Partial to Home: Star struck


Birney Imes



Saturday we were having lunch in a small, overcrowded barbecue joint in Avondale, a revived neighborhood northeast of downtown Birmingham. One of the two young women waiting in line to order in front of us turned to Beth, who was pondering her choices out loud. 


"I'm getting barbecue chicken with white sauce," she said.  


The implication was, "and you should too." The name of the place was SAW's Soul Kitchen. 


When Beth said something to me about a vegetable plate, the woman said, "You've got to get barbecue." 


We ended up sharing a table with our self-appointed culinary guardians. They were housemates. Shannon, the more outspoken of the two, had grown up in Hoover and worked in a hospital. Shanna, a graduate of the University of Alabama law school, is from Miami and works with a law firm in Birmingham. 


After introductions, the conversation moved to church and dating. This came up after they mentioned a Bible study group they, along with about 100 young professionals, take part in on Wednesday nights. 


Young people aren't dating anymore, they said. They cited the "The Dating Project," a documentary that examines modern day courtship rituals that include texting, cohabitation and casual hookups. 


An article on the documentary in the National Catholic Reporter states, "singles have a deep longing for emotional and spiritual connection, but are at a loss for where to turn." 


Young people aren't questioning the "why" of traditional dating, they are questioning "how," the article states. 


The girls, both Catholic, said young people are turning to the church for spiritual guidance and as a means for meeting other young people. 


We were chatting along when Shannon, who was sitting by Beth, cut her eyes toward the cash register and whispered, "I think that's Ruben Studdard." 


I'd never heard of Ruben Studdard, but I turned to look. A large man wearing an untucked blue and white seersucker shirt, shorts and Italian loafers was placing an order. 


"Is that him," I asked, "the guy at the cash register?" 


She nodded. 


"Who is he?" I asked, thinking he might have been a Alabama football player. 


"He was on American Idol," Shannon said. 


As the conversation drifted on, Shannon found Studdard's picture on her cell phone. 


It resembled the guy at the cash register, sort of. "He from Birmingham?" I asked. 


She nodded. 


"How did he do on the show?" 


"He won," she said with mock indignation, incredulous at my ignorance. 


When we finished, we walked outside together. "Come on, I said, I'll take your picture with Ruben." Studdard had gone outside and found a table beside the restaurant. I'd make up for my ignorance with brashness. 


Shannon suddenly became shy. She and her housemate had come to Avondale spur of the moment to get homemade ice cream and had decided to have lunch. She did not have her make-up on and was not set for a photo session with a star. 


I walked up to Studdard and tapped him on the shoulder, before I noticed he was talking on the phone. I already felt stupid. Yes, he was Ruben Studdard. The question made him tired, it seemed. 


Yes, he would pose with Shannon. He was about twice her height, so I stood on a picnic table and snapped a picture with her cell phone. He was a good sport about it.  


"Are you stopped all the time?" Beth asked. He laughed, "Yeah," and then as he walked into the restaurant, he said under his breath, "It's all good." 




According to Wikipedia: During his American Idol run, Studdard gained the nickname "Velvet Teddy Bear" and was noted for his shirts printed with "205," the area code of his hometown of Birmingham. 


He was the second American Idol winner. Alabama Governor Bob Riley declared March 11, 2003, "Ruben Studdard Day." 


In 2008, Studdard played Fats Waller in the 30th anniversary production of "Ain't Misbehavin'." The soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy in 2010.  


His most recent musical effort, released earlier this year, was a tribute album to Luther Vandross, a vocalist he is often compared to.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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