I didn’t come by my rotund figure by accident. I loves me some food. I know this doesn’t make me special amongst humankind, but it’s nevertheless true. There’s an art to getting your grub on. And please understand from the outset that I don’t practice this art in a strictly gourmet setting. I like fine dining just fine. But I like Hamburger Helper every bit as much. Y’all don’t know nothing about Tuna Tetrazzini. I’ve had caviar and sashimi, and they were both terrific. Can they keep up with the Double Whopper with cheese? Barely. And you may as well know that I am a chips and dip sommelier. Pair the barbecue Lays with straight-up sour cream and thank me later. The Quincy’s restaurant in the town where I grew up made a steak sandwich that haunts me after twenty years.
Suffice it to say, I’ve been known to munch a bunch. And when I think about really throwing down on some groceries, there’s one place that stands out: the University Dining Common.
Room and board included unlimited access to the Dining Common, and fortunately it was only open at traditional meal times. Who knows what dietary havoc could have been wrought otherwise. There was a salad bar where you could make the unhealthiest salads imaginable. My go-to was tons of chopped ham, shredded cheese, and boiled eggs with a dash of iceberg lettuce. Sometimes I would sprinkle in some julienned carrots. There were soda fountains and tea. But then there was chocolate milk. Yes, I was 19 years old, so what? One fall they accidentally mixed the chocolate milk with some egg nog. I drank enough to float a pontoon boat.
There were all manner of entrees from the plumb ordinary, like spaghetti with meat sauce, to the wildly esoteric, like Welsh Rarebit. There was a special buzz around campus when word got out that the famous fried chicken fingers would be served for Sunday lunch. It was shoulder to shoulder in the serving lines until the last tender was tendered. There were a variety of sandwiches at weekday lunch: cheeseburgers, chicken patties, and even a pulled-pork barbecue deal. It was those barbecue sammiches that my friend Jamey and I contended over once. I bested him by finishing five. What a day that was.
When it comes down to it, I’m not sure if it was the Dining Common that I was so thankful for. Looking back I realize that the real gift was a metabolism that could process such indulgences. Without so much as a jumping jack or calorie count I could consume bushels with apparent impunity. But it was more than just the food. I’m thankful for the friends that I gathered with there. I’m grateful for the University that comprised the common. And I’ll never stop counting my lucky stars for the fateful lunch date at the common when I met the woman who would become my wife.