A bright white high school girl side slides a screen window open and smiles. Her red lettered shirt matching her acne. She hands me a napkin wrapped waffle cone filled with house made mint chocolate chip. The house being a small mid-century concrete block. Candy striped with a roadside sized cherry topped plywood cone dividing customers left and right.
It’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Ever.
A grey-white boomer slides warmed plates of blueberry pancakes onto our two-top booth table. She warns us about the hot touch. We’re in the back of a grocery store. Behind the soup and salad bar, to the side of fish, around the far end of frozen. The family restaurant spreads surprisingly wide. Etched glass separating shopping from dining. Booths and four top tables on step quieting carpet.
It’s the best pancakes I’ve ever had. Ever.
A weathered-white Gen X-er brings white paper bags to our parked rental. His black scruff blending with a blue logo trucker hat and tee. Repeating our order in diner-short; two cheese and rings, two black and whites. We’re bumpered up to a brown brick one story. Our car half covered with a rotting beadboard awning framed in green steel. White painted plank pine with retro black letters. Tender steak. Fountain Service. Cheeseburgs. Unfolding wax paper fumes the cabin in grilled grease and battered feast.
It’s the best short-order burger I’ve ever had. Ever.
A tan-white millennial takes the plates from the pass, his black pants and polo dulling the scruff dust and wet dinge of a busy night bartending. We’re on the corner of the big wrap around bar below giant flatscreens showing the same game. Baseball. New logos on the uniforms. Old names on the bar walls. Wahoo cut-outs and Indians’ pennants. A room like a stadium circle. TVs at every table around the sweeping edges. The ceiling deep purple black with pin dot LEDs, like a starry sky. I can’t find constellations. Even after two beers. Not a dipper. Big or little. Barkeep serves our plates center snuggled for sharing. Potato skins and mozzarella cheese sticks. Bar food.
It’s the best bar food I’ve ever had. Ever.
I start giving it serious thought on the flight home. This best theme. It seems melodramatic. Overreacting. Perhaps I was overwhelmed with nostalgia over a four-day hometown return. But I wasn’t in my hometown, this was a trip to where M grew up. She confirms not feeling nostalgic, as some of this wasn’t there when she was a kid. And she agrees with me. About the best things. Not, yes dear, agrees, but a core level agreement these things were, indeed, the best. Ever.
We brought pancakes back to her mom that first morning, and watched her grow contemplatively quiet. Eating from her lap out of the white Styrofoam takeaway box. There she sat. Silent on the sofa. Chewing. Staring into her breakfast.
“These are the best pancakes I’ve ever had.”
We had first generation confirmation. We weren’t making it up. About the pancakes, anyway.
And now I’m at altitude looking down on sunset stratus giving it space in my mind where I think about the important questions. Like why did it take me so long to figure out big bro was a psycho? Why did Miss Owen keep asking me to check her oil my senior year? Why the hell did I stop writing after Random House said no? I mean the book went up three levels of approval and an editor said her husband couldn’t put it down. So, it’s inside my head with the bigger questions, this best phenomenon I had just experienced.
The two common denominators; M’s hometown and foods not recommended by the American Heart Association. My deep thought brings more facts than theories. It could have something to do with the region’s lack of sunlight. The number of sunny days is 46 below the national average. And there’s no state inspection for cars. You can drive anything. I’m not sure how it relates to the food, but it might. When I ask myself the serious questions, I try to open my mind to elements of less obvious influence. Take the fact the only clothes you need to wear are sports logo swag. Hometown teams. That hour with the potato skins and the cheese sticks, we were the only ones at the bar without hometown rags. It might be important. These could all be factors, I think.
I have no conclusion by the time we land. I am not ready to explain it.
But I know what happened, happened. And it just didn’t happen to me. For those handful of hometown days, we had the best. Ever. Maybe we don’t have to explain it. Like when me and M saw the UFO at the same time. The three lights. The triangle.
Maybe we don’t have to explain it.
1. Photos by Author.
© Copyright William Hazel, 2023