People and Places: The Kings of Checkers

People and Places

It’s a place in Washington known for great food.

“Gosh, the best food in eastern North Carolina. It’s just old country food,” said Granville Lilley, former owner of King Chicken Drive-In on Carolina Avenue.

But there’s something else that makes King Chicken stand out. Every day you’ll see several people outside playing checkers.

“Checkers is one of the most highly competitive sports that you can really get,” said Curtis Ruffin, who plays checkers at the restaurant.

Ruffin is one of the dozens of people to post up here for decades to play.

“I’ve been coming out here and playing checkers for about 40, 45 years,” said Ruffin. “And this spot has always been available to us to just have a nice gathering place. A place where, you know, you ain’t got to worry about no riff raff or anything.”

For many, it’s a rite of passage.

“Come out here to play checkers just simply for bragging rights,” said Ruffin. “And all of them are basically my students!”

And as you’d imagine, there’s plenty of smack talk. “Talk a lot of junk now,” said Ruffin. “A lot of junk. You might even think it’s serious, but it’s not serious out here. At least I haven’t seen it get serious.”

“The checkerboard,” said Zack Mixon, owner of King Chicken Drive-In, “Man, that’s an important part of king chicken. We’ve got a list of those guys that have played checkers right there. There’s over 100 of them now. And that’s a big part of king chicken. I mean they come here every day, get coffee, play checkers. From the time we open until the time we close at night, there’s always somebody at the checkerboard.”

“This man is a very good man, the owner of the place,” said Ricardo Waldron, who plays checkers at King Chicken. “He’s very nice to the people out here. He shows that love. And that’s what counts, that love. It gives me encouragement to come out here. I go nowhere but here to meet these old guys here to see if I can beat them.” 

Win or lose, the Kings of King Chicken come back, day after day, year after year.

“To me, it’s very precious to have a bunch of guys your age, basically, that you can come around and socialize with and have a little fun, talk a little junk at the same time,” said Ruffin.

“But it’s fun,” said Waldron. “It’s fun. You leave here and you go home and you’re happy. Ain’t no problems around here, just love.”

“Two competitive spirits when they get together, I don’t care what it is, if they say I can beat you and you say I can’t beat you, hey man let’s go for it!” said Ruffin. “And that’s the game of checkers.”


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