TALES OF THE OL’ SOUTH
By Ken Shimamoto
It seems like a long time ago now, but just a few years ago, when I was out in the bars five or six nights a week doing research, I’d often wind up the night at the Ol’ South Pancake House, that Fort Worth institution at 1509 S. University, just south of I-30. After closing time, the corned beef hash and eggs, that humongous biscuit, and lots of black coffee were just the thing to take the edge off my night before I attempted to drive home to Benbrook.
I first got my coat pulled to the Ol’ South by a friend of my middle daughter’s while I was between jobs a few years ago. He wanted to take me out to lunch, but it had to be at the Ol’ South. I’m not certain, but he might have actually eaten all of his meals there. The back dining room was the only restaurant I knew of in town (I hadn’t yet discovered Pop’s Safari Room at the time) where you could light up a cigar at the table – which we often did -- and no one would even bat an eyelid. The day the health Nazis take over and you can no longer puff a ‘gar at the Ol’ South will be a sad one, in my world, at least. Plus, the waitresses there call you “Hon” have dollar bills pinned to their aprons on their birthdays.
One of my favorite Ol’ South stories has to do with the time I was sharing a booth with a couple of journo friends there, a black guy and an Italian guy. Some drunk kid got up and made his way to our table, his hand going in his pocket as he came. When it came out with a handful of change rather than a gun, I was relieved. “I just wanted to congratulate you,” he said, “for being the most diverse table at the Ol’ South.” The black guy didn’t even blink. “Gimme a quarter,” he said. The kid seemed taken aback, but he obliged. I’ve always wondered why I’m not quicker to seize the advantage in such situations.
The last time I was there, I’d just started dating my wife, and we wound up there after first trying the now-demolished Denny’s next door. We decided on the Ol’ South after we found a drunk guy passed out in one of the booths in the smoking section at Denny’s – not thinking that people who are asleep don’t usually make much noise, or do anything untoward. We made our way next door and were seated behind a guy with a map of New Jersey tattooed on his neck and two girls in Daisy Dukes, one of them crying. Because of where I was seated, I didn’t get to see when Mr. Garden State Neck and the non-crying Daisy Duke girl got up and were doing the dirty boogie up ‘gainst the grab-a-plastic-toy-with-the-big-claw vending machine behind me. But I got to hear all about it later.
I haven’t been back to the Ol’ South since then, but every time one of my bands plays a gig, two of the band boys always make plans to head that way upon receipt of their (always miniscule) payout. Perhaps one of these times I’ll have to accompany them. Or maybe not.