Goodbye HoJo, I Thought You Had Already Died

“Little roadside restaurant we artfully complain, Rudy tells the waitress that his chicken died in vain” – Opening Lyrics of Jimmy Buffett’s Coast of Carolina

Earlier in the week I made note of the passing of the last, orange roofed, Howard Johnson’s restaurant. Once it boasted hundreds of restaurants along with motels. First the motels were sold off to Marriott, who later sold them themselves. The restaurants were closed until there was only one left standing in St. George, New York. I was surprised to learn that it still existed. I also noted that as a child I referred to it as Howard and Johnson’s. Stupid kid thoughts.

Yes, “Another baby-boomer icon has bitten the dust. The last remaining Howard Johnson’s restaurant, the orange-roofed baby-boomer favorite known for fried clams and twenty-eight flavors of ice cream including both peanut and pecan brittle, shut its doors, bringing down the curtain on a chain that once boasted 1,000 locations across the nation, the Times Union reported. The outlet, in Lake George, New York, closed this spring after almost 70 years.”

I am a baby-boomer, but I am not a gourmet of wine or food…I don’t speak French either. I do know what I like, and Howard Johnson’s was never what I liked…ice cream not included. I can’t remember any ice cream I didn’t like.

I ‘m certainly am not making a definitive epicurean review but when I hear the lyric, “Rudy tells the waitress that his chicken died in vain,” several restaurants come to mind, HoJo being one of them along with the cafeteria style S & S my father and brother and I frequented when we visited my mother in the State Hospital in Columbia.

My mother was part of a study of ALS, known as Lou Gerig’s Disease, at the state mental hospital, less than affectionally known as the crazy house. Our Sunday visit lunch choice was the S & S. I do not have fond memories of the S & S, but it is more about the death of my mother than their food offerings. Well, there was their green Jell-O salad.

Cafeteria style right down to the plastic plates and glasses. Good, cheap food…well cheap at least. With their different food choices and ambiance, I shouldn’t equate HoJo’s and S & S to each other, except their “facture de tarif” should have been accompanied by a gastric SOS. Facture de tarif is bill of fare, but I had to look it up.

Howard Johnson’s died due to the fast-food industry and the lifestyles we are forced to live. Most of us don’t have the means or the time to sit down for even a cafeteria style meal. There are other restaurants that died too, thanks to the fast-food hamburgers and fried chicken…along with some of their fans as ground beef patties fried in fat clogged their arteries.

The first hamburger chain in the States was White Castle opened in 1921. It was opened by Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson who started with the first White Castle restaurant in Wichita in 1916. They had a small menu which had cheap, square shaped hamburgers and they sold them in large numbers. The first franchises appeared in 1921 (A&W Root Beer franchised their syrup) and the first restaurant franchise appeared in the 1930s by Howard Johnson.

Johnson didn’t know he was contributing to the eventual demise of his restaurant and honestly it didn’t begin to snowball until the Fifties when the American love for cars became associated with suburbs, drive-ins and in my part of the world, the Hardee’s fifteen cent hamburger that made its appearance during the Fifties and Colonel Sanders’ KFC sold its first franchise in1952.

As bad as I thought Howard Johnson’s food was, it didn’t die because of its chicken dying in vain. It was American lifestyle changes. Well, the chicken might have contributed.

I do feel remorse that another symbol of my youth is gone even though the orange roof had been previously forgotten by me. I also regret all fast food doesn’t taste like Burger King hamburgers smell. But then Burger King hamburgers don’t taste like they smell.

May all your fast-food hamburger patties be larger than the pickle slice topping it and may you not die of a heart attack from eating them.

A little live Buffett for your listening enjoyment. No, not Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Don’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3Gpuu1x2MckONqCD6fIVcrtZbn6FG4595ZSgRqE2sDiwZAzECxvPAF7lI

Seductive and Sensual….

Maybe even Erotic…Hamburger Eroticism that is.

Am I the only person who talks in naughty whispers to their hamburger?  Is it normal? What is normal? Am I the crazy Southern uncle or grandfather being paraded out to entertain the kiddies?  Am I the guy the youngin’s talk about in their own whispered tones, “Don’t mind him, he’s harmless. Just a degree or two off of plumb. He’s talking about hamburgers not…you know.”

Talking to a hamburger as if it were an alluring female striping down to her unmentionables is not normal, but I guess it is because I eat so few.   Get your mind out of the gutter, you degenerate, I’m talking about hamburgers.

When the rare hamburger finds its way onto my menu, I tend to cook them myself.  I think I should give up my “man card”. Grilled, dry, ninety-ten blends that don’t satisfy me at all. All in the name of health. I don’t think hamburgers and heart health should be used in the same thought. But then again, hamburgers shouldn’t be a sexual experience either. Can you guess what kind I just ate? The hamburger equivalent of a cracker.

Soooo…not just any hamburger gets the sexy talk, but the kind that starts out as a ball of ground beef the size of a baseball and is squashed flat by a spatula onto a greasy griddle.  A miraculous metamorphosis occurs. More flavor is imparted and an even sear too.  Crisp on the outside and oh so moist and juicy on the inside.  It is the difference between a silk nightgown and a wool nightshirt. I’m having both a Pavlovian and an erotic reaction. My very own “Cheeseburger in Paradise” moment but hold the cheese, please.

If I were writing a book my short order cook would be more round than tall, wearing a stained white apron and wearing a hairnet under one of those paper hats that resembles a World War Two garrison cap.  The hat would be worn at a jaunty angle and have grease stained finger prints all over it. With a toothpick wedged into the side of his mouth, the cook would answer to the name Earl or Mose…or maybe Ike. He would be as greasy as his hamburgers. The Chesterfield unfiltered resting behind one ear is optional.  He’s not sexy…he’s my pimp.  If hamburgers were violins he would be Antonius Stradivarius.

My first “foodgasam” occurred in college. I was seduced as an immature Newberry College freshman and my “affaire de l’estomac” lasted for the next four years.  It was not my first hamburger. I had been around the corner once or twice, Porter’s Grill, The Wagon Wheel, The Clock. No, I was not a burger virgin but this was like seeing my first Playboy centerfold…live and in living color without air brushing or filters…or clothes. The only difference was, unlike the Playboy centerfold, this hamburger was going home with me. 

I was sorely tempted and was finally worn down. I gave into what would become “heaven waiting in a brown paper bag”, the “Dopey Burger.” Dopey, who looked nothing like the cook I created earlier, ran a hole in the wall hamburger joint named The Tomahawk Café across the street from Cromer Hall, the jock dorm. He had a real name, John Edwards, but everyone just called him Dopey and the café, Dopey’s and not the Tomahawk.

Names didn’t matter…we were two nameless ships passing in the night. This was a “third rate romance, low rent rendezvous.” built on nothing more than lust…the lust for the best burger I have ever stuffed into my mouth. A burger featuring a huge handmade patty, fried on a grill before being bedded down on a soft and sensual sesame seed bun. 

I watched wantonly as he placed a ball of meat on the griddle before smashing it flat. I felt my heart skip a beat and my breathing become labored when Dopey went about spreading mayonnaise copiously on both bun halves, edge to edge.

With a sweet onion slice, I really didn’t need the lettuce and tomato on the burger but watching him add them reminded me of a beautiful, long legged redhead wearing a sexy negligee…in reverse I guess, putting it on rather than taking it off.  And any hair color is acceptable, just no catsup or mustard please.

I snuck out the diner like a man guilty of breaking one of the Lord’s commandments…I wasn’t breaking a commandment but I’m sure I hit a couple of the deadly sins. Let me see, lusting for a burger…check. Gluttony, self explanatory…check. Sloth…as I lay in my bunk glistening with hamburger grease and burping contentedly…check. Three out of seven ain’t bad.

Despite the paper bag and its wax paper covering, I fondled and felt its seductive shape as I made my way back to my dorm room. As soon as I closed my door behind me, I locked it and turned down the lights. This was for my eyes only! Peeking inside the bag and…oh my.  I couldn’t control myself.  The bun was buttered and toasted. I understand why porn addicts have issues breaking their habit.

Taking the burger out and slowly undressing it from its wax paper wrapper, I exposed it naked to the world and my salivating lips. It’s very scent played to my basest instinct, my greatest sin, gluttony.

Mayonnaise and grease leaked out, ran down my hand, covering my fingers…more dripped down my chin…staining the paper napkins on my desk…I licked my fingers carnally giving into my depravity.  I took a bite, and then another. I was out of control.

As I looked at the last bite I asked, “Was it good for you? Not so much?” I’m not satiated either…but I ordered two. My own little ménage à trois. Just me and two beguiling Dopey burgers. I promised to take more time with the second one…I lied.

Unfortunately, my love affair ended badly.  I was addicted and found myself broke.

“Where will I get my next fix? “, asked the Dopey Burger addict.

“You can run a tab payable at the end of the semester?”, said the Dopey Burger dealing pimp.

“Like water to a thirsty man. I’ll have two.”

Four years later, “I can’t graduate until I pay how much?” 

To quote author Rick Bragg, “I know magic when I taste it.” This was magic and Dopey was the wizard, his spatula replacing his magic staff.

Unfortunately the magic that was my love affair is no more. Like the memory of my first kiss, Dopey and the Dopey Burger are lost among the sands of time. The “brothel of hamburger delights” transitioned to where ever hole in the wall diners transition several years ago. I’m sure the rats and roaches were devastated. Progress sucks.

Still I search. Especially after I eat one of my own creations. Like Sir Galahad, I search for the hamburger holy grail…or maybe more like Monty Python. My grail is a hamburger that reminds me of a Dopey Burger. My quest continues.

Note: After Newberry College changed their mascot from The Indians to The Wolves, The Tomahawk Café became known simply as Dopey’s Café. Dopey’s closed for good in 2017 after sixty plus years, the building and its memories torn down. Progress sucks bigly…lust like my hamburgers.

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For more of Don Miller’s ramblings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1dxW98rKV_5v4REICuZyvVsL-B5lN00AMMqszuAzBo49ox2ksFDHl-wm8

His latest release is the second historical novel featuring the Edwards’ clan in the Drunken Irishman Saloon Series: Long Ride to Paradise.