I Dream of Bishop's
Another birthday, another year. Not being particularly fond of this “growing older” thing, I find myself acting nostalgic every fall. I don’t know why, but birthdays cause me to long for a time when birthdays were actually fun. I miss the days when birthdays were a personal holiday. A day filled with cake and ice cream, lots of friends, sleepovers, scary movies, and staying up all night due to the consumption of obscene amounts of soda. I’d even settle for going back to college birthdays, which are more or less the same as grade school birthdays except the soda is replaced by obscene amounts of alcohol. Unfortunately, these golden years of birthdays are a thing of the past.
“Excuse me, sir, the line has moved.”
I snap out of my daydream and shuffle three steps forward. “I am a victim of nostalgia,” I think, trying to justify why I am currently waiting in a line slowly snaking its way through an obstacle course of guardrails and black vinyl ropes. My ultimate destination: the Bishop’s lunch counter. Yes, you read that correctly, I am at Bishop’s. Bishop’s, the legendary smorgasbord frequented by Dubuque’s large senior citizen brigade. No offense to Bishop regulars, but it’s just not my flavor. Something about buffets and cafeterias frightens me. Perhaps I suffer cafeteria shell shock dating back to my dorm food dining experience? Nonetheless I am here, at the mercy of nostalgia.
Lunch at Bishop’s was a recurring highlight of my childhood. Like any normal kid, Bishop’s was nothing short of a little slice of heaven tucked into a shopping mall. It was a place of little formality. There were no menus, no waiters to take orders and no limit on the amount of soft-serve ice cream sundaes I could stuff myself with. Most importantly, Bishop’s was a magical fantasyland of endless choices. I would pick up my orange, rectangular tray at one end of the mile-long gastronomical runway and slowly slide it towards the cashier waiting somewhere across the room. Along my journey I was greeted by chefs wearing comical hats, politely asking me “what would you like, dear?” It was a daunting challenge for a kid. For once, I was in charge--my first encounter with responsibility. It was up to me to make a choice from a multitude of choices. Chicken, beef or ham? Corn, potatoes or carrots? Milk, water or soda? Jell-O, pudding or fruit salad? The world, at least over lunch, was my oyster.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that as you grow older your choices diminish. Although childhood is a Choose Your Own Adventure book, age tends to take away the available adventures. Perhaps the choices don’t really disappear. More likely they are forced into retreat by an always-expanding battalion of excuses. Commitments, insecurities, reality, fear, happiness, connections and lack of imagination slowly predetermine the answer to this multiple-choice test of life.
So I have triumphantly returned to Bishop’s because I want choices, and lots of them. I pick up my cream-colored tray and slowly slide it along the bronze railed, self-propelled conveyor belt. I stop every few feet and make an important choice. With childish pride I choose, “Chicken, please,” and later, “Milk, thank you.” Finally, my legs weak and my head spinning, I reach the final pit stop: Desserts. Before me, safely concealed behind a protective Plexiglas shield, sit rows upon rows of delectable pies. Banana cream, pumpkin, cherry, chocolate pudding, and French silk. I become giddy with excitement as I salivate at the prospects. I am again an eight-year-old kid. “Nicky, you have to pick one,” my grandmother says from my right. “How about the apple? You like apple,” my mother chimes in on the left. But I barely hear them, as my mind is focused on the single most important choice of my life. I lick my lips with excited anticipation as I look over the cream-covered and sugarcoated world spread out before me.