My wife and I are currently on a road trip. We often travel to the south to visit our daughter and our grandchildren. From time to time we try to find new routes to travel so that we may see and experience new territory. We try always, however, to stop in South Beloit, Illinois. Our primary reasons are, number one, it is about as far as we like to drive in one day and the second reason is a little cafe known as Mary’s Place. We accidentally found this gem several years ago on just such a trip south.
Mary’s is a small town cafe where everybody knows everybody. The food is wonderful and the prices are very reasonable. From our first experience, we enjoyed the place. It seems the same people are always there. The customers get up and help the waitresses. They help bus the tables and refill coffee cups. The conversation is never ending. Whenever any person comes in, it seems everybody greets them. Large gatherings occur as tables are pulled together. You overhear discussions about politics, national issues, local issues, and of course gossip about whomever might not be there. You hear about someone who is sick. You learn about their children and all they are facing. In other words, you hear Americana.
There are probably many such cafes and restaurants like Mary’s across this country, but I think they are a dying breed. The customers for such cafes seem to be older. People come for more than just the food. They come for the visits. They come to learn the latest gossip. They come because such cafes are friendly places where everybody feels at home. They also come to share their lives with their friends and neighbors. I know we have always felt welcome.
This column is not a commercial for Mary’s Place or for any other restaurant however. No, this is about what appears to be a disappearing part of American life.
Today’s young people seem to go to coffee shops and they bring their computers with them. They have ear phones in their ears. Their focus is never off their computer screens. They never talk with anybody else. All communication is electronic. They have thousands of on line “friends” whom they have never met. Inter-personal relationships are gone. All they know about these “friends” is what that individual has told them from the privacy of their own space.
Now I don’t want to be critical of this new social interchange, but I wonder if there isn’t something missing from such an arrangement. Is this new way the best way? Are these relationships as satisfying as face to face contact? Can true friendships be forged this way? As these young people age and mature will they not miss out on the companionship that our older generation has experienced? To me it seems a little sad. I wonder if, in the future, will a friend cry when a friend dies? I wonder.
In the meantime, we will continue to visit Mary’s Place whenever we are in South Beloit and we will continue to try to find other such cafes and restaurants across this great country in our travels. We will rejoice in the camaraderie we witness. We will continue to look for Americana and wonder if it will all change. I believe it would be sad if it disappears.
Ron Scarbro March 16, 2011
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