In the middle of Addison’s restaurant row, in the middle of valet land and next door to Sam’s Club, sits a square patch of land that belongs, really, at the water’s edge. It belongs beside a lake, windblown, whitecapped, and maybe man-made, with rocks and small stretches of sand forming a “beach.” It’s Duke’s Original Roadhouse.
On a recent Saturday at Duke’s, Harleys pulled up in twos and threes, and fiftysomething men in flip-flops walked in with freshly washed hair. The guy across from us wore a shirt that named a town in Alabama and described it as “a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.” Three youngish women wandered up in bikini tops and cutoff shorts, trim and tan and stretchmarked, their hair piled on their heads. It was the first Saturday in months in the 80s and low 90s, and no one could bear to be inside. We all sat on the patio, ordering drinks. The air was tinged with cigarette smoke and the conversation with afternoon intimacies. “I asked my mom why she left,” a woman, perhaps 45, said to a friend. “My sister didn’t want to know. When I was 17, I asked.”
Bright red bandanas were folded neatly as pocket squares and tied low on the forehead. The two women wearing them had teased blond hair beneath, and one wore a thick belt studded with turquoise and rhinestones. They were sturdy, solidly present women, and I had no idea how old they were. Bodybuilders were out in force, too, thick square men with impossible necks who looked like they would struggle to bend low enough to gather a sleeping child from a floor. One strongman, though—thickly muscled yet lithe, wearing stylishly coordinated belt and shoes—looked like a cross between gym rat and dancer. How young and lovely he was in his movements, how in contrast he stood to the crisply creased cowboy with a black hat who wore his big wallet on a chain the way punks do. The cowboy stood at the bar, seemed to talk to no one, while so many others flitted from group to group, stopping to say hello, like it was a church social.
Wednesday nights are for Big Balls, a beer pong game that uses inflatable rubber playground balls instead of ping-pongs and trash cans instead of plastic cups. The season ended in August, and now it’s time for Turkey Bowl with frozen turkeys.
Our food was salty but not overbearingly so. Chips and queso with taco meat and pot roast with gravy. Duke’s is, my husband said, a salty place, and I thought about all the connotations, implications, and power of salt: salt of the earth, saltwater bodies, seasoning, seasoned, spice, desiccation. Isak Dinesen: “The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea.” My drink was uncomplicated but astonishingly good. A Jack and Coke in perfect balance. My second drink was strong, the taste of booze too powerful. I had a sip or two and left it.
Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, Shiner, Michelob Ultra, Samuel Adams, Shiner Oktoberfest, locally brewed Third Shift, and a Samuel Adams seasonal pour from the taps. My husband opted for the Samuel Adams seasonal, which took a minute longer for the waitress to find, available on only one keg at one of the bars. There are many bars, including the ones inside that we wandered through, a handful of men (young dudes) wearing UT garb from hat to short. The TVs are plentiful, and sports abound. Car ads flashed bright and brilliant.
I read recently that expensive sports car ads show a car alone, a single driver, because the wealthy value individuation. Pickup trucks are shown in full parking lots and driving to big suppers full of people: togetherness. A black C350 Mercedes followed some Harleys out of Duke’s parking lot, and when a specially painted classic Mustang pulled out of the spot right below our patio seats, in came a shiny, huge Ford pickup with small yellow lights across the cab’s exterior and the words “Heavy Duty” in the grille. We had a clear view of Sam’s Club next door, its ocean of cars, and all the people drifting in and out of Duke’s. We left before sunset, before the shot girls arrived.
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