We had dinner at Luby’s in Port Arthur this evening. Luby’s has been a Texas institution since its founding in 1947 in San Antonio. Today, the Houston-based company has 103 cafeteria-style diners scattered across Texas, including one in Arkansas and two in Oklahoma.
Beyond Texas, Luby’s is largely unknown or unremembered. Luby’s achieved world-wide exposure in 1991 when George Hennard walked into a Luby’s in Killeen, Texas, and gunned down 24 people. The episode is referred to as Luby’s massacre in some sources. However, Luby’s rebounded and grew, although the site of the murders in Killeen was closed permanently in 2000.
Today’s menu of Luby’s family-oriented chain is classic Texas-Southern. After a diner selects a tray and eating utensils at the beginning of the line, he or she has a wide choice of salads, vegetables, entrees as varied as Cuban-style Tilapia, and desserts. The Tilapia surprised me because it’s a game fish native to Africa that is often regarded as an invasive species in locations such as Hawaii, where it gained a foothold in the lakes and streams on Oahu, largely pushing aside Bass and pan fish. I’ve eaten Tilapia but it wasn’t to my taste. However, to each his own.
At any rate, I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy meal, so I selected a vegetable platter of spicy pinto beans, corn, and fried okra. Along with my Spartan selection, I opted for a slice of custard pie and a glass of milk. If that doesn’t holler Texas Cajun, I don’t know what does.
The Port Arthur Luby’s is a relatively new diner but it has already become a gathering spot for local notables. My dinner companion seemed to know them all. The moment we sat down, he bobbed up about five times in quick succession to greet someone. Of course, I had to stand also for introductions, and at one point I wondered if the moon would rise and set before we completed our meal.
But then the Mayor of Port Arthur, Deloris “Bobby” Prince, stopped by our table and chatted for a few minutes. She had recently won a bruising re-election battle and was in good spirits. She has a sterling reputation for honesty and is noted for her efforts on behalf of Port Arthur’s poor and disadvantaged.
The most common adjectives I heard applied to her were “honest” and “kind.” I immediately thought that American politics could profit from a healthy dose of honesty and kindness among its Lying Class. It’s difficult to put aside thoughts of lying scoundrels, even in a nice, pleasant atmosphere.
After we finished our meal, my dinner companion piled me into a Toyota Tacoma and gave me a grand tour of the latest mall. The town of Port Arthur is growing by leaps and bounds, fueled by the refineries churning out their petroleum-based products twenty-four seven. An influx of workers and oil industry consultants has resulted in the new construction of malls, standalone stores, motels, and restaurants. Yet, it seems most people head for Wal-Mart as a first stop.
Although the central part of Port Arthur is a severely decaying slum, life in other parts of the city is about like life in Little Rock, Sacramento, Portland, and Honolulu. The moon rises and sets over all of them. Folks work, shop, eat, and play. Only the wardrobes and accents differ.