There are things in this world that might seem routine, but upon closer inspection you’ll find them to be imbued with just a hint of magic.
You might think there’s nothing particularly special about walking into an old greasy spoon and having a cheeseburger, that it’s just another lunch on another day.
But in the case of the Dixie Drive-In, that unsinkable Greenwood institution that has been slinging burgers, hot dogs and more for 58 years, you’d be wrong. You don’t just show up and sit down and pretend like it’s any other meal. This is the Dixie. There’s an art to going to the Dixie. Now, the way I do it might not be the way you do it, but there’s nevertheless something special in the ritual.
The first thing is finding a decent parking spot, which can be a challenge at lunchtime during the workweek. Occasionally, very occasionally, the fates will align and a spot will open up right near the door, under the shade of that tree by the corner of the restaurant. Those scant shady spaces are particularly coveted during the blast furnace summers in Greenwood, when the temperature falls somewhere between “Are you kidding me?” and “nuclear.”
Then it’s time to find a seat. If you are from the Lakelands, the restaurant’s layout is probably seared into your brain: Two sets of stool-lined, U-shaped counters, with just enough space in between them for people to shimmy up to the cash register when it’s time to settle the bill.
Everyone probably has a preference in terms of seat selection, but here’s my take: I never want to sit with my back to the door. I want to see who’s coming in. I also don’t want to sit on the stools farthest from the door, over by the bathrooms. That’s too far from the action (and the gossiping). So, to me, the best seats are at the end of the first counter, on the corner, facing the door. That’s the best spot for watching and listening.
Next comes one of the unique parts of the whole experience: ordering. It’s unique because none of the customers are reading a menu and none of the waitresses are writing anything down. Think about it, when’s the last time you saw someone perusing the menu at the Dixie? Everyone just orders from their heart, or somewhere in the deep memory. Meanwhile, waitresses go down the line taking everyone’s order, including special requests, with nary a notepad in sight. And yet the order never comes out wrong, at least in my experience.
For me, it’s always the same. Same as it was when I worked full time at the Index-Journal and went to the Dixie once a week, same as it is when I’m blessed to occasionally visit now: Dixie Cheese, no tomatoes, half-and-half (half fries, half onion rings), with an iced tea. On special occasions I’ll sub in a cherry Coke, a favorite of my daughter’s.
A few scant minutes later, the experience reaches its crescendo: The food arrives on a Styrofoam plate. What a hot, simple, greasy, perfect meal. When they set that Dixie Cheese in front of me, I have to take a moment to size it up, kind of like how Indiana Jones looks at the golden idol at the beginning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” You can’t just grab it and tear into it; you have to plan your attack. Part of the preparation includes fixing your ketchup cup for french fry dipping. For me, it’s a 50/50 mix of ketchup and Texas Pete.
I’m not describing an experience that is alien to many of you. If you’re from Greenwood, you’ve likely gone through this ritual a time or two at the venerable drive-in. Everyone has a Dixie story.
Well, now I’m hoping you’ll have one more.
As I’m certain you probably read in the Index last week, longtime Dixie employee Gary Culbertson, who has worked at the restaurant since 1970, is fighting cancer and is set to begin a serious round of treatment. On March 11, the Dixie is doing a benefit for him, with all proceeds that day going to Culbertson.
If you’ve been to the Dixie, Gary is instantly recognizable. He can often be seen working near the takeout counter, sort of quarterbacking the whole scene, waving at people as they come in, directing orders where they need to go, all with his ballcap cocked on the back of his head. He is a fixture in the Dixie.
If you’ve ever made a memory at the Dixie, if it has ever meant something special to you, make a plan to head out there on March 11. Grab a burger and a cherry Coke. In doing so, you will lend a helping hand to Gary, someone who has been a friend to many in this community. Greenwood has always taken care of its own. I don’t expect this to be any different.
Long live the Dixie Drive-in.
Chris Trainor is a contributing columnist for the Index-Journal. Contact him at ChrisTrainorSC@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter@ChrisTrainorSC. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.