There are many allures along dirt roads, but one does not expect dining pleasures to be among them. Fred’s Arena Steakhouse had been recommended to us—if we liked meat—and it was one of only two restaurants in the vicinity of the bed and breakfast where we had been staying in the desert between Tucson and Ajo in Arizona. We followed the directions we had been given, turning from the Ajo highway onto Sierrita Mountain Road, driving toward the mountain on the horizon, and then turning left on a dirt road. Partway down the dirt road we passed a rancher, at the end of the day, using a chainsaw to clear mesquite. He lifted the saw in acknowledgment of us as we passed by. We didn’t see much else among the mesquite as we drove down the road. There were no houses or other businesses in the vicinity. It seemed an odd place for a restaurant.
A white pick-up truck approached quickly—lifting a plume of road dust—from the opposite direction. The pick-up made a fast right turn just in front of us—it went into the parking lot for Fred’s. The old, white pick-up sped to the far end of the lot, where it came to an abrupt stop. A thin, bleached blonde woman jumped from the truck and rushed into Fred’s.
The parking lot was a surprise. It was full. Looking like a used car lot in ranch country—one pick-up truck after another was lined-up in rows in the lot. We parked at a distance from the entrance at a berm between two mesquite, well away from the competition of the trucks. [We were driving a rental car—my pick-up was at home in Washington.]
The Steakhouse was dim inside, and we focused to find an empty table. There were big u-shaped booths along the west wall and high round tables in front us before the bar, which was on our right. An oxen yoke hung from the front of the bar. Several tables were full, and we wound among them to a booth. A young couple sat in the adjacent booth, but most of the crowd was past 60 and decidedly gray. There were a few young kids at some tables—they were allowed inside until 9.00 pm.
The three waitresses worked the place with smiles and chatted at all of the tables. They moved quickly from tables to the bar, kitchen, and large barbeque grill in the center of the room, which was about half the size of a basketball court. After we sat down, the bleached blonde from the parking lot came to our table—she was our waitress and her rush to get inside was to start her shift. I ordered a hamburger and fries, which was the meal recommended to me, and it was delicious when it arrived.
The bar was manned by a young woman, and we questioned each other on whether she was Fred. The bartender busily assembled beers, poured glasses of wine, and mixed drinks. A lot of Budweisers moved from the bar to tables, although our waitress managed to find me an ale.
Fred’s was vibrant, although it was early evening when we were there. Our waitress said, “it’s pretty unusual to see so few people, normally on Saturday this place is full.” More people entered as the evening aged. They walked first to tables of other people, where hugs were given all around.