Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Red Bud

It is a Subway Restaurant now but once it was the Redbud, and I do not remember if it was the Redbud Cafe or restaurant. It is one of those things I am photographing that I can not, because it no longer exists. In a sense, I am photographing the ghost of the Redbud, but it is as close as I can achieve now. Mrs. Irene Looney was a widow and had an adopted son, Joe, and Looney Trucking Company. Their trucks were for oilfield supply and they were often parked on a vacant lot across from the Chevrolet garage. Perhaps Mrs. Looney did not want to stay in the trucking business because she felt it better for a woman to be in, well, the restaurant business. She sold Looney and built an original restaurant just west of the Clear Creek bridge on highway 60 towards Ponca City. It was the first restuarant that I recall being built from the ground up as a restaurant and it was pretty popular for some time. It was far from the high school, which was on north Lynn Avenue, the opposite end of Pawhuska, but one day, Ernie, some other boys and I mounted our Cushman Eagle motor scooters and raced to the Redbud for lunch, probably not the smartest idea any of us ever had, but we went and had a nice, leisurely lunch. It turned out that one thing in the new restaurant that did not work was the wall clock and our leisurely lunch had gone over. We made a desperate dash to the motor scooters and a more desperate dash across Pawhuska, through downtown, up Lynn Avenue and arrived in class about thirty-five minutes late, for which we were ridiculed, but not punished. I think our teacher was Jim Minor and the year must have been 1959. All of us were still be riding scooters together and once we turned sixteen, mostly during 1960, that changed, so that suggests 1959.

The restaurant was painted a reddish hue outside, and the front door did not have the wind shielding entrance that the Subway does. As you walked inside, there were booths going around the walls and tables in the middle. The cashier and counter were deep inside, where Mrs. Looney and sometimes Joe cheerily took our money. Liquor was not served although beer might have been, but I was about six years away from being able to buy a beer legally, so it didn't matter. For Pawhuska at the time, it was a pretty good restaurant, certainly in competition with the Manhattan Cafe downtown. Joe Looney and I were close friends at one time but by the time the restuarant opened, we had become more acquaintances than friends. That happens to us as we grow, age and change, and it's usually not bitter, just a process. Mrs. Looney bought Joe a 1959 red and white Ford hard top convertible, the car we called a "flip-top" as it had a true hard top that was lowered into the body of the car as opposed to a folding canvas top, which was the norm for convertibles. Joe had an accident a few years later during a liquor run from Ponca City and the car did a flip-top as it turned over and was destroyed. They boys in the car were lucky and had only minor injuries, but the car was gone.

My favorite meal at the Redbud was friend chicken with a chicken fried steak smothered in gravy next in line. There were few diet drinks then, so we drank Cocoa Cola, Pepsi Cola, 7-Up, and Dr. Pepper with the sugar that was in them. There was a telephone in the restuarant but no one had mobile telephones so a meal was fairly enjoyable, with people seated at the table actually talking to each other. Dining at the Redbud was comparable to dining at the Manhattan, downtown allthough the Manhattan still seemed a little more special, perhaps for the catttleman's flavor that permeated the Manhattan.

For a time, the Redbud had become a Lot-a-burger, from the franchise in Bartlesville, and now it's a Subway, but in those first days, it was the Redbud and an unmistakable dining place in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. We lost Joe Looney in the latter 1980's. Like the Redbud we knew, he is missed.

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