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TLO Travelogues: Sad Papaw’s Cookout


I can identify with Sad Papaw quite a bit. While I have no grandkids. I tend to eat most of my meals alone, often times inviting people to dinner only to be politely shot down because they have better things to do than hang out with me.

It’s enough to make you want to eat a bullet.

I believe this meme struck a chord with a lot of people because they fear this type of loneliness happening to them, in old age or otherwise. Sad Papaw is not only a cautionary tale for the self-involved digital millennial but, as it turns out, it’s also proof that empathy still exists in our world, at least in a social media where you can post a selfie of yourself practicing it.

And while some of the more cynical among us might consider all of the hoopla over the past week a tad opportunistic, especially the about-to-be-discussed Sad Papaw cookout, I commend the family of jumping on this as fast as they did—the way the internet news cycle works, even though we loved Sad Papaw last week, undoubtedly someone is going to dig up dirt on him this week and change all that. So kudos to getting while the getting's good. Now, all that being said…

The Sad Papaw burger cookout was announced on Facebook late last week, so driving down those long backroads through radar-patrolled small-towns mostly famous for being told to take tornado precautions, my friend and photographer Dustin and I speculated on just how many people would actually be there. It would be pretty ironic if it was only us. I mean, with only a couple of days’ notice, how many people could’ve possibly gotten the memo?

Never underestimate the power of a meme.


There, in a dusty field outside Purcell, where raw fishheads dried on posts that drew barbed-wire boundaries, close to 2,000 people – yes, 2,000 people – were gathered to celebrate someone they only knew from a Twitter post. People from all walks of life, from rednecks and bikers to punk and goths and every class and status in-between were buying shirts and hats and taking selfies and dancing in circles to imaginary music like a Woodstock dedicated to loneliness.

With the smell of charred meat in the air, consumerism on their backs and American flags all around, imagine “Eleanor Rigby” if it were written by Kid Rock.

There were two lines, hundreds deep—one to get a burger, one to take a pic with Papaw. We stood in the line for the burgers because, at only an hour’s wait, it was the considerably shorter of the two. As the unseasonably hot sun beat down on the barely moving line, backs cracked and ached with the only balm in Gilead being the camaraderie of the neighbors around us.


We soon discovered that people—with short notice, mind you—managed to come from all over America. Kids were holding signs that read “Dallas Loves You Papaw” while journalists from as far as Houston and Kansas City were interviewing people in line. Dustin and I made friends with the couple standing behind us who drove all the way from Pomona, California, and enjoyed Tom Waits and Damien Thorne references.

Man…them hamburgers better be good...


Eventually, we inched towards the entrance of the white tent where pre-made burgers in foil bins awaited us. At $2 a burger, there really isn’t much a person can complain about, especially at a price point that seems to be at cost.  They also offered hot dogs, but were sold out and sides included chips and pops. The grandkids somewhat-happily offered toppings for the burgers, including lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and mustard.


Finding a table out of the sun, we sat next to a dad and son from Enid and a couple that came down from New Jersey. I started to inspect the burger—it definitely didn’t look like hand-molded patties, but it also didn’t look like that orange box of 20 for four bucks you usually see at Wal-Mart. No, these very juicy, tightly packed patties fell somewhere in-between pre-made and homemade, a higher quality of box than usual, like a char-broiled public school burger loaded with fresh fixins.


That seemed well worth the two bucks for me. Sided with an ice cold Diet Pepsi, it was very much the type of meal you’d have at a family reunion cookout, only we got to leave without anyone crying and asking to keep in touch.

As we were leaving, we debated whether or not stand in line to get a pic with Sad Papaw, but with it hitting 4 o’clock and the line stretching a couple hundred deep, decided against it. After all, we already bought some shirts with comic sans lettering and thoroughly enjoyed some cheap burgers.

And if that doesn’t make the old bastard happy, at least for a little while, then nothing will.


Louis wants you to know the 7-11 at I-35 and SW 89th sells Surge tallboys. Follow him on Twitter at @LouisFowler. Special thanks to Dustin Harjo for the photographs.

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