Late Saturday afternoon, I stood in our walk-in closet tucking a golf shirt into my jeans, watching my reflection in the long mirror. I slid my bare feet into leather Docksiders, checked myself in the mirror one last time. Suddenly thought, We’re actually going out to eat.
Twenty minutes later, I turned the car onto West Massey Road and drove towards Poplar Avenue. The International Paper towers sat silent and dark on a warm Saturday evening—somewhat unusual in early March. We were headed to one of our favorite Memphis eateries—Memphis Pizza Café on Park Avenue located in The Park Cosmorama Shopping Center.
“When’s the last time we ate out?” I asked.
“Probably before we left for Anna Maria,” Vicki answered.
“Wow.” I shook my head in disbelief. “Over four months ago.”
Long before COVID, Saturday nights were for family. Maybe not our entire family here in Memphis and maybe not every Saturday night. But for the past ten years, Saturday nights have been our time. Family time. We spend the time together, laughing, talking, griping, and catching-up. And, of course, eating. Eating at one of our preferred spots—restaurants and pubs with names familiar to most Memphians.
Comfortable. Routine. Good food. Great service.
We’re a small unit, no more than four or five during our family outings. We keep Saturday nights simple and convenient for everyone. Most important, we keep it family.
Four months. A lot has happened in the past four months. The end of one surge and the start of another. A horrific car accident and the long, long journey to recovery (see A Little Passion in Our Compassion). Ongoing health concerns—mostly mine. The winter blahs and the overall misery brought on by never-ending cold rainy weather. All of it contributed to keeping us away from our favorite local haunts.
In spite of our self-imposed exile, we continued to indulge in many of the best foods that Memphis has to offer—Pizza Café pickup, Gibson’s Donuts for out-of-town visitors, Chick-fil-A drive thru, Germantown Commissary, and Mosa Asian Bistro pickup—most recently for Emily’s birthday.
We decided on Pizza Café because the Park Avenue location has a covered outdoor patio. No sense taking unnecessary risks. Plus, this past Saturday was warm and beautiful. Take advantage of the weather before the summer heat kicks in.
“Crowded,” Vicki said as we neared the Cosmorama’s parking lot. The parking lot is always crowded, except when it’s not. Vicki’s sister, Alisa, met us near Pizza Café’s front doors. I pulled the car up and dropped off Vicki and Emily before I went in search of a parking space.
Inside Pizza Café it was bright and, despite the smallish crowd, somewhat noisy. My senses felt under attack. Like sensory overload. People. Noise. Large flat-screen televisions showing multiple basketball games. A bit intense.
Four months is a long time to be away from the masses.
We stuck with our initial plan and ate outside on the enclosed patio. Eventually, the patio filled up and the sensory bombardment continued. Laughter. Music. Screaming children.
Maybe eating out in public was a mistake?
As the evening progressed, we settled into our Saturday night routine—talking, eating, sometimes laughing. Our family time. Our time. Cars in the parking lot continued to come and go, servers continued to hustle from table to table, and, not surprisingly, young children continued to scream. Other patrons dined, paid, and left.
We sat. Hung out. Comfortable, once again, in our routine.
We exited the outdoor patio towards Memphis Pizza Café’s front entrance. A small crowd had gathered just inside, waiting to be seated. The restaurant was crowded, bustling with activity. Good to see a Memphis institution hopping on a Saturday night, especially in such uncertain times.
Four months is a long time. Even with the initial sensory overload, we survived our first outing. So, it may take a few more outings to get our bearings straight.
Eventually, Saturday night will be all right.
As Sir Elton John once sang:
‘Cause Saturday night’s the night I like
Saturday night’s alright alright alright, ooh…
Saturday night’s alright
Ken Billett has called Memphis home for more than thirty years. A freelance writer, fiction author, and nationally known advocate for skin cancer prevention and research, Ken volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame on South Main in downtown Memphis. When not tending to his flowers, Ken and his wife Vicki travel extensively. StoryBoard Memphis is proud to present Ken’s columns Time Capsules and the newest, Get out of Town as, ongoing features here on StoryBoard.