I had the most vivid dream a bit ago. I was back in Bloomington, in present-day, working some job that involved me commuting either to or from Indianapolis every day. I went for breakfast at the Phoenix Dumpling, which had been (re-?)opened as this sort of foody sit-down service restaurant, but still had the same cooks and the same food and kitchen setup. I ordered The General and wolfed it down while overhearing a conversation at another table, with some woman who was a geology PhD from Arkansas or something, although she looked Filipino, who bought and reopened the place, trying to make it as accurate as possible.
I think the Phoenix was the first place I’ve ever eaten Chinese food. I mean, I know I never ate it as a kid, because the most ethnic food we ever ate was maybe Pizza Hut. The Dump was sort of an institution amongst the compsci people and other hackers that used to hang out at Lindley Hall. You didn’t have to know the difference between a struct and a pointer to a struct to eat there, but at least half of the people there at any given time probably could. (Or maybe not – it was a pretty scheme-heavy institution, scheme being this lisp-like programming language, not a synonym for plan or strategy.)
The Dump sat in this building with two storefronts, and a bunch of apartments above it. At one time, Frankov had one of the studios above it, which must have been torture, smelling the food below on a daily basis. The storefront next to it was temporarily the location of Jerry’s Liquors, when their other location burned down in 1991. Phoenix Dumpling consisted of a small dining area with a few tables in the front, with a sort of assembly line of food prep in the back. A row of giant cauldrons sat on gas burners, a line of ancient Chinese women hunched over each one, stirring gallons of food with giant boat oars. You pointed at the kettle of food you wanted, and they would pile it into a styrofoam box, along with a bunch of premade rice, and you’d order a coke, and they’d fill up a styrofoam cup, no cans or coke-logoed paper cups. You could get in and out of there for five bucks easy, and get a pound of the best worst Chinese food you could find in town. I mean, there were plenty of places to get Chinese food, and there were several places with better food, but this was one of those pound-for-pound comparisons, where you got five bucks of food for five bucks.
I’ve been thinking about Bloomington a bit lately, digging through some old stories I want to clean up eventually. I have not been back since 2002, and even that was for a quick afternoon. I wish I could go back, but any time I’m in the midwest, it’s up north and during the winter, so I can’t invest the ten hours of driving on crap roads to walk around a cold and vacant campus. I don’t know though – it might be incredibly depressing to see everything changed, and the place populated with kids who are literally young enough to be my kids.
Okay, gotta get to work.