The World According to JJ (non-sports edition) …

I love East Texas. I love all of that small town, Big Texas feel it has to it. The piney woods, the football stadium lights, the billboards just outside of town to let you know there was a girls golf championship won at the high school 43 years ago. I’d move there, but there’s no way they’d let me in for one simple reason.

I don’t drive a truck.

But last week on a trip with the fiancé through area code 903, I suggested a stop for lunch at a non-franchise location somewhat off the beaten path. You know, to get that true East Texas feel. Swiped through a few suggestions on the phone and found what I was looking for, five miles off the interstate in a town that had never been anything other than an exit sign.

The establishment had a down-home sounding name and, more importantly, got four stars! (I still think that whole rating system is rigged.)

Exit ramp, here we come!

And there it was, complete with a pole-position parking place as if they were waiting for us city folk to drop in and stay a spell. We chuckled at the “No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service” sign on the door as a kind of folksy quasi-Welcome sign.

Little did we know.

“Come on in and seat yourself” said the nice lady as we walked in, as if I had sent her the script in advance.

Did notice a strange smell as we scoured for a place to sit, but I was more focused on how every single person in the place was straight out of central casting. Lots of hats and flannel shirts.

Cream gravy as far as the eye could see. The tables were a little cramped and it was one of those two-part restaurants with overflow seating in the back section.

So we made our way to the back section and there it was. And when I tell you couldn’t believe it, I mean exactly that. That smell I had a hint of when we walked in had now come into clear, olfactory focus.

The guy at the center table was burning one. Marlboro Man. Nicotine City. He hadn’t yet put his cigarette out in the mashed potatoes, but I can promise you that was next on the agenda.

But we didn’t stick around to find out. Actually, we did return to the front section, sat down for maybe 14 seconds, realized that we had somehow been transported back to 1989, when humans did this sort of thing, and got out of there.

We sat in the car for about five minutes, just trying to fully comprehend what we had just seen. Were there authorities we were supposed to call? Was there some kind of Yelp review we were morally obligated to post?

To be honest, the two Louisianans had just received far more attention than the guy literally smoking in the restaurant. And then I found out why.

Texas has no law against smoking in restaurants. Some cities have enacted a policy, but not the state. Actually, you can’t smoke at a Texas school, in a museum, a library, a theater or a hospital. But in a crowded, poorly-ventilated restaurant along the side of a country road? Come on and gitcha sum!

We got our lungs out of there and hopped back on the interstate in search of a lunch free of carcinogens. Probably would have even settled for a place that allowed shirtless or shoeless people.

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