Douglas Southall Freeman & Lost TIME

BSB stickerMy friend Michael Courtney at Lexington’s Black Swan Books has been touting his new promotional stickers, and recognizing it’s a rare day indeed when you can get something free from Michael, I figured I had to acquire a couple.

You also never know what you’ll find setting on Michael’s counter. There amidst the old volumes and miscellaneous papers was an old TIME magazine from October 18, 1948. The cover caught my eye,. It featured revered Southern historian Douglas Southall Freeman. Freeman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his multi-volume biographies of George Washington and Robert E. Lee (don’t miss Dr. Sean Busick’s thought’s on Freeman’s Lee). Freeman also wrote a multi-volume companion series to the Lee biography, Lee’s Lieutenants, a set of which I picked up years ago for a pittance at a library sale. It’s the rare historian who makes the cover of TIME magazine, and the rarer historian who ought to. If any historian should ever be on the cover, Freeman was the man.

Freeman Lee's LieutenantsOld magazines are paper time capsules. Not only are the articles valuable to the historian, but the advertisements often give an even clearer window into the society that would produce such a magazine. The cars, the movies, the clothes, even the shoes, speak of a far different level of taste and manners. If I could drive an Austin car, wear old American made Florsheims, dress in a Timely coat, and go to the theater to watch Jimmy Stewart in Rope, then I would be well equipped, indeed.

I tried to get Michael to sell me the magazine to no avail, but I did leave with some stickers. While he was talking I snapped some shaky pictures. Enjoy the time capsule.

Freeman cover

British Walkers ad


Hanan Shoes


Timely Clothes


Austin of England




Back to Lexington: Parkette Drive-In

Parkette signFor my entire life I have been in and out of Lexington, Kentucky. I went to college there. I worked there. During all those decades I have driven by Lexington landmark Parkette Drive In innumerable times. And I never once stopped despite the classic sign beckoning me in.

This trip, I decided, would be different. Vowing to break out of my ritualistic visit to Ramsey’s Diner (don’t get me wrong, you should go to Ramsey’s), I decided to spread my culinary wings. Parkette Drive In it was.

Parkette is a true 1950s era drive in straight out of American Graffiti (yes, I know it was set in 1962, but you get the point). It’s the kind of place after which a modern chain like Sonic is modeled. Parkette plugged along for over 50 years before finally closing, only to be purchased and reopened a decade ago.

Parkette garageThe newly revitalized Parkette has proved to be so popular a new Eat-In Garage was added. An open air building with garage doors all around and ceiling fans to keep things cool, it blends well with the traditional drive-in vibe. They’ve played on the garage theme with old signs (and replicas) covering the walls.

I arrived right at lunch time, and the Parkette was busy but without wait. I decided to go for their Big Lex Burger with onion rings. Faced with Pepsi products, I chose the strawberry shake, a drive-in staple.

Water arrived, then the milkshake, both in Pepsi cups. (A nice touch would be for Parkette to have their own cups, particularly for non-Pepsi items.) The burger basket followed after a reasonable wait.

The Big Lex is a bacon cheeseburger with barbecue sauce on Texas toast. It is a great burger, a definite step up from chain fare. The meat was juicy, the toast gave it a different spin from the standard bun. My regret was not springing for the extra bacon.

Parkette Big Lex

The onion rings were good, about what you would expect them to be. And that strawberry shake was quite tasty, although not out of the ballpark good. There is room for improvement with both, but don’t hesitate to order either one. And while I’m at it, a switch to Coke products would be nice, but unlikely to happen.

Authentic drive-ins are few and far between these days, and the ones that remain deserve our support. I’ll do my part to help keep the Parkette going when I can.

Lexington Road Trip: Lunch at Ramsey’s Diner

Ramsey's doorThe great thing about going to Lexington is that my two favorite places are just around the corner and across the street from each other. When one is famished from browsing at Black Swan Books you will find that Ramsey’s Diner is only a quick walk away.

Ramsey’s Diner opened around the same time I started at the University of Kentucky, although I didn’t eat there until a fellow editor at the student daily The Kentucky Kernel took me there for lunch during my senior year. I’ve been devoted to Ramsey’s ever since. They’ve blossomed into a local Lexington chain while maintaining their quality. I’ve eaten at most of their locations across town, but for my now rare trips to Lexington I prefer the original.

Ramsey’s menu is anchored by a meat and three menu, and I’m a particular fan of their chicken fried steak. But the vegetables are the real stars here. Ramsey’s does an excellent job of sourcing locally grown fresh vegetables. When I was there it was their annual “Corn Daze” when corn is in season and featured in all its culinary forms.

Living in an agricultural region of the South, it’s frustrating that more restaurants won’t do this. The food is far fresher, the taste better, the local economy stronger. It shows respect for the customers they serve and the community they profit from. Ramsey’s has it right.

These days I get to Ramsey’s so seldomly, maybe twice a year, I can’t resist ordering my favorite thing on the menu: the Hot Brown. The Hot Brown is a Kentucky tradition, and hard to find outside the Commonwealth. It also happens to be the world’s most perfect food, a combination of bread, ham, turkey, mornay sauce, cheese and bacon.

Hot Brown

Since corn and tomatoes were in season, I added on fried corn and fried green tomatoes. I didn’t regret the choices in the least. In fact, one can have an incredibly fine meal at Ramsey’s with their vegetable plate.

Corn Daze

And did I mention that Ramsey’s has its own attached pie shop? Well, it does, and Missy’s Pies knows what they’re doing. Again, my order is preordained. I can’t not get the key lime pie. The new waitress brought it without the whipped cream, but I sent it back for the necessary garnish.

Key Lime Pie

It’s hard for me to give Ramsey’s an entirely objective review as there is quite a bit of my old Kentucky home nostalgia tied up with it. But I don’t know anything on the menu that I would change. I never leave disappointed, and I imagine if you go you won’t, either.

Road Trip to Lexington: Black Swan Books

More Books

My old University of Kentucky dorm, Haggin Hall, was demolished this spring. Now it’s just a hole in the ground. K-Lair, the nearby grill where I bought chicken sandwiches as a freshman, is gone, too. Twenty years on, the old alma mater is a lot different than it used to be. Such was the realization last month when I found myself in Lexington, Kentucky, one of the best places in the world.

Some things are better in Lexington, though, and one of those is my favorite bookstore, Black Swan Books. Recently featured on a New York Times blog, the Lexington landmark is not only going strong, but it’s far bigger than it was when I went to college.

Black Swan front

Black Swan is on my short list of must-visits on any trip to Lexington. I can talk politics with Michael (not for the faint of heart), and invariably find more books than I can reasonably leave with. On this visit, after a welcoming hug from Michael’s wife Kim, Michael asked, “Do you owe me money?” (The answer was–and usually is–“yes,” but we shan’t dwell on that.)

I first strolled into Black Swan Books as an undergraduate, and I’ve been going back ever since. I worked there for awhile back in the ’90s, running the shop when Michael was out of town and sometimes going with Michael on big book hauls. I also put a lot of dust jacket covers on books. A lot.Michael

As usual, Michael had just bought hundreds of “new” books, which crowded the walkways in tomato boxes. (I learned from Michael years ago that tomato boxes are perfect for storing and moving books. The cardboard is sturdy, they have handles and a lid, and are just the right size for heavy books. You can usually get them free. Alas, the books that go in them are not.)

Book boxes

Black Swan is stuffed with a high quality selection of first and limited fine press editions, reading copies, and leather bound books. Don’t miss the rare book room, where the envy inducing books are locked behind glass. Not to worry, Michael would be glad to sell some to you.

Berry LarkspurAnd if you like Wendell Berry, Michael stocks one of the best selections of his books in the country, particularly of signed and limited editions. Since Wendell Berry writes faster than I can read, there’s often a volume available that had slipped through the cracks. This trip was no different as I found a Larkspur Press edition I somehow missed. As usual, I didn’t leave Black Swan empty handed.

If you find yourself in Lexington don’t miss a visit to Black Swan Books. It’s pretty much guaranteed to have something you’ll want.

Bookshelf 1



Leather Books

Berry photo 

Berry signing

Rare Book Room