Now Playing: Pissin’ in the Wind, by Jerry Jeff Walker. “Pissin’ in the wind, bettin’ on a losing friend, Makin’ the same mistakes, we swear we’ll never make again. Pissin’ in the wind, but it’s blowing on all our friends, We’re gonna sit and grin and tell our grandchildren.”
This one is not so much about life at my alma mater, Halifax County Senior High School in South Boston, Va., though I’m a proud Blue Comet.
It’s about fast food.
Despite my girth, I’m not a fan of fast food. I rarely eat it, with the exception of an occasional chicken biscuit at Bojangles’ or Biscuitville. I did a story for the magazine several years ago on the former CEO of Bojangles’, Joe Drury, who happened to be a great guy. He recovered from a terrible wreck to take over the company on the advice of his mentor, the late Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s. (Speaking of Wendy’s, am I the only South Boston-ite who hears Berry Hill every time they say Berryville on the new Wendy’s commercials?)
These days, I most often stop at fast-food joints solely to use their bathrooms during long driving trips. And my bathrooms of choice are those at McDonald’s, which I find consistently cleaner than most. Plus I like the coffee there well enough. And the fruit salads aren’t terrible, either. Mostly, though, I just use the bathroom and get back on the highway.
But if you’ve ever been on the desolate road leading from Harrisburg, Pa., to U.S. 81, you know the desperation you can feel at needing to find a bathroom. It’s second only to driving through Arkansas on the way from Memphis to St. Louis (though the stretch of I-85 between Greensboro and Danville, Va., is bad as well -though it’s not as long as either of the other two).
At any rate, on my recent trips to PA, my full bladder and I stopped – for the first time in years – at a Hardee’s. This one was in Bumforget, Pa., just before the junction with 81.
The first thing I noticed was the sign offering some kind of fries covered in ranch dressing and bacon – the kind of unhealthy fatfest Hardee’s has become famous for in the past few years. And also a missile aimed at my Achilles’ heel – a weakness for fries in general and bacon in particular. So after I peed, I got an order for the family to eat in the car as we headed back on the road. First off, they were as delicious as I feared they’d be. Secondly, the staff at this particular Hardee’s reminded me of the Stepford Clerks at Harris Teeter. Which is to say the kids there were unbelievably perky and courteous.
Which all set me to thinking about my days back in SoBo when Hardee’s was my fast food of choice. In part because there was no choice.
It was the first fast food in my little town. And there was great controversy when it opened. I remember hearing my neighbor, Cecil, tell my dad about the burgers. “They’re no bigger than biscuits,” he said.
Still, my family decided to check it out, despite the lines that were always there in those days. I liked the char-broiled meat, the usually not-too-stale buns, the ketchup and mustard and even the pickle. We didn’t eat there a lot – we didn’t eat out much in general – but I really liked it. And for years, I preferred Hardee’s burgers to their fried counterparts covered in onion bits at the Mack-Donalds, as my mother always pronounced it. (And believe me, I write that not to mock her but in tribute to her.)
Later, when I got my driver’s license, Hardee’s became – for a short time – kind of a hangout. We’d go there and either park in or circle the parking lot for hours, I tell you. Then there was another reason I went there, too. My biggest high school crush worked there, and I’d stand in her line and get food and a smile and I’d be on Cloud Nine for days.
But, as it always does, everything soon changed.
La Belle Dame (who had plenty of Merci though she’d keep me in thrall throughout my time in high school) quit pretty soon, and the packs of cruising and parking teens didn’t exactly make the people trying to sell burgers there too happy. They eventually hired this guy who taught agriculture to be their security guard. He’d chase us off almost as soon as we’d pull in.
Which eventually produced the desired effect. We stopped going there – funny thing, so did the paying customers – and started hanging out at Nelson’s Pond, which is a story for another day. And when we’d get hungry, we’d go to the Pizza Hut that sprung up near Halifax. Where they’d often sell you beer. I remember buying beer there at least a year before they gave me one for turning 18 (the legal age for beer at the time). Plus I had a crush on an older waitress there – she must have been at least 23 or 24.
SoBo has at least one Mack-Donald’s now, and a Burger King, and probably other fast food, too. I don’t really get back there very often these days.
And I probably won’t stop again at a Hardee’s any time soon, either. Unless I get stuck in Pennsylvania or Arkansas.
“The past is never dead, it is not even past.“ _ William Faulkner