My Chuck Berry Honorific Chicken Lunch
The Florida Avenue Grille is a tiny, vest-pocket-sized landmark perched beneath the retaining walls
of the old Garfield Hospital and Cardozo High School. This zone was once part of D.C.’s northernmost boundary.
Maybe that’s the reason I drifted off, spurred by the yellowing but still powerful vibes
emanating from the faded glossy photo pantheon over the cook’s hot range.
Furthermore, I was split off from my housemates, who were dining at this noted shrine, more
to celebrate the scattered cherry blossom crop of 2017; whereas this observer was noting deeply the
date of guitarist and urban folk maestro Chuck Berry’s passing (March 19).
A glance at my friend Chuck Brown’s 1979 portrait, all dap in Jheri curl and dark slim suit, spun me off to dreams of “Buck Cherry” crooning of “you two, we two, and a cozy clan of four…”
As the crisp, flavorful roast chicken and Carolina mashed on a classic oval crockery plate was set before me on the time-worn formica counter, I sank my jaws in, and once again Berry’s sweet words reverberated in my spinning head: “You do the rounds, Of some jazzy sounds, and I’ll stir a charcoal fire; an’ she’ll roast the wieners and have some fun— As the night grows nigh-er !’
Now I was drifting in and out of today’s reality. The clattering of pots and plates and the cries of delighted diners diminished as I pictured Mr. Berry in a shimmery satin suit, in a key clip from Alan Freed’s 1958 showcase movie “Mr Rock and Roll,” where the distinguished duck-walker chuck (Charles Anderson Berry), himself, slid across the studio stage, chiming out “long distance information, give me Memphis Tennessee, I could not find the party, that would get in touch with me…”
Of course, the klieg lights just “hadda” bounce off that gleaming Guild or Gibson semi-hollow guitar with the oh-so-classy “F hole” perforations, from which the looping, leaping, quasi-Hillbilly tones oozed out into our believing brain pans. Even scruffy Keith Richards could relate to the chronic cry of “up in the mornin’ and out to school” or “gee, you’ve changed.”
Master, Maestro Chuck Berry, too much ‘monkey business?’ Not hardly. To think I rolled a big cheap wine bottle, drained, down the aisle of Loew’s embassy theatre (farther down at Florida and Connecticut avenues), in 1986– as your 60th birthday was being hailed on the wide screen by Clapton, Keith, and others. “HAIL HAIL Rock & Roll,” they called it.
Did a single sublime soul food platter launch bring on all this mammoth sense memory inundation?
Perhaps it was possible. The chicken was that tasty; none of the above were alternate facts.
Berry presides (with his dear but difficult dad at his side, one suspects) over a more peace-filled
“Berry Park:” with “No Particular Place to Go!”