The standard line of cars snaked through the parking lot at the Chick-fil-A on the north side of Waxahachie on a recent sunny Thursday morning. Signs of a recent construction project — dirt, leftover supplies — were scattered around the restaurant, and there was only one parking spot left in the lot.
As I entered, the restaurant was strangely quiet for being packed. It was a little after 9 a.m. and just about every table in the place was occupied. Diners looked down in front of them, almost as if in prayer, but there were no prayers. Or phones, or red trays full of chicken and biscuits. Even babies were quiet.
It was Thursday morning bingo.
Everyone was staring at bright green bingo cards in front of them; most had four covering more than half of the table. A Chick-fil-A worker held a cell phone in front of her and called out a letter and a number after each light tap. “B-12.”
I grabbed two cards (four felt arrogant for a newcomer) and found a chair at a four-top table with one other bingo-er. A neighbor to the right whispered the pattern we were aiming to cross out (all outside edges) and the bingo caller came by and slid the red cellophane down over a few squares (threes were wild).
Chick-fil-A’s coffee was above average for a fast-food chain, and a chicken and biscuit was way better than it needed to be.
For an hour on this Thursday morning — with cars hurrying by on Highway 287 just outside — the dining room remained this way. Every now and then the calm was interrupted by a “Bingo,” and then a chorus of sighs.
Jack Stroop and his wife, Helen, both originally from Dallas County, started organizing Thursday morning bingo more than 15 years ago. Jack is 96 years old. He and Helen got married 24 years ago, after their spouses had passed away. Jack is a national treasure; he served in the Navy during World War II and fought in the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Usually, about 15 others show up for bingo, but today was a bit more crowded because this was the first bingo game since the store closed for a remodel. Chick-fil-A’s operator, Philip Browne, presented the Stroops with a special gift before the game, which he said was from the corporate office, as a way to say thanks for creating a community at the store and slowing things down a bit every Thursday morning. Not slowed down in the sense of “where’s my food?” but slowed down as in catching a breath.
Sometimes regular customers will walk in and see the game going and grab a seat to play along. Anyone is welcome at any time. It’s a bit of a drive for Dallasites, but it’s lovely if you’re in the neighborhood or like road trips for random things.
There were four games during the hour. The second-to-last game (six-pack) morphed into blackout (all squares), for which I lacked only four squares. So close. Had my eye on the teapot.