I am hardly a foodie. I eat to survive. I tend to shirk the luxurious choices of dining establishments.
I have gone with a coworker to eat in a pho restaurant so small that each table could hear all the other patrons’ conversations. I have taken my best friend up the Space Needle for her 21st birthday and watched as she ordered the beverage they drink on, “Sex in the City.”
I have been to the full gamut of family restaurants over the decades with our assembled mass. We had the routine down. We lined up, stated our meal of choice, stepped aside, and waited until Poppers came along at the end and paid for everything. With that sort of history, the temptation is to go with Burgermaster. It was not a fancy place. The booths suited us fine. I do like bacon…
Yet I have to bestow my restaurant loyalty to Dick’s Burgers.
It all started in high school. More specifically, with my fellow drama enthusiasts.
Tech rehearsals brought out all kinds of behavior. There were the sudden romances. Put hormonal adolescents in a room, tell them to dig deep for the audience, and watch as stage crushes turn into sneaking backstage. Groups of outsiders were given couches and downtime and out of awkwardness struck up conversations with that person sitting next to them. Bonds were formed, friendships were made. (This was in the age before internet and cellular phones. Avoidance of ones’ peers was more difficult back then.)
In the gap between the end of classes and the night show, many in the thespian circle would pile into a car, disappear, and come back with bags full of Dick’s burgers and fries. The wrappers were bright orange and sparkling silver. There was no pretentiousness. The white paper bag that held the meal featured a blue and white logo. The bottom of the bag prominently showed the grease seeping through.
I never learned where the restaurant was. However I was intrigued by this restaurant that sent happy scents wafting to me.
During college, I worked in the shadow of the Space Needle. I would get out of class around 2, take my time getting to the job site, and often work until 9 or 12 at night. 7-11 was only a block away. Many Slurpees were consumed. Bringing food with us was often more of a chore than it was worth. Besides, less than a 10-minute walk was one of those Dick’s that I had learned about.
This Dick’s was the one I ended up visiting the most. I, being long in limbs, would volunteer to make the walk and return carrying soggy bags of goodies. The burgers and the shakes were devoured quickly. The cheese was just the right amount of melted. The fries held together with a light layer of goo. And the buns were warmed the perfect amount to provide a touch of crisp resistance between our teeth.
From the, “We’re hiring”, information displayed, something else was clear. They take care of their employees. I appreciated that.
I have plenty of memories of this place. It was on the same block as one of the last Blockbusters. The alley always had a hint of sketchiness to it, not diminished by the constant presence of transients. (Hey, people without homes like burgers too.)
That location hosted many visits with coworkers. There were fun gals who would talk about their boyfriends. I chatted with women ten years younger than me who were cute but never my type. Then there was my friend who I talked to about not committing, “Death by Cop”. Ahh, memories.
Still, it had the feature of an indoor seating area. The orange tables are lodged in my memory. When the sun came through the window, the reflected color made one’s dining companion look a touch different.
The Dick’s in Wallingford is all well and good. As their drive-in logo suggests, there are no booths or chairs to be had there. You park in your car, darnit. Follow the example from the days of yore. Eat in your vehicle, pick up the fries that you drop between your legs, and try not to run down the battery in your car.
Located just off of an intersection and a few miles from the University of Washington, the Wallingford Dick’s drew in plenty of crowds at all times of night. I would often partake as I made my way home after a run at Greenlake or if I was seeing a movie at a smaller theater nearby. People seem to like it. It fits in well with the neighborhood.
Personally, I have a fondness for the Lake City Dick’s. For one thing, I pass it on my way to work, my way to church, and my way to run. It is always there, waiting for me. I only visit it once or twice a year. It understands.
As with many things in life, my loyalty and fondness is linked by a woman. The first woman I thought to myself, “Yep, gonna marry her.”
It was college. We didn’t. Shocking; I know.
The trip to Dick’s with her gave me insight. I learned about the intimacy, not only of cars, but of drive-ins.
Americans already have a close association with our cars. We revel in them as we take our cross-country trips. We coax them as snow starts to pile up or as the needle lingers on that, “E”, for longer than it should. We play our music, we choose our destination, and we can say whatever we please. We may be buckled in, but we feel free.
Now add another person to that. A beautiful college student with shoulder-length hair, a mole above her eyebrow, and a huge smile that makes many cameos. A smart woman, an excited woman, and one who didn’t have the world figured out yet, but was well on her way. And she was fine going to a drive-in and eating burgers in the car. Surely you see the appeal.
Our individual seats were reclined enough that we could see out of the sun roof at the dark sky. Trees and their leaves decorated the edges of the glass, but there were plenty of stars and inky night to fill in the rest. We weren’t so far back that our food was forgotten. We didn’t gaze longingly into the others’ eyes. We ate our burgers and talked.
I will never forget the moment when this woman; one who seemed so together and capable, looked out at the sky above and lamented, “My mother just doesn’t understand.”
That car and I had a lot of memories involving her. I volunteered to pick her up at the airport. She wearily found me in the tarmac and nearly collapsed on my shoulder. “I’m so glad you’re here”, she said as we went for her bags. She picked up her luggage.
She then went to the bathroom and discarded her stomach’s luggage. She trudged to the car and curled up, a sick creature in the fetal position as we drove her home.
There was the time I tried to ask her out across the passenger seat after she had already exited the vehicle. The unloading of frustration when I showed up at her place unannounced. Helping her move. There was the conversation by the car outside of a friend’s wedding.
For me, it all goes back to that car in the Dick’s parking lot. We all have to eat. We all need to unload on each other. In a restaurant, there can be concerns that those around us will hear what we’re saying. (Pho restaurant; this means you.)
The drive-in provides us with that privacy. If the night is clear and warm, we can roll down our windows. Embrace the convertible lifestyle. We can order what we want, both in food and in environment.
It is the cherished intimacy. You get your food, you get it quick, and it tastes delightful. Whatever time you might have spent waiting for your order or waiting for a table? That is instead spent having conversations with those you care about as you enjoy the food. More time for talking. No rush to clear out for the throngs waiting for their turn.
Dick’s Drive-In in Lake City gives me time to sit. Time to chew on a cheeseburger before I drive home. Time to listen to a woman as she reveals what’s beautiful about her on the inside. The only “time” I get in fancy restaurants is when I am waiting for a check or waiting for someone to take my order. I like to think I’m rather patient. It isn’t a problem.
Given the option, though? I would much rather be sitting; learning about and from those I care about. Dick’s gives me that opportunity. That’s why it’s my favorite.