Back in the day, one local restaurant served as a meeting place for the varied people who lived and worked in our town. "Deities" was a small eatery in a strip center, run by Georgia & Paul, who felt like everyone's favorite aunt and uncle. This was the 1990s and early 2000s, when real estate values were rising and each person in our white, blue, and pink collar hamlet seemed to be driving identical SUVs and installing similar swimming pools.
Deities attracted laughing ladies who lunched before serious shopping and winded seniors who strenuously mall walked before having a large bowl of soup (with extra crackers). The Cantor from our temple ate there with his family; a few accountants in the congregation did also. The doctor who stopped my hemorrhaging after a car accident dined at Deities, as did my kids' elementary school teachers. Cops, EMTs, sales clerks, nurses and carpenters broke pita bread at adjacent tables, and Georgia was the perfect hostess as she chatted with one and all. Table hopping was not just Georgia's realm; kids who grew up alongside mine would pop into our booth to visit, as would neighbors and a friend I'd known since the Nixon administration.
Groups of diners coming or going at Deities mingled with the crowd waiting for family sized bags of take-out food; checks were paid and generous tips left for servers who shared their back-stories in exchange for yours. The average bill for my family of four was about $40, and we dined there at least three times a week. Birthday parties at Deities were so much fun, as was celebrating the good life with your neighbors, and lunching with a business associate who preferred "someplace casual."
Heady with their success, Georgia & Paul sold Deities before the boom went bust and headed to Las Vegas; the restaurants that followed never captured the conviviality craved by our community. The space is now empty, a victim of the economic times that have befallen our community, our region, our nation and our world. The days when the hectic pace of two income producing businesses allowed my husband and me to drop $100 or more weekly on dining out evaporated, many local stores failed, membership dropped at the synagogue, and those home equity lines of credit not maxxed out have been retracted. Even the school teachers brown bag it now.
I am wistful not because I miss Georgia's vegetarian split pea soup (though I truly do), but because I'm expecting that for many of my generation, such gleeful times in places like Deities may never occur again. I am quite aware of our wasteful spending, ridiculous reliance on a roof and four walls masquerading as nest eggs, misguided sense of entitlement, and heartbreaking ignorance of the penalty we would collectively pay for cheering in the back court as traders, speculators, and deregulators made fast breaks with our basketballs. Yes, despite it all, I am still nostalgic for the times spent in our local Greek restaurant. Times filled with abundant laughter, a strong sense of community, and comfort in the communal belief that as we convened in our booths and munched on chickpeas and pita, we were all sitting squarely in the middle class.