), out on the Atlanta Highway, “had a mug of beer for a nickel between 5 and 6 every evening! That was the place to go if all you had was change in your pocket.”
The Fifth Quarter, then owned by former Georgia football player Gene “Swino” Swinford, was another student favorite. Said Sam Richwine: “I remember one cold evening trying to sneak a pitcher out under my jacket. I probably looked about six months pregnant. As I approached the door, I was collared by the bouncer and separated from my prize. I was told never to come back. Apparently, they either had short memories, or did not harbor any ill feelings, as I was back in a few days.”
Of course, not all students were big drinkers. “I honestly don’t recall ever hanging out at a bar until my junior year,” Darrell Huckaby said, “but I snuck out every night at midnight and hit the Waffle House on Lumpkin and Milledge. Gained about 30 pounds.”
“If we did drink,” said my Athens High classmate Deanie Fincher, “we drank at someone’s house that year I lived in the dorm.”
For those who preferred to drink on their own like that, rather than in the bars, the road to the nearby town of Arcade, known for cheaper beer than you could find anywhere in Athens, was frequently traveled.
But, if you wanted to stock up in town, a popular place was Bubber’s Bait Shop on Broad Street.
Bubber was known for, ahem, flexible policies toward student customers.
As my friend Joel Provano recalls:
I was living in an apartment off campus, and my roommates and I had gone home for the weekend. We all returned on Sunday afternoon and wanted to drink some beer, but nobody had any. We were regular customers of Bubber, and knew that he lived in the back of the store, or at least he stayed there frequently.
His reputation of selling to minors was well-known, so we figured he might be willing to sell on Sunday as well.
We piled in the car and drove to the Bait Shop and, sure enough, we could see through the glass doors that Bubber was inside. We knocked on the door and Bubber came out. The conversation went something like this:
Bubber (irritated): What you boys want?
Me: We want to buy some beer.
Bubber explodes: Buy some beer!!! Are you crazy? You know it’s illegal to sell (expletive) beer in this state on Sunday. You want me to get locked up?
Me: Well, we just thought maybe …
Bubber: What y’all want, a couple of six packs of Bud?
Joel summed up: “He charged us just a little extra, and we went happily on our way.”
You know, no matter what the year, that just may be the most Athens-UGA story I’ve ever heard.
— Bill King
Thanks to Jason Hasty, Owen Scott, Jack Williams, Linda DePascale, Michael Simpson, Reginald Whitehead, Clarke McKeever, Bennett Johnson, Johnny Barrett, Tom Hodgson, Deanie Fincher, Joe Costa, Joel Provano, Bill Berryman, Greg Veale, Roy Bell, Lynn Hardman, Darrell Huckaby, Chris Jones and all those folks commenting on Facebook.
Obviously, a lot has changed in half a century. The UGA where I matriculated in 1970 was a considerably smaller, more parochial, much less diverse campus, located in a city that was a little over a third the population it is now. The university’s computer center was proud to boast that it had in operation “an IBM/360 model 65, an IBM 7094, two IBM l40i 1s, an iBM 1620, and an IBM 1130. These processors are attached a variety of peripheral devices, including tape drives, disks, drums, data cells, and 45 remote terminals.”
And, for your personal use, you could buy a calculator that weighed 3.5 pounds for a mere $395 at one of the local shops.
The university, headed by President Fred C. Davison, consisted of 13 schools and colleges, the newest of which was the School of Environmental Design, established in 1969. The average salary for a full professor at UGA that school year was $18,050. (In 2019, it was $130,000.) Former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk arrived on campus as a professor of international law that quarter.
I was one of 2,486 freshmen who enrolled that fall (when UGA still was on the quarter system, rather than semesters), though the class grew to 3,238 by the end of the academic year. Of those, 107 students were, like me, from Athens High School, the single largest source of UGA freshmen. Second was Lakeside High in DeKalb County, which produced 53 UGA freshmen. Total UGA enrollment that year was 18,286, with 14,189 from Georgia and 359 foreign students.
The student body was 60.1% male, and, during that fall quarter, The Red & Black reported on discrimination against women at UGA, noting that female applicants had to have a higher GPA in high school, higher class ranking and higher SAT scores to get into the university. A UGA admissions official denied it was discrimination, though, explaining that the requirements for the genders differed because “girls make better grades in high school.” He added that, if they didn’t have different standards, UGA conceivably could become a predominantly female school. (I wonder what he’d think of today’s UGA student body, which is 57 percent female.)
Women also had to attend more hours of P.E. than men (a holdover from the era when ROTC was required for men, which it no longer was by 1970).
However, Deanie Fincher recalls “staying out later than my sister Martha had the year before.” She’s correct; in a change that year, only first-quarter freshman women had a curfew (1 a.m. on weeknights and weekends).
The UGA student body’s gender consciousness hadn’t yet been fully raised, however. Weekly “powder-puff” football games were staged, featuring women’s teams from various dorms and sororities, such as the Brumby Bunnies, playing against a male team dubbed the “Russell Rapers.”
This also was pre-Roe v. Wade, and having a legal abortion in Georgia required a woman to jump through so many medical hoops that, for all practical purposes, they weren’t available to most students. The university’s Health Service, which reported about 500 unwanted pregnancies per year at UGA, provided counseling for those seeking legal abortions, which usually meant going out of state, mostly to New York, New Mexico or California, where legal abortions were much more readily available.
As for minority students, the UGA Fact Book for 1970 doesn’t bother to note how many of them were on campus that school year, but The Red & Black reported 100 Black students had been accepted for the 1970 school year, and half that many were expected to enroll.
So, yeah, you largely saw white faces on campus, except in one corner of the Bulldog Room in Memorial Hall, where many of the Black students gathered between classes.
There were only three Black athletes on scholarship at UGA that quarter, The Red & Black reported, with the most notable being Ronnie Hogue of the basketball team, the first Black athlete to receive a full athletic scholarship. The first Black athlete offered a football grant-in-aid by UGA, John King, decided to go to Minnesota instead in 1970. So,integration of the football team wouldn’t happen until 1971, although one Black player, James Hurley, had walked on during spring practice in 1970. However, before the fall season arrived, he had transferred to Vanderbilt.
UGA had far to go in terms of race relations at that time. Classmate Bill Berryman recalled with sadness “sitting in the student section at football games and hearing the awful things students yelled at Black players for the other team, especially Eddie McAshan from Georgia Tech.”
The main area where UGA had made advancements in race was the Black Studies program, which was entering its second year. A student could earn a Certificate in Afro-American studies by taking 20 credit hours in Black studies courses offered in art, history, anthropology, drama, political science, sociology and music.
However, the marching band that performed at football games still was called the Dixie Redcoat Band. (The first part of that name would be excised the following school year, sparking outrage from the campus neocons in the Demosthenian Literary Society.)
Campus media was pretty limited in 1970. The Red & Black was published only twice a week, and campus radio station WUOG-FM still was in the planning stages, with the university having applied to the FCC for a construction permit. There were a couple of underground publications distributed: Veritas and the United Free Press. Meanwhile, we did have four daily newspapers available, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. I earned my pocket money delivering the local Daily News early each morning via car.
The central campus had much less greenspace back then (the now-lovely Herty Field, where Georgia football was born, was a parking lot in my school days). As always, there was construction going on, with the former Commerce-Journalism building spending much of my time at UGA being renovated for Terry College. As a journalism major, I’d wind up spending much of my time in the Psychology-Journalism complex that had opened a couple of years earlier, but not so much that first quarter, as I’d been saddled by an advance orientation adviser with a schedule consisting of philosophy, P.E., geology and geography.
The newest building on campus was the expansive UGA bookstore, which had opened just 10 months earlier. (That didn’t stop the air-conditioning from going out in the store at the height of the fall quarter textbook rush.) The Robert Trent Jones-designed university golf course had opened just two years earlier.
Much of what’s now East Campus was the UGA farm (complete with a vintage barn), although the intramural fields had opened out there. Where the Tate Center is now was Stegeman Hall, home to an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool the Navy had built during World War II. Other Navy hand-me-downs still in use in 1970 included prefabricated apartments (known as the Prefabs) used as married-student housing to supplement the University Village built in the mid-‘60s. Also left over from WWII: 11 of the 20 buses that serviced four campus routes (plus a night bus).
There were 20 residence halls (11 of them for women), the newest of which were the high-rise dorms, Brumby, built in 1966, and Russell (1967). And, of course, they were overflowing. A proposal was pending that would require only freshmen to live in residence halls the next year.
Deanie Fincher, a friend of mine since elementary school, actually had enrolled at UGA the previous spring while still a senior at Athens High, and had gone to summer school. “So, by the time I started in the fall I had already taken three classes,” she said. “In September of 1970, I moved into Mell Hall to officially be on campus. I was a music major, so most of my classes were close by.”
She recalls that Oglethorpe House was the only co-ed residence hall (men and women on different floors), but it was a private dorm, not owned by the university at that time.
All but two of the dorms had phones, and residents were being offered optional refrigerators at a cost of $36 for three quarters that year. By the end of the quarter, though, hundreds still were waiting for the refrigerators to be delivered.
There were varying meal plans, depending on the number of meals/days you wanted at the two dining halls, the old Bolton (nicknamed Revoltin’ Bolton) and Snelling. You also could eat at the Bulldog Room, which was mostly fast food. (Athletes had their own dining hall in McWhorter Hall.) The meal plans ranged from $180 to $256 for fall quarter. Only Bolton was open on weekends, but nonresidents could buy meals at O-House.
As an Athens native, I was allowed to live at home, so I didn’t experience the dorm life my kids later would come to know so well, and my meal plan was what my mother served at home, or what I picked up downtown, or hanging out between classes at the Bulldog Room, where the jukebox always seemed to be playing John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”
For those who chose to eat off-campus, downtown Athens offered several meat-and-three spots, including Lynn’s, Tony’s and Dobbs House (a 24-hour diner). Also downtown were Alice’s Crazy Corner Cafe, the Spaghetti Store, Wrangler Steakhouse, Lum’s (with beer-steamed hot dogs!) and the Varsity, right across from the Arch.
Away from downtown, Magnolia Manor on Hull Street, a boarding house, also served a down-home menu. And Beechwood Buffet at the Beechwood shopping center offered all-you-can-eat on Mondays and Thursdays for $1.59 a person, with your choice of meat, vegetables, beverage, salad and desserts.
Other popular dining destinations for students that fall included several on Baxter Street: Hardee’s (near the high-rise dorms); the Shrimp Boat, where you could get chicken, shrimp, fish, sea food, sandwiches, pizza and salads; the Western Sizzlin’ steakhouse; Pedro’s, for Mexican; Ireland’s, where they served great steak biscuits; and Gigi’s, an Italian place with live music in the lounge that made a great place for dates.
Farther afield were Wishbone Fried Chicken, Shoney’s, McDonald’s, Burger Chef, Kentucky Fried Chicken at Davis House on the Macon Highway, innumerable pizza joints and, out on Atlanta Highway, Poss’ Barbecue, run by the family that handled the game day concessions at Sanford Stadium.
Also, in the Normaltown neighborhood of Athens, there was Allen’s, a venerable joint that classmate Tom Hodgson recalls fondly for “hamburgers on an English muffin, and travel posters going back to the ’50s or earlier.”
Bill Andrews remembers other places that “kept me nourished my freshman year” in 1970, including “Chase Street Cafe … Steverino’s … the Mayflower … Swamp Guinea and Little Bob’s.” And, he added, for “a good steak,” there was Prime Time on the Atlanta Highway.
Class registration (which had taken place the two days before classes started), was held in-person at the Coliseum, where students had to deal with new-fangled computer punch cards under the watchful eye of Dean William Tate, a legendary campus figure.
“Registering for class and trying to get student football tickets were completely baffling to me,” Bill Berryman recalled. “It was my first experience with computer punch cards, and it never ended well. I also remember Dean Tate keeping order at registration. He scared me to death.”
Since I’d registered for my classes in advance at freshman orientation that summer (the only time I ever lived in a dorm — three days and two nights in Myers Hall), I didn’t have to face the registration ordeal, where students had been known to disguise themselves as repairmen in order to sneak in before their assigned time.
Student life in the 1970s, much like now, generally revolved around clubs and organizations at the student center (then Memorial Hall), fraternities and sororities for those so inclined (I wasn’t), and sports.
Joe Costa, a high school classmate, started a quarter early, in the summer of 1970, in order to “get used to college life.” That fall, he remembered recently, “I was having too much fun being rushed by the Fiji fraternity, which had a bunch of Athens guys in it.”
Adjusting to college life “was not a gentle transition,” recalled Tom Hodgson another Athens High grad, “but a full immersion into a life of independence, beer abuse, hints of debauchery and fantastic new experiences. Maybe I was better prepared than some, because I had an older brother who had invited me to college parties while I was still in high school. That part was cool.
“My brother and I pledged the same frat [Kappa Alpha] where our older brother was in a senior position,” Tom said, “and it was the exact same frat at the exact same school as my father, uncles, grandfather and great uncles had pledged. I guess you call that a legacy. No matter, cool guys chose me to hang out with them, and I was more than willing. I learned within a few days that the best fraternity on campus is the one that lets you play. I thought I was so grown up.”
Tom correctly recalls that “college football, and UGA football in particular, was unabashedly front and center in the social universe of autumn in Athens.”
Pickup of student football tickets began the first day of classes, and the first home game was that Saturday, as the Bulldogs played host to Clemson. There was a street dance with a band called the Sweet Young’uns held that first weekend in Memorial Plaza, along with a pep rally for the Clemson game, and an American Brass jam session took place in the plaza after football on Saturday.
As that school year began, much of the talk was about whether we’d see another quarter of campus unrest, like the anti-war protests that briefly had shut down UGA the previous spring, when 3,000 students staged a sit-in at the Academic building after National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University. The Red & Black was full of news of student activist meetings, and the state Board of Regents had issued a statement decrying the previous protests.
An open letter to college students from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, published in the student paper, warned: “There’s nothing wrong with student dissent or student demands for change in society … But there is real grounds for concern about the extremism which led to violence, lawlessness and disrespect for the rights of others on many college campuses during the past year.”
Carlton Powell remembers that fall as the time you started seeing a lot of Vietnam war veterans coming back to UGA. Many of them now were anti-war, and a group called the Vietnam Veterans Against the War frequently could be seen handing out flyers in Memorial Plaza.
Still, despite university officials’ fears of a repeat of the previous spring, the Vietnam Moratorium Day at the end of October saw only about 30 people show up at the UGA demonstration.
The military draft still was in existence that fall. After reaching their 18th birthday, males were required to be available for military service for a year (or any portion of it), but that year could be postponed by a student deferment; you’d then be eligible for service after you left college.
I qualified for such a deferment, but since my number in the draft lottery was low enough that it conceivably could be called (in which case I might have to serve after college), I enrolled in Air Force ROTC, which also opened to women for the first time that quarter, though only one female student signed up.
Shortly after fall classes began, I received a draft card that had my status listed as “1-A” (draft eligible), which alarmed my mother considerably. A panicked friend called and said he’d also just received a 1-A card; he was wondering if he should run down and enlist in the Navy to avoid getting drafted into the Army.
I told him not to do anything rash, that I had to walk by the Selective Service office on my way back to class, and I’d check on our status. The kind woman at Selective Service told me “we just haven’t gotten the list from UGA yet,” and assured me that my “2-S” card for student deferment would be coming along soon. And, it did.
In the meantime, Air Force ROTC’s reputation for being much less gung-ho than Army ROTC was well-earned at that time. We didn’t wear our blue uniforms very often, and we hardly ever drilled in formation. That was a bit of a problem when we had to march in the downtown Athens Christmas parade toward the end of the quarter, so the officers in charge just asked who had high school ROTC experience. Those of us who raised our hands were put on the right end of each line, and the others were told just to do what we did!
Eventually, it became clear the draft wasn’t going to go as high as my lottery number, so my military involvement ended with just one quarter of ROTC.
Drug use was another frequent topic in the R&B. Campus police had received extensive training over the summer on dealing with drug abuse, and Superior Court Judge James Barrow wrote a letter to the paper, reminding students that “the possession or use of any amount of marijuana is a felony carrying a minimum sentence of one year.” Possession of LSD could get you two to five years.
Classes were suspended for November’s General Election, and the gubernatorial race drew a fair amount of attention in the student newspaper, with both Jimmy Carter and his Republican opponent, longtime Atlanta newsman Hal Suit, visiting campus during the campaign. Suit won the mock student balloting, with 70 percent of the vote, and the Red & Black also endorsed the Republican — only surprising if you don’t know that Carter had defeated moderate Democrat Carl Sanders, his primary opponent, by running a George Wallace-inspired campaign designed to appeal to rednecks.Boy, were those voters surprised after Carter won and the new governor revealed himself at his inauguration as a Southern liberal.
Also on campus that fall, a moon rock was on display for two weeks, and economist-sociologist (and future Nobel winner) Gunnar Myrdal gave several lectures. The University Theatre presented “Biedermann and the Firebugs” at the Fine Arts Auditorium.
In a sign of the times, work continued that fall on a project dubbed “People’s Park,” located on an overgrown 7.5-acre plot of land on Cloverhurst Avenue, near the dorms, that was a remnant from when a black community called Linnentown had been razed in the ’60s for “urban renewal.” Perhaps inspired by a similar park at Berkeley in California, a student senator had proposed clearing the lot and making it a spot for recreation and concerts the previous spring. Surprisingly, the university administration gave its approval. Students had worked over the summer to clear the land, and a concert had been held there. With planning by UGA’s School of Environmental Design, the park eventually became a venue for musical performances, picnics and just soaking up sun, before fading from consciousness and returning to nature. People’s Park actually still is there, though my kids never heard of it during their time at UGA in the 2000s. It’s overgrown again,but is commemorated by UGA online.)
Just as the Tate Center is nowadays, Memorial Hall was ground zero for student organizations in 1970, with various clubs and groups headquartered there. Most nights, there were lectures on campus, where you could learn about subjects like Transcendental Meditation, started by The Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Memorial Hall also was where the University Union (which promoted various activities and performances) and the Student Government Association were based. The student executive branch and senate still largely were in the hands of the Greeks and middle-of-the-roaders that fall, but would be taken over within a couple of years by a leftwing activist party called Coalition — which, in true Athens style, grew out of the followers of a local rock band called Ravenstone. A sign of things to come …
Check out Part 2: Big-name concerts at UGA, alums and locals recall the nascent Athens music scene, the bars that flourished even in the days before the drinking age was lowered, other entertainment offerings available to students, and what we were wearing in the fall of 1970.
To read about the Georgia Bulldogs’ 1970 football season, and how the Senior Parade tradition was killed by an embarrassing showing at the Ole Miss game, check out my Junkyard Blawg.
Just about anywhere you go in the world, one thing you’re almost sure to find, no matter what the culture, is their equivalent of the sandwich.
And, folks everywhere love to talk about their favorite sandwiches — from PB&J to tuna fish, from the many variations on the hamburger to regional favorites like cheesesteaks and lobster rolls, along with breakfast sandwiches, sloppy joes, and other cultures’ contributions: gyro, panini, muffuletta, croque-monsieur, banh mi, Cuban sandwiches and pita.
Of course, what’s acceptable as a sandwich differs from region to region and person to person. Darrell Huckaby was telling me recently that his wife ridiculed him for loving pineapple sandwiches (a Southern delicacy). “She says she has never seen anyone except me eat those, but they were not only a staple, but kind of a fancy choice, when I was growing up,” he said. “Dole sliced pineapple rings on white bread with lots of mayonnaise. We always used Blue Plate. A slice of cheese and a piece of lettuce made it extra fancy, which is how I had mine today.”
The other argument he and his wife have involves banana sandwiches, “and whether it should have peanut butter or mayo, and whether the banana should be sliced in pinwheels or lengthwise. I prefer lengthwise.”
That reminds me of when I was growing up: My Mom would make a mountainous platter of sandwiches for her husband and three hungry sons, and of the several different types she’d make for one meal, there’d usually be both banana sandwiches and pineapple. I preferred banana and didn’t like pineapple sandwiches, while my middle brother Jon was the reverse!
Then, there was the woman my wife Leslie worked with, who was aghast at Southerners’ penchant for tomato sandwiches. However, my friend Allan Kozinn, who grew up in New York, also likes tomato sandwiches. “I didn’t know they were Southern,” he said. “I thought I invented them by not having anything else to put on them, and being too lazy to go get some. Hell, I’ve been known to eat salad dressing sandwiches, which is even more minimal.”
Everyone has a favorite fast-food sandwich, too, whether it’s McDonald’s filet-o-fish drowned in tartar sauce or one of the contenders in the recent chicken sandwich wars.
Or, they lament the loss of a sandwich that’s no longer around (a frequent thing in Atlanta). Longtime Atlanta disc jockey J.J. Jackson is among the folks who still miss Good Ole Days’ flowerpot sandwiches; others remain angry at Chick-fil-A for doing away with its chicken salad sandwich; and, when Milton Leathers goes to the Varsity, he misses “their old grilled Swiss cheese and ham on rye! It was perfect.”
When I first moved to Atlanta, before I was married, I practically lived off sandwiches, especially the too-wide-for-your-mouth deli sandwiches at Harold’s, on Marietta Street downtown. Ham, turkey or roast beef, they were huge.
Howard Pousner also was a Harold’s devotee. “I don’t know how Harold made any money,” he said, “because he couldn’t possibly charge enough for those enormous sandwiches. … Of course, he was probably riffing on the Stage and Carnegie delis in New York, also known for mile-high sandwiches!”
Speaking of thick sandwiches, I remember in high school a friend asking me if I wanted a late-night snack at his house. He proceeded to open a brand-new pack of cold-cuts and put half the pack in his sandwich, and the other half in mine. I was pretty sure his mom was going to kill him when she found out.
Nowadays, my favorite sandwich is the smoked salmon BLT at The Station at Person Street, in Raleigh, NC, near where my son, Bill, and daughter-in-law, Jenny, live. It has smoked salmon, bacon, lettuce, tomato and lemon dill aioli, served on sourdough bread. I have to have one every time I visit them.
According to my daughter, Olivia, a very popular item these days is the subway sandwich from Publix, fondly known as a “Pub sub.”
Brigid Choi, who grew up in Atlanta, but now lives in Seattle, laments that the thing she misses most out West is “we don’t have Publix, so Pub subs aren’t a thing! That’s something that people from the South miss around here.”
Most of the time, though, when eating out, my daughter’s go-to is the grilled cheese, a diner classic. The best ones generally are at Waffle House, she said, though she was really taken with the grilled cheese at Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop in Thomasville, GA, while she was on a Midwifery clinical there for several weeks, learning to catch babies. (She ate a lot of Pub subs while in Thomasville, too.)
My buddy David Gibson also is partial to grilled cheese. “It is the ultimate comfort food,” he said. “Mine is usually a slice of cheddar sandwiched between two slices of American cheese, with mayo, grilled in a heavily buttered skillet. And I’m going to make one now.”
If you don’t want to make your own, and you live in the Midwest or South, where QuikTrip convenience stores are located, Mike Webb noted that the chain “has a pretty good grilled cheese, for only $1.99.”
Ironically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t even consider the grilled cheese to be officially a “sandwich,” which they define as “a meat or poultry filling between two slices of bread, a bun, or a biscuit.”
But, then again, they once tried to convince us ketchup is a vegetable!
To my mind, any handheld dish that puts a filling, whether vegetable, dairy or meat, into some sort of grain-based covering is a sandwich. End of discussion.
For many folks, favorite sandwich memories involve childhood concoctions. Recalled my old friend Mark Gunter: “Every day, when I got home from school, I’d fix a butter and sugar sandwich,” which involved two slices of white bread, butter and white sugar.
Likewise, Steve Oney said, “My favorite childhood sandwich belongs in a Jeff Foxworthy routine: ‘You might be a redneck if … your favorite childhood sandwich was mayo on white bread.’ I must have eaten hundreds of them. Sometimes, I used Miracle Whip, other times Hellman’s. As for the bread, I never wavered: Little Miss Sunbeam. I went cold turkey (not as a sandwich ingredient) when I was at UGA. I wanted to live to 25.”
Anne Segrest Freeze, with whom I grew up, learned an important sandwich lesson in college. “My Boston roommate taught me, from her daddy, to always spread anything on a sandwich to the very edge, so that every bite tastes as good as that bite from the middle,” she said. “I kept that rule when I had my food shop in Athens (Foodworks) for our sandwiches.”
Of course, most Southerners are partial to barbecue sandwiches of one type or another. Georgian Jim Auchmutey, author of “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America,” grew up south Decatur, “and was fortunate to be surrounded by good barbecue places: Lefty’s on Candler Road, Log Cabin on Glenwood, Hensler’s in Avondale Estates and Old Hickory House on Memorial Drive.”
But, Jim said, “my favorite barbecue sandwich growing up was probably the sliced beef sandwich at Old Hickory House. I know, I know … we’re in Georgia, and barbecue is supposed to be pig meat. But, for some reason, the Old Hickory House chain did beef barbecue, and their sliced beef sammie was really good.”
Jim offered “a quick bit of history: Barbecue sandwiches were some of America’s first convenience foods. When people took to the road in cars during the 1920s, many of the earliest roadside eateries were barbecue places. It was right up there with hamburgers as road food. One of the biggest chain restaurant operations in the 1920s and ’30s was an operation out of Texas called Pig Stands. Some of their outlets were in little buildings that looked like a pig. Their slogan was: ‘Eat a Pig Sandwich.’ A lot of people don’t know that McDonald’s started as a barbecue drive-in in San Bernardino, Calif., and then switched to burgers a few years later.”
Wayne Rogers, who hails from southeastern North Carolina, is partial to the liver pudding sandwich. Also called livermush in the western part of the state, liver pudding is a pork product prepared using pig liver, parts of pig heads, cornmeal and spices.
Sandwiches rule up North, too. “You can’t be a true New Jerseyan unless a Taylor ham [a brand of pork roll], egg and cheese is your go-to breakfast sandwich,” Tom Frangione told me. “Preferably on a bagel, but only if you are in a bagel store. No supermarket or deli bagels. That’s heresy. Mick Jagger himself, from the stage at MetLife Stadium on the Rolling Stones 2019 tour, cited the nearby Tick Tock Diner (itself a New Jersey landmark) for their vaunted take on this classic.”
Tom is a serious sandwich lover. One year, his parents, at a loss for what to give him for Christmas, settled on a deli slicer.
Said Tom, “Like many a New Jerseyan, I’m Italian. And if Italian delis are your thing, Hoboken (just this side of Manhattan) is a true paradise. Home of the original cake boss (Carlo’s Bakery, which still makes the best chocolate dipped pecan wedge on earth), it also has a disproportionate share of Italian delis. And, leading that pack is Fiore’s, where the daily sandwich special is centered around their store-made mozzarella.”
Mondays at Fiore’s means tuna, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar, he said, which is “heavenly. But nothing compares to the Friday roast beef, mozzarella and brown gravy. It is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Back to Allan Kozinn, whose sandwich memories also skew Italian. “When I was in high school, in Yonkers, New York, there was an Italian family deli called Landi’s, just down the street from school,” he recalled. “Their subs were legendary to generations of Yonkers High School students, and at lunchtime there would be a line snaking down the street for one of their sandwiches. When you got to the front of the line, you told them what you wanted — it could be a turkey sub with lettuce and tomatoes, to which they would add oil, salt, pepper and some other combination of seasonings that was probably proprietary.”
The guy making the sandwiches wore a white deli smock that “always had the wipings of who-knows-how-many sandwiches on it,” Allan said, “and in those days, guys at delis were not required to wear gloves. So he’d be coughing and sneezing into his hand, and making your sandwich, and kids joked about that, but no one was ever too grossed out to stop getting them, because they were delicious, and the alternatives were school food, which was dismal, or bringing a bag lunch from home, which, to a 16-year-old circa 1970, just wasn’t the kind of look you wanted to cultivate.”
Al Sussman, who used to live in New Jersey and worked in New York City, but retired to Pittsburgh, misses “the roast beef sandwiches at the Manhattan delis that one can hardly bite down on, because the roast beef is piled in so high.”
In Pittsburgh, Al said, the most popular stop for sandwiches “is Primanti Bros., home of sandwiches with cole slaw and French fries on top of the sandwich fixin’s.”
For Doug Criss, nothing beats a Philly cheesesteak. “What could be simpler? Beef (either ribeye or skirt steak) paired with cheese (American, provolone or cheese whiz) on a hoagie. Simplicity never tasted so good! I don’t even go for all the other stuff that a lot of folks like on their sandwiches: onions and other such nonsense. Just give me the bread, meat and the cheese!”
Rich Lavery, who is from Connecticut, but now lives in metro Atlanta, told me the “grinders” (hot subs) served in his home state beat the subs he’s had in Georgia, chiefly because of the bread. “It’s thicker on the outside, but doughy inside.”
David Persails now lives near Houston, Texas, but “back in the day, in my hometown of Flint, Michigan, we could pick up a very decent steak and onion sandwich from a small, local chain called Big John’s Steak and Onion. These were excellent then, and the restaurant is still running (since 1972!), though I haven’t visited in many years. Great for a local flavor, and now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I’m going to have to visit when we return this summer!”
In Chicago, Kit O’Toole loves the Italian beef sandwiches, and “our take on the sub, namely putting delicious giardiniera (an Italian preparation of marinated vegetables) on as a condiment.”
Of course, food is serious business in New Orleans, where native Bruce Spizer notes “the po’boy is the most popular sandwich,although the muffuletta is also well-known, due the city’s large Italian-American population. The key to a great po’boy is fresh French bread and generous amounts of the ingredients, be it meat or seafood. Po’boys are normally ‘dressed,’ meaning mayo, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles, unless you request otherwise. The city has a po’boy festival each November.”
Bruce’s favorite place for po’boys is Parkway Tavern & Bakery. “During my childhood, when I returned from summer camp, my parents would take me straight to Parkway after picking me up at the train station or airport, because they knew I had gone eight weeks without my favorite New Orleans meal,” he said. “I would get a roast beef po’boy with mayo and gravy only. It was a messy and delicious experience. I still enjoy going there any time I am in the area.
“One of my favorite foods at the Jazz Fest is the cochon de lait po’boy, which is pulled pork. It comes with cole slaw, unless you order it ‘naked’ (as opposed to ‘dressed’). Another institution for po’boys is Mother’s, where I get the Fredi’s Special, which is ham, roast beef, roast beef debris and gravy.”
As for the muffuletta, another Louisiana native, Louis Mayeux, explained that it’s “an Italian sandwich with distinctive round bread. Along with lettuce and tomatoes, it has Italian meats and cheeses.”
In Nashville, Greg Bailey recommends the cheeseburger at Rotier’s,which is served on French bread. “It may be the most iconic sandwich in Nashville,” he said. “It’s terrific … The bread is always soft and fresh, the burger cooked old-style … right off the griddle, dressed perfectly, and paired with an off-the-menu chocolate milkshake (best in town).”
Out in Washington state, Dan Raley said that, “for both my and my wife’s families, the turkey sandwich, full slice, was the Northwest staple. I first had it when I was 8, on a ferry headed to British Columbia. I’ll never forget it. It was just heaven. I’ve been devoted to a good turkey sandwich ever since.”
But, when Raley worked in Atlanta, “I was in for a totally new experience. I had never had barbecue before. I couldn’t believe what I was missing. Beef or pork, it didn’t matter. I was 8 years old all over again. Fox Bros. became a favorite hangout for me in my two years in the capital city of the South. I took family members there. I grabbed the MARTA and went alone on weekends. I might prefer the barbecue now over the turkey sandwich. I’ve been to North and South Carolina, plus Florida and Louisiana, for work, and I’ve sampled them all. Nothing beats good barbecue.”
In Los Angeles, Rip Rense said, the sandwich experience revolves around Philippe’s Downtown,“Home of the French-Dipped Sandwich.” Said Rip: “It was founded in 1908, and is substantially the same as it was then, in terms of menu selection and ambience, though it has changed locations a couple of times. The beef, pork, lamb, turkey dipped sandwiches are smaller than they used to be, and, of course, more expensive, but still great workingman’s (and women’s) fare.”
The ingredients, Rip said, are “a French roll dipped in au jus (secret recipe, of course) meat of choice, with or without cheese (cheddar, Swiss — I prefer Swiss.) A must: Philippe’s homemade trademarked hot mustard, which will clear out your sinuses in a hurry. Eat with a side of pickle and/or hot peppers, and you’re living large. I always add either their signature cole slaw or potato salad, as most folks do. A very satisfying repast.
“Stay away on days of Dodger home games, unless you like crowds. The sandwich — which Philippe’s claims to have invented (disputed by Cole’s on 6th Street downtown) — is uniquely Southern California fare.”
There is a new L.A. sandwich trend, Rip added, “that might or might not pick up speed: yakisoba sandwiches. These are staples in Japan (and often found in Chinese bakeries), and are showing up with frequency in Little Tokyo and Sawtelle Japantown. They’re basically stir-fried noodles with onion, and maybe carrots, on a French roll. Disclosure: I have not tried them, but they are very tempting in appearance.”
Another Angeleno, Rick Ginell, noted that “The Habit is a Santa Barbara fast-food place that has expanded into a chain that now stretches throughout Southern California. Their hamburgers actually rated No. 1 on a recent Consumer Reports survey, beating out the legendary In-N-Out Burger stands.”
In the wilds of Montana, meanwhile, the burgers tend to be made from bison, John Firehammer said. “The meat is tasty, and leaner than beef.”
But, he said, “there’s also a small Montana chain called the Staggering Ox, which specializes in ‘clubfoot sandwiches.’ The bread is baked in a tin can, creating an opening, which you can stuff with ingredients. The signature sandwich is called the Nuke,” which comes with ham, turkey, beef, swiss, provolone, cheddar, lettuce and sauce, with a wide range of the latter offered, including ranch, horsie, Italian and salsa. Unless you request otherwise, the sauce comes inside the sandwich.
And, when John visits his son, who’s in college in St. Paul, Minn., he loves the Twin Cities’ famous Juicy Lucy burger. “The cheese is placed inside the patty, not on top, and it’s delicious.”
Sandwiches certainly aren’t exclusive to America, either. Brigid Choi, who travels frequently, said that, in Japan, “you’re likely to see egg salad sandwiches, katsu sandwiches, curry sandwiches, and yakisoba sandwiches at convenience stores,” with entire sections of shelves devoted to prepackaged sandwiches.
However, ground zero for the sandwich remains the U.K., which gave the meal its English-language name, thanks to an 18th century nobleman, the Earl of Sandwich, who reputedly asked for some beef to be served between two slices of bread to avoid him leaving a gambling table.
The Brits, who love to nickname everything, refer to buns or sandwich rolls as a bap or a cob, and often call sandwiches butties or sarnies. Miranda Rehm, who grew up in Atlanta, but moved to Britain in the mid-19080s, said, “One of my earliest experiences when I moved here involved being asked to go out and buy someone a ‘sarnie’ when I was temping at a bank. It took me a moment to realize they were asking for a sandwich!”
The offerings can range from the quintessential British sandwich — cucumber, egg and cress, made with butter, often served at afternoon tea — to a plebeian bacon sarnie or chip butty (essentially french fries in a roll). Fish finger sandwiches (using what Americans call fish sticks) also are popular there.
In 1950s Liverpool, where Bill Harry went to art college with John Lennon, post-war food rationing was still a thing, and mothers would take the beef drippings left in the bottom of a roasting pan “and pour it into a little white bowl where it would set with the fat on top and the jelly part beneath. They would then spread it on bread.
“I remember the time before sliced bread, when we would cut the bread, and it would be very thick, so we referred to them as ‘doorstops.’
“I lived in the working class dock area, and remember having dripping butties regularly. We never used the word sandwiches; it was always butties or sarnies.”
My friend Simon Rogers noted that, in the 1960s and ’70s, before shops started selling prepackaged sandwiches (popularized by the Marks & Spencer chain), British sandwich tradition was dominated by “the average working man’s cafe, lovingly called a greasy spoon, which offered the holy trinity of bacon, sausage or a fried egg. Any request for a sandwich made of anything else was met with looks of suspicion. The Monty Python spam sketch was not too far from the truth.”
Simon and another British friend of mine, David Bearne, recall a “coronation chicken” sandwich, which David said “would include mayonnaise, curry powder and sultanas.” Simon said the sandwich, invented in 1952 in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, was “a bright yellow,” with an “almost glow-in-the-dark filling of cooked chicken, curry powder and heavy cream.”
To Simon, “there is still something deeply soothing about a bacon sandwich in a working man’s cafe between two thick doorstop slices of bread. Served with a big mug of steaming tea. Just don’t ask me what’s the better sauce to have with it, red or brown.”
That’s one of the things Brits like to argue about: the relative merits of red sauce (ketchup) and brown sauce, which Richard Buskin explained to me is “a tomato base blended with malt vinegar, wine vinegar, molasses, glucose-fructose syrup, sugar, dates, corn flour, rye flour, salt, spices and tamarind. I love it, but it’s very likely an acquired taste.”
My first-cousin Lyndon Parry, who lives in Nottingham, said, “The thing you have to keep in mind with us Brits is we can put anything between two slices of bread.”
Breakfast sandwiches are big in the U.K., Lyndon said. Usually, it’s a bacon or sausage sandwich, frequently involving a fried egg.
But the ultimate, he said, features a full English breakfast (bacon, sausage, egg, mushrooms, black pudding, baked beans and/or tinned tomatoes) on a soft roll. “It’s a taste sensation, but very messy.”
Lyndon’s brother John remembers a childhood treat where “thick bread was dipped one side in condensed milk, sweet and gooey. Then the bread and butter were dipped in sugar. It’s a wonder I still have my teeth!”
John also loves a sandwich combining marmite (a food spread made from yeast extract) and cheese.
Wendy Rogers offered some other classic British sandwiches: “Apart from the chip butty, there’s also the crisp sandwich. Potato chips, as you guys call them, are emptied onto a slice of bread and squashed (usually) between another slice. Very popular!
“Also, the salad cream sandwich. Salad cream is like mayo, but cheaper. It’s spread onto bread and, again, squashed into a sandwich. … The cheese ploughman also is popular. It’s a huge amount of cheese, with salad, and always Branston pickle, and is so-called because ploughmen had a mini meal in a sandwich to take into the fields!”
And then there’s the “cheese and pickle, an old-time British classic,” Miranda Rehm said, adding that “‘pickle’ here is a chutney/relish.”
Moving on in the world, many people wouldn’t automatically think of a sandwich as Mexican food, but Doug Hall, a Georgia native now living in Mexico City, would beg to differ. When Hall was a boy in Middle Georgia, he used to love mashed potato sandwiches made with a yeast roll.
He had not experienced them in years, he said. Then, after moving to Mexico City, “imagine my surprise when I sat down at Quesadillas Lucha, in the Coyoacan Market, and saw on the menu ‘quesadillas de papa.’” That’s a doubled-over corn tortilla filled with mashed potatoes and cheese, then deep-fried.
“I like mine with a helping of Mexican crema and red bayo bean salsa,” Hall said. “I try my best to limit myself to only a few a year. But, my goodness, they are wonderful.”
Rosa Song, a native of Beijing now living in Arizona, told me that sandwiches are pretty much the same in China as in America, “though we might use different bread or put different ingredients in.” One traditional Chinese dish, she said, is rou jia mo, which is “meat and a little bit of veggies” in a roll, and looks very much like an American sandwich.
Rosa’s favorite sandwich when she lived in China? “I only remember Subway,” she said with a laugh.
My senior year was marked by two major events involving my high school.
One, late in the school year, was a riot at the end of an intramural basketball game that acted as a spark for widespread racial unrest in the community, reflecting local African Americans’ frustration over plans to merge their high school and ours the next school year as part of the local integration plan. Before it was over, National Guard troops were camped out at the local fairgrounds.
The other landmark event of our senior year, taking place 50 years ago tonight (Dec. 13, 1969), was a much happier one: Our Athens High Trojans, led by future University of Georgia and New England Patriots star Andy Johnson, met the mighty Valdosta Wildcats for the state football championship.
Providing a preview of the sort of late-game heroics that would make him a Georgia Bulldogs legend two years hence against Georgia Tech, Johnson led the Trojans down the field for a touchdown and 2-point play that tied the game 26-26 as time expired. Back then, ties still were acceptable, so Athens and Valdosta reigned for the next year as co-champions — a pretty big deal, considering that same undefeated Wildcats team was named co-national champion with a school in Coral Gables, Fla., by the National Sports News Service.
Many folks (including some neutral observers) still believe that matchup between North Georgia champ Athens and South Georgia champ Valdosta was one of the best high school football games ever played anywhere — and there are some who claim it was one of the best football games they’ve ever seen, at any level.
The buildup to the game, which pitted the unbeaten Wildcats against an Athens team that had lost once early in the season, was incredible. At the pep rally held in the AHS gym, a special phone hookup allowed Athens High and UGA grad Fran Tarkenton, then quarterbacking the New York Giants, to address the gathering. Tarkenton had led Athens to a 41-20 state championship victory over Valdosta in 1955, and he wanted the Trojans to make amends for a 14-13 loss to the Wildcats in the 1965 championship game.
““I can’t remember who actually contacted Fran Tarkenton, but he agreed to talk with us,” recalled Jessica Sheffield Jordan, captain of the Athens High cheerleading squad. “I actually spoke with him first to say hello and then he spoke to the group. It was so exciting having a former Trojan, Georgia Bulldog and current pro speaking to us!”
Athens-Valdosta was big-time high school football. The Athens team flew down to Valdosta. It was the first flight for many of the players. Recalled Richard “Dickie” Davis: “The flight was directly from Athens to Valdosta on a relatively small prop that felt like it was bouncing from cloud to cloud.”
The game was so big that it actually was broadcast in Athens by two competing radio stations. (Not bad for what was then a city of just 50,000 people.)
WGAU, the regular Trojans football station, had the game called by Hope Hines, later a well-known TV sportscaster in Tennessee, but the station I normally listened to, Top 40 outlet WRFC, also somehow was allowed to cover the game, and their sports director, a UGA senior named Bill Hartman (who went on to a long TV career in Atlanta) told me the game was especially meaningful to him “because Valdosta had beaten us for the title my senior year at AHS” in 1965.
Said Hartman: “I’ve done play-by-play for a number of games, including the Bulldogs and the Falcons, but none was more exciting than the ’69 championship game.”
Hartman remembers he and his broadcast crew flew out of Athens’ tiny Ben Epps Field on a special charter flight full of Trojans fans. “It was a raucous journey to South Georgia.”
Among those on the charter flight from Athens were two of my classmates, Charlie Bonner and Bill Faircloth, who are first cousins. “Our parents wouldn’t let us drive down with friends,” Charlie recalled. Bill added that his dad even checked with his insurance agent “to make sure his policy would cover any accidents. Thankfully, he waited until we were home to tell me that.”
Many other fans made the 215-mile drive to Valdosta. Tom Hodgson recalled he and his brother and sister, Joe and Pooh (they were triplets), had to argue long and hard to get their parents to let them go.
“It was gonna require a night away from home without benefit of chaperone, and at a venue almost a day’s drive away,” he said. “Our parents weren’t stupid. But we were persistent. Persistence won.”
Of course, his parents were right, too. Staying in “a roadside motel with no pedigree so that we might ‘prep’ for the game a few hours before kick-off,” the Hodgson triplets soon found their room filled, “as other fans, including older and drunker alumni presented themselves and claimed space on our two double beds.”
Lynda Harden Powell and Ginger “Cookie” Akins Holland rode a bus to Valdosta with the rest of the Athens High drill team. Powell remembers the excitement and camaraderie on the bus. “We had so much fun all being together and watching our Trojans play such an awesome game — and, of course, the outstanding performance of all our team, but particularly our own Andy Johnson. What a wonderful and memorable night!”
Holland remembers “standing in the cold in our bathing suit-style uniforms and marching into the stadium so excited with the drum beat, with [my] insides shaking. Andy Johnson was my boyfriend at the time, so I was happy about his playing, too.”
Valdosta’s Cleveland Field was a pretty intimidating place for opponents. Legendary Wildcats coach Wright Bazemore would dress out everyone in the program, from 8th grade up, and line them all along one sideline of the field. There were 120 Wildcats on the field that night and David Lester, a linebacker/guard and special teams player for Athens, recalled “There were only 32 of us.” (Some guys had quit the team after the season’s lone loss prompted Athens coach Weyman Sellers to go on a tirade.) “Valdosta was bigger than us,” Lester said. “Rand [Lambert, who would play college ball at Alabama] was probably our largest player, and I think he weighed 165 pounds soaking wet.”
The show of force on the sideline wasn’t Bazemore’s only mind game. When the Athens team’s flight arrived in Valdosta, Lester said, “Valdosta sent a school bus with no seats, and they drove us all over town to see all the decorations, like signs saying, ‘Dump the Trojans!”’
Another trick on the visitors, Tom Hodgson said, was placing groups of Athens fans right in the middle of the Valdosta cheering section. “They may have thought that would dampen our ability to promote the team,” he said. “I assure you it did not.”
Larry Pope, who covered the game for the Athens Daily News, also recalls that the Valdosta fans “would stomp those metal bleachers all night long.”
I wasn’t among the many Athens fans who traveled down for the game. My parents were throwing a Christmas party for the staff at the branch bank Dad managed, and I was in the kitchen, listening to Bill Hartman’s call of the game. Pretty soon, I had several of the party guests in there listening with me!
“That was probably the most exciting game I had ever listened to on the radio,” recalled my high school buddy Charles Isbell. “Nothing like winning a championship in your senior year. I still have a car tag that says Athens High 1970 AAA Co-Champs.”
Valdosta, which had dubbed itself “Winnersville” (and later was named Titletown USA by ESPN) was a high school football powerhouse. Under Bazemore, the Wildcats had won six state titles since 1960, and they were the prohibitive favorite over our Trojans. The Wildcats were 12-0 coming into the game, and that included 11 games in which their opponents did not score a point!
The game went back and forth. Athens got on the board first, but with just seconds remaining in the first half, the Wildcats led 13-6. Valdosta stopped what appeared to be Athens’s final play of the half, the clock expired, and the hometown players started heading to the locker room. But the officials had thrown a flag against the Wildcats for 12 men on the field and awarded Athens one more untimed play. Andy took the snap from center, burst through the Valdosta defensive front and raced 68 yards for a touchdown. Valdosta led by only 13-12 at halftime.
Blake Giles, an Athens High grad and neophyte sports reporter for the Athens Banner-Herald at the time, said, “Coach Sellers later told me that Andy was the only player he ever had who had scored as part of the halftime show. To show what an idiot I was as a young sportswriter, I didn’t use that quote for years.”
Jim Kitchens, one of the co-captains on that Trojans team, remembers it this way: “They may have been disoriented because of the penalty, but Andy got loose and outran the fastest guy they had.” Johnson, Kitchens added, exuded a confidence that was infectious. “He was in perfect control to do something amazing.”
As my lifelong friend Carlton Powell summed him up: “Andy was a generational talent. He just had the ‘it’ factor.”
Teammate Lester said that, in the second half, the Trojans “went out renewed, because we now considered [the Wildcats] mortals.”
In the second half, Valdosta padded its lead a bit, then Athens closed the gap to 20-18, but, as the final minute approached, the Wildcats led 26-18.
It looked like Valdosta was going to run out the clock, Giles said, when Wildcats quarterback Don Golden fumbled with less than 2 minutes to play, and the Trojans recovered.
“Sellers said he told Andy on the sideline that Athens was going to score,” Giles recalled, “and Andy just said, ‘I know.’”
It took two consecutive tackle-eligible plays to do it, Giles noted. “Think about that. The tackle eligible has basically been outlawed now because coaches didn’t like being embarrassed. Even then, it was a rare play, but they ran it on two consecutive plays.”
Those passes capped off a 79-yard drive in the final 59 seconds, the last one covering 29 yards to Rand Lambert for a TD with 25 seconds remaining. The Trojans went for 2 and Andy found receiver Gray Sellers, the coach’s son, in the end zone for the conversion and the tie.
Future newspaper columnist Darrell Huckaby, who went to the game as a neutral observer but ended up pulling for Athens after Johnson’s end-of-first-half touchdown run, remembers that, after the game had ended, “The Athens people were all going crazy and the Valdosta people were acting like they had lost.”
Athens fan Johnny Barrett remembers that the Valdosta Touchdown Club awarded Bazemore a new car, and there was almost no applause from the home crowd.
“I remember Valdosta fans being devastated!” cheerleading captain Jordan said. “The tie was as bad as a loss to them. The next morning, at a restaurant, they were still moaning and groaning. They could not believe it! “
Trojans player Davis remembers “the Wildcats leaving the field quietly with heads down, as if defeated, and we Trojans as celebratory as if we had won 100-0.” He recalls that, on the flight home, “Coach Sellers was presented with a bottle of Champagne.”
Added another teammate, Mac Coile: “That team shocked Georgia that night.”
And Lester remembers that, when the team’s plane landed in Athens that night, there was a small crowd “waiting for us on the tarmac.”
The Athenians staying over in Valdosta partied hard, remembers Clissa Spratlin England, who wrote a sidebar for the Thumbtack Tribune about the party scene, in which she noted that the place to be was the Valdosta Holiday Inn, which “just happened to be the scene of about 10 different parties. However, most fans managed to attend all 10.”
For those of us who didn’t get to attend the game, “there was so much radio and newspaper coverage we all felt like we knew every play whether we were there or not,” recalled another classmate, Becky Miller Edwards.
The next day, we devoured the coverage of the game in the Daily News and Banner-Herald in Athens, as well as the Atlanta Constitution and Journal.
Lamented the Banner-Herald’s Giles: “The story I wrote on the Athens-Valdosta game had all of the basics, but it had none of the magic of the game. I was just too immature as a sportswriter to know how to do that. But, even now, 50 years later, that game remains one of the most remarkable sporting events I ever covered.”
Bill Bryant, with whom I’d gone to school with since we were 5 years old, covered the game for Athens High’s student paper, the Thumb Tack Tribune, on whose staff I served as a news and editorial writer. He remembers, “I got my first cash advance to cover the game; I think it was $15, which bought a lot of gas — and beer — in those days.”
His memories of the game include “the hit that Gary Travis put on the Valdosta player that created the fumble that gave us the ball back and opened the door for Andy to lead the Trojans to the tying touchdown. My lede for the game story for the TTT referenced the Dells’ ‘Oh, What a Night.’”
Legend has it that Bazemore was so impressed by the Athens effort that he asked to visit the Trojans in their locker room after the game, but none of the players I talked with recalled that. However, University of Georgia head coach Vince Dooley definitely was in the Athens locker room, which made sense, since Andy Johnson was headed to UGA the next year.
Ironically, a couple of Valdosta players, including QB Golden, also wound up as Bulldogs. But, because Andy quickly became the favorite to start as quarterback, Golden wound up playing for Georgia as a safety and punter.
That was hard to take, Lester said, quoting his teammate Gary Travis as saying, “Superman ain’t supposed to die.”
The week after the Athens-Valdosta game, Coach Sellers showed the game film several times in the Athens High auditorium. Dave Williams remembers going to a screening with his father and “sitting with Andy’s father, Marion, during the viewing. It was a special time, and very significant and apropos, as that was the last football season for the Athens High Trojans.” The next year AHS and crosstown rival Burney-Harris merged to form Clarke Central High School.
To folks who’ve grown up in an era when ties are no longer allowed, because everyone found them so unsatisfactory, the elation in Athens at the 26-26 final score of that championship game might seem a little strange.
But as Tom Hodgson put it: “The scoreboard said the game ended in a tie. Valdosta knows they really lost. And I know we really won. Go Trojans!”
My gratitude to the more than three dozen people who shared memories, information and photos for this article. Special thanks to Mindy Moore Bacon, Charlie Hayslett, David Lester and Greer Madden.
My early Thanksgivings in my hometown of Athens were pretty traditional. My parents played host to Grandma King and my Uncle Larry (Dad’s kid brother, just 11 years older than me). After the meal, we usually wound up listening on the radio to the Bullpups vs. Baby Jackets charity football game played for the Governor’s Cup on Thanksgiving for 60 years at Grant Field (back in the days when schools fielded separate freshman teams), and then we’d wind up playing football out in the front yard.
And, on those occasions when the Georgia and Georgia Tech varsity teams played on Thanksgiving, that would be a big focus of the holiday. A favorite memory is when my Athens High School classmate Andy Johnson led the Dawgs to a last-minute victory over the Jackets in a nationally televised game on Thanksgiving night in 1971.
It was, however, football that provided me with my first departure from the usual Thanksgiving, as I joined a Sunday school group attending the 1966 Bullpups vs. Baby Jackets charity freshman game, which featured another Athenian, Paul Gilbert, quarterbacking the Bullpups. I remember we loudly dissed the Tech stadium as we sat down, and we quickly were showered with popcorn (complete with some boxes!) tossed down on us by surrounding Tech fans. Georgia won the game, so it was a fun day.
Three years later, as a high school senior, I missed the family gathering for one of my most memorable Thanksgivings. Early on the morning of the holiday, I was one of a half dozen staffers from Athens High’s Thumb Tack Tribune student newspaper flying to Chicago with our former adviser for a national journalism convention.
I wore a three-piece suit my parents had bought for me just for that trip. Most of us never had flown before. I remember my ears didn’t unclog until that evening.
It also was the first time my classmate Clissa England had flown, “and that was fun,” she recalled recently, adding: “It was so cold there, that I spent all my extra money on a pair of fur-lined boots that I wore for years. I’m not sure I could have even bought a pair like it in Athens!”
I was the only boy on the trip, which meant I had my own room, while the girls all doubled up.
The convention didn’t start until the next day, and our chaperone, Robin (known fondly as “the Bird”) had assumed we could spend Thanksgiving afternoon visiting museums or other edifying local attractions, but they all were closed. Finally, we asked a Chicago cop what we could do, and he suggested riding the famed “L” train out to Evanston and back, so we did.
That evening, instead of seeking out turkey and dressing, we dined at the Berghoff, a long-established family-owned German restaurant near the Palmer House, where we were staying. It was a bit pricey for high school students, but the Bird had heard about the place and wanted to eat there, so she had told us to save up for it.
I ordered a grilled fish (trout, I think) and was surprised that it came whole, complete with the head! I had no idea how to go about eating it. As my intended meal and I were eyeing each other, a gentleman at a nearby table came over and kindly showed me how to insert my knife at the tail, cut up to the head, flip it open, and remove the backbone.
The next night, we visited the Victorian-era Old Town section of Chicago, which reminded us of the then-thriving Underground Atlanta. While we were deciding what to have for dinner (I think it ended up being burgers), one my classmates was leaning against a lamp post, and a police officer, apparently used to “working girls” assuming that pose, suggested the post would stand up by itself and she should move on. She got a bit of teasing from the rest of us.
The biggest part of the adventure for me came on the Sunday, when we went to O’Hare to board our flight back to Atlanta. This was in the days of paper tickets, and the Delta agent in Atlanta mistakenly had pulled my return ticket as well when she took the ticket to Chicago. They wouldn’t let me board the plane!
As Clissa recalls: “I still remember the Bird’s face when she had to leave you at the Chicago airport. And, if I recall, your dad was one of the parents who picked us up, and we had to tell him you would arrive later!”
I caught a later indirect flight and finally arrived back at the old Atlanta airport. Thankfully, one of the girls on the trip, Saye Sutton, had hung around with her Atlanta boyfriend, and they took me back to Athens.
Five years later, on Nov. 28, 1974, I again was absent from the family holiday gathering in Athens as my date and I enjoyed the lavish Thanksgiving buffet at the Stone Mountain Inn before attending a George Harrison concert that night at Atlanta’s Omni. George performed with a band that included Billy Preston, and despite the fact that the Beatles guitarist was hoarse, the show was quite a thrill — the first time I saw a Beatle perform live. (It seems incredible now, but Harrison actually performed two separate concerts at the Omni that night. No artist ever would do that these days!)
Exactly a year and a day later, I married Leslie Thornton, the young woman who had attended the Harrison show with me, in a ceremony at the antebellum childhood home of famed journalist Henry Grady in Athens. My memories of that 1975 Thanksgiving are chiefly of last-minute wedding preparations — and watching Georgia beat Georgia Tech again on national television.
For a decade after that, Leslie and I traveled to Spartanburg, South Carolina, for a Thanksgiving gathering at Leslie’s grandmother’s house. The family was Italian, but the only Italian touch to the meal was the serving of a predinner antipasto with pickled vegetables. In addition to the usual Thanksgiving offerings, her grandmother also made a faux “mincemeat” pie (with apples, cloves and cinnamon).
After Leslie’s grandmother eventually gave up hosting Thanksgiving, we settled back into celebrating it with my parents.
Although born in Britain,Mom went all-American for Thanksgiving, preparing a huge repast that included turkey, ham, gravy, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potato souffle, squash casserole, cranberry congealed salad (or, sometimes, either sliced jellied cranberry sauce, or a cranberry apple compote), her renowned brown bread, and yeast rolls. Some years, to change the menu up a little, she’d add a Wellington made with turkey (instead of beef) or turkey divan.
However, the stars of the meal definitely were the desserts, which included pumpkin, pecan and apple pies, and pound cake. As my brother Jonathan recalled, “Mom had a way with pies.”
My daughter Olivia said her chief memory of those gatherings is “Grandma in the kitchen early on Thanksgiving Day.”
My Dad, who wasn’t really a fan of turkey, admonished his sons each year, “Take some turkey with you. Otherwise, I’ll be eating turkey sandwiches, turkey stew, turkey hash …”
The day after, we usually stayed over in Athens for shopping. And, my daughter recalls, that was when Mom got out her collection of Father Christmas figures to position around the house. “That was always a highlight for me,” Olivia said.
One year, we missed the Athens gathering when Leslie was sick. I wound up having a solo Thanksgiving lunch sitting at the bar in a neighborhood tavern.
That was depressing, but my least favorite Thanksgiving definitely was 2008. My mother had died suddenly 10 days earlier, and we were preparing to move Dad into assisted living the next day, much to his consternation. As my brother Tim put it: “Definitely not a day in the happy memory book.”
Funnily enough, the only time my wife and I ever have “hosted” a Thanksgiving feast was for the first three years after Mom’s death, when my family and brother Tim gathered at my parents’ old home in Athens for a meal overseen by my daughter, and centered around a grocery store-cooked turkey and fixings. (My brother Jon and his family traveled to Atlanta to dine with his in-laws.)
Since then, for the past seven years, we’ve traveled to the North Georgia mountains for a large country-style Thanksgiving hosted by Leslie’s niece and her husband, Maggie and Richard Johnson, at their Blackberry Farmstead, a 23-acre farm located near Toccoa.
The vast menu for the meal, which usually feeds 25 to 30 guests, features contributions from all the married family members. As Maggie told me recently, “The young and unwed aren’t asked to bring anything. Once their status changes, we usually start with something small like sweet tea or a veggie tray. If they prove to be responsible enough to bring the less significant items, we graduate them up to something more substantial.”
Maggie said that most of the recipes come from her father’s mom. “After spending so many years at Thanksgiving with her, we try to keep it as authentic as possible, even using her same vintage Taylor Smith Classic Heritage Green China.”
Besides turkey and dressing and yeast rolls, there’s squash casserole, macaroni, sweet potato souffle, broccoli salad, green bean casserole, fruit salad, and, as Maggie put it, her younger brother Conrad and his wife April “add a more modern flare by bringing a cold wild rice dish and Brussels sprouts.” The desserts include the traditional pumpkin and apple pies, plus Leslie makes pumpkin seed brownies and banana pudding, and Olivia, who goes up a day early to help her cousin with preparations, makes Christmas mounds.
Thanksgiving afternoon is spent with Maggie and Richard’s kids, Delaney, Dylan and Fern, guiding us around a virtual petting zoo of animals that roam the farm, including goats named after country music legends (Maybelle, Dolly, Kitty Wells and so on), a pair of potbellied pigs (Buzz Lightyear and Hollywood), Great Pyrenees dogs, guinea fowl, chickens and ducks. Cuddling the baby goats is a particular highlight for Olivia, as well as our son Bill and his wife, Jenny, and Leslie loves bringing Pup-Peroni treats for the dogs.
The Toccoa gathering was my daughter-in-law Jenny’s introduction to the family a few years back, and she remembers “my first reaction was just amazement that so many people could all fit in one room!”
Jenny said she also was surprised (and delighted) to see Maggie’s kids being so confident with the animals. “I commented on one of those chickens with the crazy looking feathers that looks like a silly hairdo (Polish chickens), and the next thing I knew Delaney had grabbed one and was handing it to me!”
The Toccoa gatherings wind up Thanksgiving evening with hotdogs and s’mores roasted over an old-fashioned bonfire.
That may not be the usual holiday fare, but it’s right in keeping with my family’s rather untraditional Thanksgiving tradition.
A recent post on a friend’s Facebook page noted the anniversary of the birth of MTV on Aug. 1, 1981, and how the channel, which essentially created a broadcasting genre by playing music videos 24/7, became one of her “obsessions.”
In the comments, I trotted out my story about Martha Quinn, the MTV host, or “VJ,” who became America’s sweetheart in the 1980s, and who I spent an afternoon with at an Atlanta area hotel in the summer of 1984, for a cover story in TVWeek, the television magazine I was editing at the time for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
My friend, Karin Johnson, loved my Martha story (which I’ll share below), so that prompted me to dig into the archives and find that TVWeek article.
Coincidentally, it was published 35 years ago today!
MTV didn’t invent the music video (which we called “promo films” back in the 1960s when The Beatles were doing them), and it didn’t even invent the concept of a “video radio station” (that had been done back in 1970 in Atlanta byan independent local TV station that ran the “Now Explosion”on weekends, which later was syndicated to other markets). Another Atlanta-based outfit, Video Concert Hall, had started programming several hours of music videos on USA Network, Showtime and other outlets in 1979. Still, it was MTV that turned music video into a cultural phenomenon — at least, for a while.
In place of radio’s DJs, the channel had on-camera “VJs,” who introduced the clips, offered music news and did interviews with performers. The quintet of original VJs were deliberate demographic choices: aging black hipster J.J. Jackson, who had been an FM progressive rock DJ in Boston and Los Angeles (not the former Atlanta disc jockey); cocky and curly-haired Mark Goodman, who was a Top 40 DJ in New York; All-American boy Alan Hunter, a Mississippi-born actor; blonde space queen Nina Blackwood, an actress who had the “sexy rock chick” thing going; and the fresh-faced and impossibly cute Quinn, just over a month out of New York University when the channel debuted, who represented the “girl next door” ideal.
Actually, MTV was a hard sell at first — for advertisers, cable TV companies who weren’t crazy about allotting space to the channel, and even the record labels (who were expected to provide the clips for free, just as they did records to radio stations). In fact, on that August day in 1981 when the New York-based channel debuted, MTV wasn’t even carried in Manhattan, so the staff had to bus out to New Jersey in order to watch the premiere, which famously started with the Buggles’ tune “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
MTV continued to build its audience, and music videos suddenly became a thing. USA added “Night Flight” in 1981, the Video Music Channel started out of Atlanta in 1982, and by 1983, NBC was showing “Friday Night Videos” in late night, TBS was showing “Night Tracks,” and soon even local stations were programming their own late-night music video shows. The AJC added a weekly video music column to my duties.
When Quinn came to Atlanta on a promotional visit that summer of ’84, she couldn’t believe the change since the last time she had been there, when MTV was carried only in a few suburbs.
That had changed the previous December, when the city’s major cable systems finally gave Atlantans their MTV. But, Martha didn’t know that, and so she arrived expecting the same sort of indifference she’d gotten before.
Instead, the 5-foot brunette with the large eyes and megawatt smile was recognized everywhere. Would-be paparazzi kept following her car. “It really is a big difference,” the 25-year-old said with childlike enthusiasm.
Before MTV finally was picked up in New York, she said, no one could see the TV job she claimed to have. “For a long time, people didn’t recognize me. But, I’d go to North Dakota or Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they had MTV from Day One, and they knew me.”
As Conan O’ Brien recalled in the book “I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution,” “I remember thinking, Martha Quinn’s cute. She seemed attainable to me. She was the only one whose name I could remember early on.”
Fellow VJ Alan Hunter noted: “Nina was the vamp, and Martha was the girl next door. Guys always said to me, ‘What’s Nina like? I want to sleep with her.’ And ‘What’s Martha like? I want to date her.’”
“We definitely were picked for reasons,” Martha told me, “and I think we fulfill what they need.”
“Weird Al” Yankovic once said, “I think everybody in North America had a small crush on Martha Quinn,” and I certainly was no exception. On top of that, she was even more appealing in person than on TV.
Sitting cross-legged on a chair in her hotel room, and crunching on a bag of potato chips as we talked, she was wearing jeans, a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of one of her idols, John Lennon, and six earrings, including one with a toy airplane that bobbed as she talked animatedly.
One thing that most people liked about Martha was that she was relatable. When she met a big name, of whom she was a fan, she didn’t try to hide being starstruck. And, while Prince famously dismissed her asking him “So, how do you feel?” by answering, “With my hands, Martha,” Bob Dylan specifically requested MTV fly her to London to interview him.
“My first interview was with Hall and Oates,” she said, “and I was incredibly nervous. And there’s a band I won’t name that I was interviewing, and one guy said something unbelievably rude to me and I didn’t know how to handle it. I sat there and took it. My only regret is that I didn’t just take my mic off and say, ‘Hey, this interview’s over.’”
Prior to becoming a VJ, Martha had worked on the NYU student radio station and been an intern at New York’s WNBC Radio. “My job was to get sandwiches from the commissary and to alphabetize all the singles. I was stuck in the closet for a year,” she said with a laugh.
Originally, she had wanted to be an actress, and while in college had worked in TV commercials. “I was a Chicken McNugget girl in New York, and, national, I did Country Time Lemonade and was a bride on a Kellogg’s cereal spot,” she said. ‘It was really fun to do during college, because it didn’t matter. But, when I graduated, I was panicked, thinking I have to depend on these jobs now.”
She had lined up a job at a small “beautiful music” radio station (remember those?) on Long Island when a casual visit to WNBC Radio, where she had interned, changed everything. “Bob Pittman, one of the originators of MTV, used to be program director of WNBC. And his name came up and somebody said, ‘Martha, you should be a VJ.’ I said, ‘What’s a VJ?’ and he said, ‘It’s on cable TV’ and I said, ‘Ha, I have a job’ and he said, ‘Martha, take my word for it, this is better.’”
Still not that interested, she auditioned anyway. “I had walked onto the MTV set not really having a grasp of what it was and, as I went out, I thought, ‘Man, I’d love to have that job. That’s perfect for me.’ I couldn’t have invented a job better suited to me.”
Of course, life for a VJ wasn’t really perfect. Hearing from old classmates who had ignored her in high school but now wanted to be pals made her “livid.” And, among the 200 letters a week that she received, were some that were disturbing. One guy started sending flowers, followed by “a picture of himself with a bloodstained thumb print on the bottom and a note that said he was going to come get me.”
As an interviewee, though, Martha was very personable, and we got on well. As the T-shirt showed, Martha’s a big fan of The Beatles, so we had that in common. (A few years later, when she interviewed Paul McCartney, and he was drinking tea, she finished off what he’d left in his cup and put the cup and saucer in her purse as collectibles.)
After the official interview portion of our time together was over, she kept chatting casually, gossiping about attending a Lennon memorial the previous December at which Yoko Ono and then-8-year-old son Sean Lennon had appeared. Martha was aghast at how pushy singer Roberta Flack had been in accosting young Sean.
I left the hotel room thinking the interview had gone very well, and apparently it did. A few days after the piece, headlined, “The Quinn-tessential veejay loves her MTV,” had been published, we came home one evening to find a perky voice on our answering machine (again, remember those?). It was a lovely message from Martha, telling me how much she’d enjoyed the article.
That sort of personal feedback from someone famous I’d interviewed was pretty rare (though I had received a thank-you note from Judy Collins after another interview).
Shortly after that, I got a letter from Martha’s father, a New York attorney, asking if I could send him some extra copies of that edition of TVWeek, which featured his daughter on the cover.
Thoroughly charmed, I mailed him a stack of them.
Martha spent two stints with MTV, up to 1993, and afterward did some acting and commercial work, and spent 11 years hosting a 1980s music show on SiriusXM Radio. Now, at age 60, she is with IHeartRadio, hosting the morning show on its San Francisco station and a podcast on the company’s app.
As for MTV, I stopped watching after it went heavily into rap music in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and then the channel gradually started cutting back music videos altogether, focusing more on game shows and reality programming targeting teenagers and young adults, like “The Real World” and “Jersey Shore,” which drew bigger ratings. The VJs are long gone.
Until I started working on this piece, I had not seen the channel in years, and, in fact, wasn’t even sure DirecTV still carried it. It does, and it appears to be one marathon after another of reality shows, just like its sister channels, MTV2 and VH1. However, I discovered that there’s a fourth channel, MTV Classic, that still plays music videos, though only those from the ’80s through the ’90s and early 2000s.
I watched a few hours this weekend, even keeping it on while I did some work, just like I did back in the ’80s. I watched a block called “I Want My 80s” that included a lot of long-forgotten crap and some good stuff (a good summation of 1980s music). I saw a self-indulgent Huey Lewis video that spent several minutes on a lame Frankenstein parody before finally getting to the song, and clips from Aerosmith, hair bands like Whitesnake, Journey, the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” (the most irritating ear worm ever), REO Speedwagon, the Pointer Sisters, the B-52’s (“Love Shack”) and the Psychedelic Furs video for “Pretty in Pink,” with footage from the Molly Ringwald Brat Pack movie of the same name. Later, I saw a pop show that veered from boy bands to the Cars to Brandy to Eric Clapton to Crowded House to Elvis Costello, and also included the quintessential ’80s music video: Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” from the movie “Flashdance.”
MTV Classic also showed a video from 1983 of a then blond and vibrant David Bowie doing “Modern Love.” Watching that made me sad.
Unfortunately, they only played the videos, with no vintage VJ footage. Too bad; after watching Bowie, I could have used a bracing shot or two of Martha Quinn.
A logical assumption is that it probably was while I was in college, but back then the WH didn’t occupy the elevated place in pop culture it has assumed in recent years, where hip-hop and country artists alike mention it in their lyrics, and you have the likes of “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert and alt country singer Sturgill Simpson visiting one of the diners for a bit on his show. (They ended up writing a song about Waffle House to go on the chain’s jukeboxes, which feature an entire playlist of songs about WH.)
In other words, I don’t recall my first time at Waffle House, because it was no big deal.
That’s not to denigrate the place Waffle House occupies in our culinary universe. I mean, breakfast any time of the day or night. What’s not to love about that? As Atlanta Falcons star receiver Julio Jones bragged when he was an NFL rookie: “In high school, my nickname was ‘Waffle House.’ Know why? Because I’m always open.”
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner — or, the quintessential WH experience, grabbing a late-night meal to help sober up — Southerners have been going to Waffle House ever since the first one opened in 1955 in Avondale Estates, Ga., not far from our home in Decatur. And, now, there are more than 1,900 WH locations across 25 states.
Everyone who’s experienced Waffle House has a favorite meal they tend to order. My go-to is the ham and cheese omelette, though at various times I’ve gone with a burger and, once, even one of the 10-ounce T-bone steaks that they sell more of than anyone else in the world (and which they announced they were getting rid of after a yearlong farewell tour in 2012 — only it’s still on the menu, so that must have been like one of The Who’s “farewell” tours).
(Honestly, steak isn’t the best thing they do. It’s hash browns. Or eggs. Or waffles. Or that perfectly crisp bacon.)
Leslie’s standard order is cheesy eggs with raisin toast and grits. Our son Bill favors the All-Star Special (two eggs; hash browns or grits; bacon, ham or sausage; toast (white, wheat, or raisin); and a waffle or biscuit), but he notes that a “waffle and hash browns covered [with melted cheese] are the essential core of any meal there.” Our daughter Livvy favors a grilled cheese with hash browns covered and topped (cheese and Bert’s chili).
I don’t get to Waffle House that often any more (maybe two or three of times a year), but at one point that was at least a two or three times a month. For Leslie and Livvy, it was weekly for a while, thanks to Leslie’s work on her master’s and Livvy taking some postbac science classes after she graduated from the University of Georgia and before she started nursing school at Emory University.
As Leslie recalled: “The Waffle House at Georgia State [in downtown Atlanta] is popular with students, staff, faculty and other, non-university workers. When I took a morning class, Practical Grammar, the professor didn’t like food in the classroom, so I would stop by the Waffle House each time for coffee. They got to know my schedule, so that they would set up a to-go coffee as soon as I came in sight from the MARTA station down the street. When Olivia and I were taking classes there at the same time, we’d go early Friday before class and eat breakfast together.”
Waffle House figured prominently in the years when our kids were in college in Athens. It’s always been popular with students, day and night. Livvy, who was attending UGA at the time, was on hand in 2015, when a nearby Chick-fil A and WH in teamed up to offer an evening of chicken and waffles. The line of customers wrapped around the outside of the store.
When my son was in school at UGA, he and I would meet at the Waffle House in Five Points, near campus, before home football games, in lieu of tailgating. Simple, quick and no packing or cleanup. Also, we’d get to see the cheerleaders arrive at Hodgson’s Pharmacy, directly across the street, for their traditional pregame visit to the soda fountain.
The staff at the Five Points Waffle House was friendly and efficient, which was a good thing, since the place usually was packed with a mix of barely awake college kids (a steady stream from fraternity and sorority row nearby), townie regulars and those of us just in town for the game (usually including some fans of the visiting team).
One game day, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (the same guy who’s now Trump’s agriculture secretary) and his aides came in and took a booth near us. I had not voted for him, but my son and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shake the governor’s hand. Plus, I took the opportunity to lobby for saving the HOPE Scholarship (which makes college available to Georgia residents who have demonstrated academic achievement, and which was under threat at the time).
However, my son’s favorite part of the story is this: After meeting the governor, he recalls, “you walked out without paying.” I had forgotten we had not yet taken care of the check. A waitress called me back. “They were very nice about it, though,” young Bill said.
There are eight other Waffle House restaurants in the Athens area, but the one at Five Points always was my favorite. Unfortunately, it closed last summer after 50 years, when their lease wasn’t renewed, but it still had managed to make it into a toast at my son’s wedding celebration about three weeks earlier, when his best man told a story about one of their adventures there during college.
During the three years my Dad was in assisted living in a little town outside Athens, my brothers, Jon and Tim, and I visited him every Sunday, and, after our visit, we’d go into the WH down the road, where the staff always recognized and greeted us.
But, the most special connection between the King family and Waffle House was Christmas Eve. For 15 years, we dined at a WH every year on the evening of Dec. 24. It began when Livvy was young and was in the youth choir at Holy Trinity Episcopal in Decatur; we’d go to the early Christmas Eve service and then have a meal at the Waffle House.
Even after she had outgrown the choir, we still kept our Xmas Eve Waffle House tradition. It finally ended, sadly, about three years ago, because we found the service had gotten just wretched. (Apparently the worst workers are now scheduled on Christmas Eve. They were extremely slow, and couldn’t get our orders right.)
We were very sad to end that family tradition, but, when you have a worker tell you they can’t make you an omelette because “the omelette machine is broken,” it’s time to move on.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m still a fan of Waffle House. Just not on Christmas Eve.
So, yes, our long family history with Waffle House continues. Leslie and I ate there just this week.
I think the role Waffle House has played in our family life was summed up nicely when we attended my son’s master’s degree graduation at UNC in Chapel Hill five years ago. At the reception, I heard a friend of his ask what we were doing afterward.
My son’s reply was perfect: “We’re probably going to Waffle House, because we’re Kings, and that’s what we do!”