I don’t know about you. But out-of-town company arriving for a visit is a real thrill at our house. We love having visitors, and my wife and I expend some effort getting ready for our guests.
Obviously, there is some house cleaning that has to be done. Fresh sheets are put on the guest bed. Clean towels are stacked just so. Little soaps and shampoos await them, just in case.
Somewhere back, she got a pretty wooden luggage rack like you’ll find in a hotel. It sits at the ready, right near the window at the bedside.
There is another ritual. If our guests are first-time visitors, they will have a gift bag of gourmet peanuts from the local company waiting for them at the end of the bed. No one would expect such a treat, but it’s a nice thing we like to do. Because these particular peanuts are rather expensive, after that they’re on their own buying them.
We’ve lived here long enough that in a social media age, there often is one other thing we inevitably have to do with our guests. We have to take them to Bubba-Doo’s. That’s because no matter where they live, they’ve seen us online as we mention our favorite old country store. They are fascinated that it has a restaurant inside it, complete with a bar. So, naturally they want the whole experience firsthand.
This visit was no exception. Our friend Cheryl was in town on business, and a visit to Bubba-Doo’s was her request. “It sounds like the old Cheers show, right?” she asked.
“You got it,” my wife said. “Complete with Cliff and Norm sitting at the bar every day about 5 p.m.,” she added. This was a reference to two of the characters on the old TV show. “They’ll lift their mug, smile at you and say hello as you walk in!”
Cheryl giggled her laugh that we’ve heard on Youtube and Amazon a million times. “No way!”
“Way,” said my wife. “It’s hilarious, but true. You can set your watch by them.” The two women were only just now meeting face-to-face for the first time. But already, they had the repartee of two sisters.
“The two women were only just now meeting face-to-face for the first time. But already, they had the repartee of two sisters.”
Cheryl had just said, “I gotta see this,” when I walked in and told them that if we wanted to get there to Bubba-Doo’s in time to catch the end of Stephanie’s shift then we’d better get a move on.
You’d want to know a little more, just now, about our friend. But I’ll tell you more than just a little. In a world that is exploring the possibilities of something called the metaverse, out here we’re just glad when the regular-speed data line doesn’t flutter at the wrong time.
Heretofore, we had known Cheryl only as an internet celebrity. But we’ve connected as relationally as you can in a virtual world. We message regularly with her and have for a time now. In an odd sort of way, she is our friend.
Although she still has her longtime corporate day job, her side hustle is fascinating. She and her husband, along with occasional help from their middle-school son, have crafted a small home-based online media empire. Eight hundred cruise-related shows and counting attest that they work hard and churn out a lot of content.
They just recently passed 20 million online “views” of their content. In their California home, they have assembled three studios. From one, they can record their central product. That is, they do information and thematic shows aimed at viewers who like to go on cruises. In another, they record their weekly podcast that also is about cruise travel.
Neither of them has a career background in broadcast or media. They are amazingly adept considering that they are self-taught. They have amassed equipment and experience along the way. Oh, and that third studio? It’s where she produces live weekly shows for Amazon.com. As they approached 75,000 followers on one social media platform and 100,000 on another, suddenly she became in demand with the massive online marketer.
“They call people like her ‘influencers,’ and Cheryl is definitely one.”
Turns out the digital retailer values people who can appear online and bring hundreds of eyeballs with them at a few moments notice. They call people like her “influencers,” and Cheryl is definitely one. Two years running, she was named by an industry magazine as one of the “10 Travel Influencers Changing How We Vacation.”
If you count their home kitchen, there are actually four studios where they live. She does a cooking show from there on weekends, pitching products one can find conveniently online. Now, she was in our world and about to experience Bubba-Doo’s.
“Hey, y’all!” said a waving Hector from the bar as we walked in. His glass mug, half consumed, was in his other hand. Hector is nearing retirement age. He’s gruff sometimes but usually is all smiles about 5 p.m. Right next to him sat Billy. He works outside a lot and has his own side hustle in the transportation business.
“Pastor!” Billy raised his beer mug and yelled as we walked in. “Nice to see the Mrs. with you.”
“Who’s your friend?” Ralph wanted to know as he spotted the diminutive Cheryl coming in with us. She introduced herself, telling them she had flown in for business in the city. So, since we were just close enough by and had offered, she was staying a couple of nights with us.
“Wait a minute. Was that you I saw driving by this afternoon in a convertible Mazda Miata?”
“I guess that was me!” Cheryl said.
“All I could see was sunglasses and blond hair a flapp’n in the breeze. You’re tiny. How tall are you?” he asked. “I’m five-foot-nothing,” our sunny guest answered. “Say, I hear you all have a vegetarian burger?”
“Well, we do. Not too many people order it, though,” he said. “Stephanie … you in there?” Ralph bellowed toward the kitchen. “Pastor brought his wife, and they have a guest. I think she wants a California Special!”
Stephanie’s face lit up when she peeked out and saw us. She came over and sat right down at the table with us, as she so often does. It’s one of the things we love about her. Her notepad was at the ready when she said to Cheryl, “You sure are keeping good company.” Then to all of us, she asked “OK, what’s good today?” Our visitor already was charmed.
Cheryl ventured to order the veggie burger with a side of tater tots. My wife had her usual Greek salad with grilled chicken. I had the vegetable soup, as I often do. Now, we caught up and got to know each other better, although we had interacted online so frequently that in some odd sense we already knew each other fairly well.
Regulars came by and said hello, as always. A church family or two stopped by for a minute. “Do you know everyone here?” Cheryl finally asked. “Not everyone, but a whole lot of them. It’s a pretty tightly connected community.”
“We live in a small town, too,” she said. “But it’s …” and I finished for her “… more like a small suburb to a big city and the beach?”
“Yeah exactly,” she agreed. “It doesn’t have this feel to it at all.”
Have you ever had someone make eye contact with you from across the room, like they were figuring out whether they knew you or not? I saw a young coach’s wife glance over at our table for about the third time. Then she walked by us. It felt like a reconnaissance pass.
She didn’t stop. But I was guessing she recognized Cheryl from online. Because we were talking, and because we don’t know the young woman all that well, I didn’t stop her as she walked by.
Stephanie made the occasional visit to see if we were OK. She topped off everyone’s tea a couple of times. She and Cheryl chatted for a minute on what it was like raising young boys. Then, we paid up and left. Hector and Billy seemed sufficiently mellow now, and they nodded at us as we left.
“I wish we had a place like this where I live. It’s so down home and personable in there.”
“So that’s Bubba-Doo’s, then!” she said as we got outside.
“The real deal,” my wife replied.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I wish we had a place like this where I live. It’s so down home and personable in there,” Cheryl assessed. Then she added, “For me, it was fun being somewhere that nobody came up to me because they recognized me from online.” I didn’t mention the coach’s wife who was sizing her up.
“What I mean is that people were nice there because that’s who they are. They were hospitable. It was like stepping back in time to a simpler place. And, they were also kind because I was with you two. I could tell they like you all by how nice they were to me.”
“Well if you ever come back through, we’ll go again if you liked it,” I said. “If I liked it?” she said. “I’m wondering if they serve breakfast tomorrow morning!”
So it goes at Bubba-Doo’s. Where everyone is welcome as long as they’re friendly and appreciative. Where everyone seems to get a fair chance to be a part of the crew, as long as they understand they’re in a special place. And where almost everyone really does know your name … but they may use a nickname anyway.
Charles Qualls serves as pastor of Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Va. He is the author of eight books.
Articles in the Bubba-Doo’s series: