I got out of a perfectly warm bed to write this.
The impending doom of Player's restaurant in Austin has been making the news for the past few days. Many have lamented the demise of this place, and yet I am sure it comes as no surprise to almost everyone. Let me explain with an analogy based on my own life experience.
Sometime in your youth you take one of those family trips to grandma's house. Grandpa has been dead for seven years. A few days into the trip you inevitably find yourself sitting in the kitchen alone with grandma in the late afternoon or evening. Really, you're sitting and grandma is purposefully doing something, fiddling with things, as she always does. The kitchen floor is covered with a thin, cheap carpet that seems unsuited for a food preparation area--yet that carpet is spotless--and the table has a felt backed vinyl tablecloth whose slight tackiness is endearing only in its departure from your own kitchen table at home. Without regard for spoiling your dinner, grandma offers you sorbet ice cream, which you accept even though you don't know what sorbet is and she pronounces it "sherbert" (this is rural Iowa in 1981).
As you watch her labor with scooping the the rock-hard sorbet you notice the signs of age--thin gray hair, characteristic wings of flesh hanging from her arms, threadbare sack dress--and with some extrapolation from your seven year old brain you realize for the first time you are experiencing nostalgia--except you don't know that word, so the feeling and idea exist in frustrating disassociation with language.
Quickly you glance about and notice all the things--the carpet on the floor, the tacky table cloth, grandma's purposeful, incessant fiddling, her indifference to spoiling your dinner (i.e. spoiling *you*)--a certain preponderance of function over form is now glaring and before you know it you've rounded the corner and are staring mortality in the face. The sudden awareness of life and death in one moment's observation is profound and stunning and unforgettable--yet you do or say nothing to declare this revelation because you are too caught up in experiencing what you now realize is an irreplaceable moment, and these moments are now a precious commodity. Despite this early awareness of nostalgia and mortality, you are frustrated later in life by your occasional lack of recognition of these moments, or the recognition of moments of false nostalgia pandered by our consumer culture.
Fast forward to Austin in September, 1992.
School has started and your first Sunday night on campus has the dorm cafeterias closed, putting you out on the streets with your roommate Greg and Bill, a new friend from down the hall on the 12th floor of Jester West. Greg is a piano prodigy but Bill, a musclebound football player from Stephenville, seems out of place on the fine arts floor of Jester-- whatever. Just a month ago you had never seen or known these two guys and now you are palling around constantly, only slightly aware of the fragility of these friendships and the ease with which people will come and go from your life in the next few years.
Your choices for Sunday night dinner are narrowed down to GM Steakhouse and Player's. Gazing at GM Steakhouse across Guadalupe, with its filthy windows and close proximity to the 24-hour peep show, you sense the discomfort that, later in life, turns into an instinct for sniffing out interesting opportunities for remarkably good food from remarkably filthy restaurants. Too inexperienced and too proud to openly admit our fears, we silently acknowledge that we are not yet brave enough to venture into GM and find ourselves pulling open the door to Player's.
That first experience 20 years ago at Player's was just like my most recent visit some months ago. A warm summer night brought me and my wife (also a resident of 12th floor Jester West in 1992) into Player's for a late Saturday night snack.
The first time I saw their comically huge goblets, used for serving up massive shakes or other beverages, I knew immediately I was experiencing nostalgia, and was happy to be old enough to recognize it and relish in it.
I won't say nobody goes to Player's for the food--I'm sure their kitchen has loyal fans--but I have to believe everyone sees the nostalgia in Player's from the edge of the parking lot to the woodsy, tacky, urethane coated dining room furniture. The cashiers say it all in their faces--they know Player's is on borrowed time, that Player's is mortal. Everything is geared toward the functional, marching away from the vanity of form.
They're not gone yet, but this chance for nostalgia will no doubt soon disappear. Make a pilgrimage.kourt.dehaas.com writings