Welcome to The Cypress Inn, where America lives
We have this rule when we travel: Eat where the locals eat.
On a recent trip that took us through the hook of the panhandle of Florida on a serene Friday morning, yours truly was the driver, the better half was sleeping and a candidate for breakfast arose in Cross City.
On the side of the road in what we will generously term the heart of Cross City were parked about a dozen pickup trucks, most of them propped up by 3-foot-high wheels. That’s usually a big tell that everything inside will be as close to home as it gets. It’s a big enough tell to ignore that the outside of The Cypress Inn looked to be one windy thunderstorm away from falling apart.
The windowless entrance was creaky and aged, the signage barely visible.
But you open the door and find out quickly that it’s what’s inside that counts.
What’s inside is a woman at the breakfast bar who greets the only outsiders with, “Good morning, y’all, sit anywhere.”
The tables and chairs have seen thousands of breakfast visitors and wear the scars of a thousand pairs of dirty jeans and flannel shirts, orange juice drips, coffee stains and bacon scraps. The cypress wood-paneled walls are a mixture of deer racks and religiously inspired quotes.
The menu is simple and carries the weathered edges of the million hands that have held it.
Coffee keeps coming without being asked for from a young lady who seems to know everyone there except us. The food comes on modest plates and is worthy of the breakfast table at any Manhattan eatery. The price bares no resemblance to Manhattan. For $15, tip included, we are stuffed.
What is priceless is the atmosphere. There are no TVs on the walls, and the clanging of knives and forks is the replacement for piped-in music.
The conversation is revealing for what it includes and what is notably absent. People are talking about their families, their church, their work day ahead, the weather and the crops in this heavily agricultural area.
The restaurant sits about 800 miles from Washington, D.C. It might as well be eight million miles away.
There is no talk of overhyped Russian collusion in our elections, the latest gotcha tweet, the world environmentally falling apart in the coming decade, the agendas of either political party or the nuances of the 2020 presidential race.
Just a guess, but given the wholesome sincerity of these people, they probably care about all these things. It’s just not the center of their lives. They have jobs and families to worry about. They have elected people who are supposed to worry about that other stuff and don’t need to discuss it every waking hour.
They are probably not impressed with political spin and props. The Tennessee congressman who took a fake chicken to a hearing recently in a childish attempt to embarrass the nation’s attorney general would not do well with this crowd. The guess here is they would stare at him and, when he’s done posing for the cameras, ask him what’s he done to better the lives of all Americans, especially his own constituents who, by the way, are paying him for representation, not grandstanding.
Congressmen and senators don’t get to Cross City or the hundreds of similar outposts that dominate this nation once you get outside of the metropolitan corridor of the Northeast, the Washington Beltway, Chicago and Los Angeles. But we would all be better served if they spent more time in the likes of The Cypress Inn instead of the bank of microphones awaiting them in the halls of Congress.
They would find that most of these folks don’t have the luxury of spending most of their time possessed with petty wars. They are fair-minded and interested in Washington results only to the extent of how the business there affects their daily lives. And when that’s replaced by fake idealism geared to gaining votes, they recognize it.
They don’t need politicians to be perfect or persuasive. They can take imperfection, embarrassing missteps and personality flaws as long as it is accompanied by actions that suggest their daily life priorities are being considered and represented.
Their take does not register with pollsters and the big media, who have not stopped by enough to accurately gauge their thinking.
Until they do stop by the places where most of America lives more often, the misreads, inaccurate slants and mistakes will continue.
“Y’all come back,” the woman pouring the coffee shouts as we are leaving.
Troisi is retired as editor of the Sun-Gazette and a member of its editorial board.