Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Blog-in curb service.

After seeing the Black Hawk statue, and letting Lilly play a little in the park, our thoughts turned to that long-standing travelers' concern, lunch. So we drove into Oregon, Illinois, proper for a look-see. A fairly active downtown, all things considered, even a few retail establishments among the usual service-business storefronts (realtors, a law firm or two), and a real courthouse square. WalMart hasn’t completely leveled the retail in the town, though I’m sure it isn’t for lack of trying.

I had done no investigation on what might be good to eat in Oregon, so we took the hit-or-miss approach, and gravitated to a drive-in with curb service. That isn’t something you see in every little town any more, and maybe no one saw them everywhere, even in their heyday. That’s the kind of ordinary fact that gets lost in the haze of manufactured nostalgia.

Anyway, I was willing to give Jay’s Drive-In a chance. It had a beat-up but not too seedy look, painted mostly in red and white. At some point, it looked like management had decided that the place needed a few retro touches, and they did this mainly by posting signs on the awnings that protect cars from the rain, signs that had a famous singer (of the 1950s), with a song of his or hers listed on the next line, like so:



I didn’t make notes, so I forget the others, but they were all familiar names. Also, a handful cut-out cartoon characters were stuck to the walls, L’il Abner knock-off characters by the looks of them. How this added nostalgia value, I’m not sure. There was an inside with tables, but we wanted curb service. When I did go in to go to the bathroom, the only other customers at the time were a Spanish-speaking family.

The burgers: passable. Fries: passable. The shakes were very good, except that what they called a strawberry shake that was clearly a cherry shake, right down to the pieces of cherry in the mix. Mediocre all together, but worth patronizing to support the Idea of the Drive-In.

I suppose drive-ins got their sticky nostalgic flavor from movies and TV — “American Graffiti” comes to mind, along with lesser imitations, such as the execrable “The Hollywood Knights.” (1980) (A major haw-haw scene in that movie involved a main character farting repeatedly into a microphone at a school function; I guess it was ahead of its time.)

We had Sonic Drive-Ins in the San Antonio of my youth, but they are not part of mass-marketed ’70s nostalgia. But there was the time, during high school exams in the spring of 1977, that about ten of us jammed into a car driven by the only one of us who could legally drive, Dru S., and descended on the Sonic on Broadway in Alamo Heights. It was the stuff of potentially lurid headlines: HEIGHTS TEENS SPUTTER AND FRY IN FIERY WRECK. But Dru delivered us there safely, and we spilled out onto pavement and on top of the hood and trunk to eat our lunch, surprising the waitress.

Which only leads me to state a long-held opinion: Nostalgia is a fine thing, but not the kind sold in stores.


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