This afternoon I sat in the Manor Road Dairy Queen in Austin, Texas for 3 hours, talking with my wife and two of our very good friends, eating buy one get one for 99 cents Blizzards.
At some point during our conversation I took this picture, at another point I was thinking about how much better this Dairy Queen was than a coffee shop or a fancy restaurant as a place to chat, and after I told that thought to the table, Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen came up.
I’d never heard of it. Here’s a little bit from the beginning:
Dairy Queens, simple drive-up eateries, taverns without alcohol, began to appear in the arid little towns of west Texas [in the late sixties]. The aridity of the small west Texas towns was not all a matter of unforgiving skies, baking heat, and rainlessness, either; the drought in those towns was social, as well as climatic. The extent to which it was moral is a question we can table for the moment. What I remember clearly is that before the Dairy Queens appeared the people of the small towns had no place to meet and talk; and so they didn’t meet or talk, which meant that much local lore or incident remained private and ceased to be exchanged, debated, and stored…
Certainly if there were places in west Texas where stories might sometimes be told, those places would be the local Dairy Queens: clean, well-lighted places open commonly from 6 A.M. until ten at night. These Dairy Queens combined the functions of tavern, café, and general store; they were simple local roadhouses where both rambling men and stay-at-homes could meet. To them would come men of all crafts and women of all dispositions. The oilmen would be there at six in the morning; the courthouse crowd would show up about ten; cowboys would stop for lunch or a midafternoon respite; roughnecks would jump out of their trucks or pickups to snatch a cheeseburger as their schedules allowed; and the women of the villages might appear at any time, often merely to sit and mingle for a few minutes; they might smoke, sip, touch themselves up, have a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea, sample the gossip of the moment, and leave. Regular attendance was necessary if one hoped to hear the freshest gossip, which soon went stale. Most local scandals were flogged to death within a day or two; only the steamiest goings-on could hold the community’s attention for as long as a week.
And always, there were diners who were just passing through, few of whom aspired to stay in Archer City. They stopped at the Dairy Queen as they would at a gas station, to pee and take in fuel, mindful, gloomily, that it was still a good hundred miles even to Abilene, itself no isle of grace. Few of these nomads, if they had stories to tell, bothered to tell them to the locals — and if they had wanted to tell a story or two, it is doubtful that anyone would have listened. People on their way to Abilene might as well be on their way to hell — why talk to them? Folks in Archer City knew the way to hell well enough; they need seek no guidance from traveling men.
All day the little groups in the Dairy Queen formed and re-formed, like drifting clouds.