At The Counter

September 11th, 2014

Memphasis by Dan Conaway, Author’s Note, September 11, 2014:

When you grab a seat at the counter or the bar, things shift a bit. You’re closer to the action than those in the room behind you. You can see and hear what’s being made and what’s being missed, and you share that with those down that line of stools.

Counters and bars are reflective places.

As published in The Daily News, September 12, 2014, and in The Memphis News, September 13-19, 2014



The future was in my hands.

My parents had set me free and I sat there all by myself for the very first time, my own stool at the counter, my own menu in front of me and a cool new show on the TV above. It was 1957. I was eight. The show was Perry Mason. And I was in control.

That seminal moment was at the College Inn, a little neighborhood meat-and-three just down the street from my house on Highland. Okay, I had a budget limit of a dollar, I couldn’t order all desserts, and my parents were about 20 feet away. But it was the first time I was allowed to order for myself and sit by myself. And that and Perry Mason were very cool.

It was a test. If I passed, Mom and Dad were going to start letting me go the Toddle House – virtually next door to our house – on my own before the babysitter got there on evenings they went out. The aforementioned dollar at the Toddle House would buy a combination salad with 1,000 island, a hamburger steak, hash browns, two toasted hamburger buns, a slice of icebox pie and a Coke.

I was sitting at that same College Inn counter today, now breakfast-exemplar Brother Juniper’s, relating the story to a smiling server feigning interest when a voice a couple of stools down said, “Mr. Conaway?”

His name was John, a friend of my son. They met through a young men’s service organization called The Phoenix, started almost 60 years ago by Memphians home from WWII and Korea who wanted to do something to help inner city kids. They started the Boys Clubs here in a church basement, and they’re still here, a second and even third generation of Phoenicians raising money and support for the thousands of kids now served by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis.

One of those guys, my first boss, got me in The Phoenix. I later served as president. My son served as president.

John and I were catching up when I discovered he’d bought the house of a friend of mine, across the street from my wife’s college roommate, just down the block from where we raised our kids, around the corner from the cornerstones of our life. 

It’s John’s turn and his generation’s at the counter, so much common ground shared and so much yet to be built on that foundation, so much new ground to be covered with uncommon ideas.

Counters play pivotal roles in our history – who sat at them and when, who was served and who wasn’t, what was discovered and changed. While I have absolutely no regret that I can’t go back, I do regret that I won’t be around to see who’ll be sitting here 50 years from now.

I’d like to see that, because I think it might just be all right after all.

I’m a Memphian, and it’s time to place a new order.


Join me, Willy Bearden and Corey Mesler for Making Memphis, a Mid-South Book Festival panel discussion, Thursday, September 25, 6 p.m. at the Crosstown Arts Story Booth, 438 N. Cleveland. You might hear a good story or two, at worst, you’ll get a drink.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you.

The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.



Meg Patton: What a simple, poignant picture you paint! Thanks, Dan!!

bob mednikow: There was a book written by a Jewish humorist: Harry Golden, "Only in America" about solving the integration problem then taking place in America in the Sixties.....His article advised restaurants and bars to remove the tops of all of the stools, so that people would have to stand next to each other. Standing next to a black was not offensive, but sitting next to a black in a restaurant was another story. Bottom line is that he writes like you do, and you would probably enjoy reading some of his articles and books. He died in 1981. Good wishes...Bob

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