More times than I truly care to admit, in the past, my ever returning hunger has forced me to dine at the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Diner and Kitchen, 1001 N. Penn Ave., especially during those trying moments when the money and worse, the food, has spectacularly run out and you still have a small eternity until a few dollars might be coming your way again.
As I turned yet another year older last weekend, I thought deeply about those days dining alone in the Salvation Army’s mess hall; I decided that I would spend my last day as a 40-year-old returning to one of my most anonymous of haunts from a few years ago, the Red Shield Diner, for a lonely birthday dinner, if only to remember where I came from and, sadly, where I may return to someday.
Even though the sun was setting, there was still plenty of light out as I walked down Penn Ave., past the neighborhood diners and abandoned churches, to the still new-looking mansion of the hill that is the Salvation Army’s Central Command. As a few of the destitute patrons sat outside on the grass and rubbed their blistered feet, I shuffled in with the early eaters, hoping to get a good seat and a full plate.
After leaving our various backpacks and tired knapsacks next to the intimidating police officer that asked each diner if they were carrying weapons of any sort—which, gratefully, no one was—I filed into the large cafeteria, a sign pointing the way; a wide variety of eaters from the pensively famished to the frustratingly boisterous grabbed their trays and took their seat, eating somewhat quickly.
Selecting my tray from the chow-line, much like a school lunchroom, the long folding-tables were lined up side-by-side with hard plastic chairs in rows of four; I sat next to a laughing family, complete with three children, the kids happily eating their food, seemingly not aware of the adult situation they’re in.
As I took a look over my dinner, I noticed that the main dish was chili and chips, along with a side of refried beans. The sturdy tortilla chips, placed on the tray by hand, held firm in the spicy deluge of the flavorful-enough chili; mixing a bit of lettuce and cheese on top, if was a small yet nourishing meal, enough to get you through the night.
The refried beans, on the other hand, were famously unsalted and somewhat tepid. Still, with a little bit of my leftover chili mixed in, it was definitely a workable side for me. As for dessert, it was a couple of simple duplex cookies which I didn’t really need to nosh on; I gave them to the thankful kids, who ate them ravenously.
Taking the last few sips of my sweet brown liquid—was it tea, perhaps?—I grimaced giving the volunteer in the kitchen my used tray, silently thankful that the Red Shield Diner and Kitchen provides dinner every night, without fail, to Oklahoma City’s homeless and hungry and, during my metaphorically leaner days of living alone with no heat, no water and no hope, even a solid meal for a bum like me. Cómpralo ya!