the chorister's c




23 December 1997

I ate a lot of meals in diner/drive-ins when I was a kid. There was a small-town place called The Spot (clever name) that served dryish square burgers garnished with underripe tomatoes. There was a small chain in the suburbs called Parkmoor; its cartoon mascot wore an oversized floppy chef's toque and a manic gleam in his eye.

And then there was the Big Boy chain, a national organization with regional franchisees. The Frisch family held the local rights. (Does Big Boy still survive somewhere, like California?) Big Boy had his own comic book recounting his adventures. For all his heroism, Big Boy was built more like Bobby Hill.

Naturally, all the restaurant's sandwiches had clever names, like the patty-melt concoction on dark rye called the Brawny Lad. The one that I always went for was the Buddie Boy: a hot ham and cheese sandwich on a submarine roll with mayonnaise. Juvenile food bliss.

About the time that I hit puberty, I went to visit relatives in Denver. There, I found a chain of drive-ins run by A&W Root Beer, the second-division soft drink label. Maybe the restaurants didn't survive because the food names weren't imaginative: there were Papa Burgers and Mama Burgers and that was about it.

Later, in high school, modern fast-food chains were beginning to dominate and consolidate. One summer, my friends and I attended a series of weekly lectures in Hamilton, Ohio. We made it a special point to visit a particular outlet of the Red Barn chain, where we did what was expected of teenagers, like asking for 27 ketchups. Sometimes today you'll come across an old Red Barn store, now converted into an antiques shop or a nail salon or a Peruvian chicken rotisserie.

In the late 70's, the Roy Rogers chain was small but growing quickly. It had just acquired Philadelphia's local Papa Gino's chain. But the staff were trained to maintain its perverse artificial Western folksiness. "Two Double-R's up, pardner!" "Thank you, pardner!"

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©1998 David L. Gorsline.
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