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Chickenness

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The Observer made it over to Memphis last weekend, that big, much-admired city of our weekend jaunts and Beale Street haunts. Part of the reason we head that way from time to time is the food, usually ­barbecue (they seem to have a nice crop of that), but sometimes just a burger at one of the old-line joints tucked back in the city. We love Memphis's dives, too — quirky little joints that would wither and die long before catching on and becoming enough of a favorite to survive in Little Rock.

We've been driving past Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken for years during our Memphis sojourns, debating over whether to drop over to the curb when we see their small yellow sign and brick building there on Front Street near the Mighty Miss, but we always quickly forget about the place once it has dropped away in the rearview. This last weekend, at the suggestion of Junior (who was along for the ride with his Old Man, and who loves a plate of fried chicken like Repubs love Reagan), we stopped in.

What occurred then, fellow parishioners, was one of the singularly memorable meals of The Observer's grease-stained life: a plate of fried yardbird that was, we believe, the Chicken of Chickenness, maybe even in the whole of the Known Universe. Moist and flavorful throughout, it was, with the pieces cradled in dark, crispy breading so well seasoned and spicy that it made our nose run a bit. Each bite (even the white meat, which we usually find about as tasty as biscuit dough) sang on the tongue, with the spice extending through the flesh, all the way down to the bone. Best of all, we had our not-so-little-anymore pardner there to share it. Afterward, while toweling the shine off our fingers, both of us agreed that if Gus's was in Little Rock, we'd eat there every day until we were dang nigh sick of it. Oh God, how do we love that kind of moment: stopping in a place in some city not our own, with a friend, and finding that manna has been set before us? Unforgettable. Grub has always been a touchstone in The Observer's life, and yes, our waistline shows it in spades. We can't eat like that all the time anymore, and it's taking more exercise to keep us in our weight class even though we've laid off the sweets in recent years, but we do love it so — to dig into a plate that's so good it makes us forget, for awhile, about cholesterol, calories, fat content and mortality. Then again, Your Ol' Pal has always believed in quality over quantity. Damn the torpedoes and pass the hot sauce.

Descending Park Hill in Norte Little Rock on Sunday, we saw it: two souls astride a two-wheeled monstrosity. Before we flashed past them, we counted five cranks and five seats at least — a five-seater bicycle, bright red, with an American flag flying at the top of a whip attached to the back fender.

As you know if you've been reading this column for awhile, The Observer is the proud owner of a bicycle now, which we try to get out and pilot at least once a week on the River Trail. That's a solitary and completely selfish act, however. Just how, we wondered, would we ever convince four other people to go very slowly in a straight line to the same place? Then again, maybe the five-seater is a custom job for that Mormon guy with four wives on reality TV. He might be the only person in the world for whom a five-seater is practical, both because of his pentamarriage, and because they're one of the few families who own a vehicle with a roof-rack big enough to haul it. That baby wasn't fitting on a standard, trunk-mount bike rack, pal­­ — not unless you want to mow down pedestrians on the sidewalk with the protruding back tire.

As we said, though, on the Park Hill outing we witnessed, the red menace was bearing only two riders, a man and a woman. All those empty seats were, we think, the saddest thing we've ever seen involving a bicycle: the perfect metaphor for something, though we can't decide quite what. It was almost enough to make us stop and offer our services. Back seat, please. Nobody can see we're not really pedaling if we sit there.

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