Originally published Thursday, April 30, 1998
When the S & S Cafeteria closes Thursday, a chapter in my life ends, too.
It was at the S & S where I first realized I was famous.
My first wife and I spent more time there than in our own kitchen.
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My kids were more familiar with the waitresses than their grandparents.
My second wife and I (still no cooks) wind up there often enough to know the weekly specials by heart.
So yes, I'm sad about the closing. I'm really sorry for the employees who either will have to undergo time-consuming transfers or who will be leaving their jobs permanently.
But I always come back to my own memories. After all, I'm almost as old as the S & S on Gervais . (Well, actually, I'm older, but that' s a story for another time.)
The S & S has been there since 1959. I've been going there since 1961.
I started with occasional visits as an undergraduate at USC. The S & S was a definite step up from the Russell House cafeteria (I know personally because I worked in the kitchen and helped serve that mystery stuff). It was the place where I would eat those things my mother thought I should be eating. Things like vegetables.
A little later, I went to work for WIS-TV News, right across the street. For convenience sake, I ate at the S & S almost nightly. It was there one evening after the "Seven O'Clock Report," as I munched my mashed potatoes, that a woman came up to my table and asked if I was the Bill Starr who did the nightly news.
"Yes," I modestly answered, swelling with pride over the community recognition. Finally, I was getting something from my television job (so little money was involved it was scarcely worth mentioning): celebrity.
Alas, it turned out she just wanted to complain about something, but hey, at least it was fame.
When I was married, neither my wife nor I could cook, so there were frequent trips to the familiar S & S not too far from our apartment home.
When we had kids, they went with us. They loved it because of the choices, and they always over-stuffed their plates with everything that wasn't green. We had a friendly waitress who used to give them occasional free desserts (oops, I hope she never got in trouble for that).
In the later stages of my life, I didn't get back to the cafeteria quite as often, but because of its downtown location, my wife and I visited on those nights we had a show at The Township or the Koger Center. You could count on decent, fresh food served quickly so you could get to the show on time.
When I ate there a couple of nights ago by myself, I thought over the hours spent in the cafeteria, which seem to represent a surprisingly large chunk out of my life.
It was never just the food, you know? I can scarcely remember the times - except in recent years - when I walked in for a meal and didn't run into someone I knew. Back in the '60s and '70s, it was often Strom Thurmond. I saw him there almost once a week. He never figured out my name, but he was pleasant enough.
And there was an older woman. I can't recall her name. And she wasn't so much older as old. She had a cane and walked very slowly. But she used to stop at our table and always talk to the kids. She loved kids. That was the reason she came to the S & S nightly, I believe.
She walked with a grim determination. But when she talked to youngsters, her eyes sparkled, and a sense of humor revealed itself. I think she got younger.
I guess she' s gone now. Like the S & S . We all have to move along sometime. But I miss her. And I'll miss the S & S .