The phone call came two or three weeks ago.
It was the U.S. Secret Service.
Doug Bradshaw answered the phone.
“Bea’s Restaurant,” he said. “Good afternoon.”
In 1950, Bradshaw’s grandparents opened the Dodds Avenue restaurant that’s become so beloved that, like Luther, it goes by only one name: Bea’s. People eat there, for decades. A few summers ago, one couple flew in from Colorado … just for lunch.
It’s iconic. It’s homegrown. Folks sop it up.
It’s the perfect place for a visiting president to eat.
Cue the Secret Service phone call.
“They said the president was coming here on a Tuesday,” Bradshaw said, “and wanted to know… if the president could come eat lunch.”
What a perfect idea.
“I would have done it,” said Bradshaw.
“We are closed Monday and Tuesday,” he said.
And that’s just what he told the Secret Service. Closed Tuesdays, every Tuesday, since 1964.
Then, as quickly as it began, the phone call ended. The Secret Service thanked him.
And hung up.
“If it had been Wednesday, we would have loved for him to come,” Bradshaw said.
End of story.
“This thing has gotten blown out of the water,” Bradshaw said.
The phone call ended, but like heartburn, trouble followed. Word got out. People started chewing on assumptions and rumors, and with a little help from the Lazy Susan of Internet gossip and Facebook, the story, told across Chattanooga, had suddenly turned into this:
Bea’s wouldn’t serve lunch to the president.
“That’s ridiculous,” Bradshaw said.
In these awful days of social division, where we assume and predict the worst about one another, Bradshaw found himself in a hot mess of accusations: racist, political and more.
“Vulgar,” Bradshaw described it.
Much of it was generated by Facebook and the Internet, something his grandparents and their telephone-on-the-wall-in-the-parlor generation could never have imagined (Bea’s had been in business 34 years before FB founder Mark Zuckerberg was even born).
“It’s not political and it’s not racial,” Bradshaw said. “It wasn’t a refusal.”
The Secret Service just never asked if Bea’s would open on Tuesday; like some jittery preteen, the agent hung up before Bradshaw could even suggest it.
“What greater honor could we have than the president?” Bradshaw said.
It wasn’t the first time the Secret Service had called. In 2007, they wanted to know if then-President George Bush could eat lunch. It was a Wednesday.
But, this time, they wanted Bea’s to close down just for the president.
Bradshaw, grandly, told them no.
“I can’t turn away the people who have kept me in business for 63 years,” he said.
(It is pure America. Everyday people given priority over the White House. God bless you, democracy).
Wednesday afternoon, he stood among lunch tables of customers, who were breaking bread, opening doors for one another, sipping Coca-Colas.
Social media has its place, but it can never replicate the please-pass-the-fellowship that Bea’s, like a tablecloth, sets the stage for.
Maybe that’s what this is all about. For all the problems we have, some solutions are right before us.
Elbows on the table, swapping stories, talking and listening to one another, face-to-face.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...