On Saturdays in the 1970s, my mother and her best friend Joyce were ladies who lunched in East Lansing. If I was lucky, I got to go with them.
There was a rhythm to Saturdays, and a complex set of factors to be weighed before setting out for downtown: Was it football season, and if so, was it a home game? If there was a home game, we had to be dropped off near Jacobson’s because it was nearly impossible to park. If there was not a home game, we parked in the ramp behind Jacobson’s, which was built like a sort of large-scale corkscrew. In the years when I could drive, I was banned from whipping down the ramp at high speeds, a pastime that amused the living daylights out of me, but did not in any way amuse my mother.
We met Joyce, always, on the main floor of Jacobson’s, by the shoes. There was a large, round couch there, and from that leatherette surface we were deployed. Often, there was an hour of separate shopping followed by a meet-up for lunch.
The default was Jacobson’s East Room, at the top of the building with windows providing a bird’s eye view of Grand River Avenue and the MSU campus. It was, as the name implies, vaguely Asian in décor, with bamboo and rice paper screens and an ornate credenza painted with dragons. The menu tended towards the traditional and was as familiar to me as my worn copy of Little Women. There was a Maurice Salad, a Club Sandwich and a chicken or tuna salad plate with tiny blueberry or lemon poppy seed muffins. For children, sandwiches came in a boat-shaped dish with a sail.
For dessert there were hot fudge sundaes; there may have been other things, but the end-game in my tribe was the sundae. (Butterscotch topping was available, but to order it would have been heresy.) There were frequently fashion shows during lunch, with tall, improbably coiffed women in evening dresses or nautical-themed cruise wear strolling past the tables. Occasionally the fashion was from the Miss J shop in the basement, and featured local high school students selected to participate in the elite Miss J Board. (I was not invited.)
There were Saturdays when we lived on the edge, leaving Jacobson’s to eat at one of the other acceptable restaurants. Grownups did not, as a rule, have any interest in eating pizza at Bell’s or Bilbo’s, nor were they likely to snake down the malodorous stairs to eat at El Azteco. Small Planet was my personal favorite; it had a warm, woody, Summer of Love kind of vibe and they made something called a Summer Salad that was bananas and strawberries in a sauce of yogurt and either honey or maple syrup. It was at Small Planet that I learned to crave sprouts on my sandwiches. Beggar’s Banquet was also a likely choice, and we chose among burgers, chili, and a sandwich which I think was called The Chris Bishop Memorial Vegomatic.
There was also, of course, the shopping. Books at Jocundry’s, handbags and Indonesian silver at Liebermann’s, penny candy at The Scotch House and, well, everything a person could want at Jacobson’s, but that story is for another day.
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