You Never Forget Your First Joint

Jul 15, 2009 by

It’s the smell that hits you when you first enter. And it’s the smell you’ll always remember.

There’s nothing else like it.

Over time, you’ll start seeing familiar faces; others seeking that same craving. Habits may change, but you will always remember your first joint. And it probably was your father who made the introduction.

The names differ from city to town, but the decor is fairly constant. A friend may introduce you to his joint, and you’ll feel right at home. But your favorite joint is your hometown one, the one that makes the best burgers in the world.

Mine is located in Tulsa, and every time we came back,  it was the first food stop. Always. Except Mondays, when they were closed. Oh, and when they closed down the place in summer for two weeks for vacation. And somehow our trips always coincided with that closure, and that never made me happy.

My dad first took me there, and for a while it was our Saturday morning ritual. I started taking the Sons of Thunder there. They, just like I did at that age,  favor the stools at the counter.

You see, the stools – five on one end, six on the other – spin. Really, really well.  If you’re not into that, there’s five booths or seven or eight tables that seat either two or four. Or more if you pull up some chairs.

The ketchup comes in glass bottles and it’s the slowest ketchup in the world.  When I was young, one of the old-timers working the counter told me to squeeze the bottle. I did, he laughed and then I did too, although I was a little embarrassed. Same thing happened to one of the Sons of Thunder.

Same guy, same joke. Forty years apart.

It was a family business and the customers and employees remained the same. It was a constant. The only variable was we just aged. The owner died a few weeks ago, and it seems most of the other original team has gone. Too many new faces. It just doesn’t feel the same.

Yet for more than 40 years the place has held up pretty well. The booths are tired, as are a lot of the chairs. But that’s the way it always is. The booths have this rather odd green, and the chairs are yellow and orange. Interesting mixture.

The counters are pretty hard to describe. The Little Black Dress says they are “salmon” colored. But somehow “salmon” in my hamburger joint just doesn’t make much sense. Let’s just say throw in some orange, yellow, a lot of wear and tear, a lot of grease and a lot of years, and you’ll come up with something.

As I said, the faces are changing. But the food always remained constant. Sometimes I like constant things. You can have a hamburger, cheeseburger, weinerburger, fish or grilled cheese. They also have “bowl” specials on different days – butterbeans, navy beans or beef stew. There’s homemade chili and a few side dishes – cottage cheese, coleslaw and if you get the hamburger steak, which is what the LBD always gets, they give you two slices of white bread.

The pies are homemade, and the Sons of Thunder were always pretty much into those. They’re huge slices and you order them when you get your regular food order because you sure don’t want someone else to get that last slice. They only make so many each day. The Sons favor coconut and chocolate.

There has been one change in the food options. They no longer serve french fries. See, some of the employees, including the head cook, are ex-military. They didn’t take too kindly to the French bailing on us during the Second Iraqi War. So they still serve fries, but now they’re  Freedom fries. With a capital “F.”

On the day of my wedding, I took all the groomsmen to lunch there. Ordered what I’ve always ordered – two cheeseburgers, mayo only, onions fried in. Side of Freedom fries, and of course a root beer. I don’t know where they get it, but it’s the best and coldest root beer around. Served in a frozen glass mug. Everyone orders root beer.

Funny, I’ve never tried any of their other options. It’s always the same cheeseburgers. Sometimes I’ll order a third, if I’m really hungry. I did on my wedding day.

I went back recently since our move back to the area. I didn’t recognize a single face. New cook, new waitresses, even the dishwasher guy was new.

And while the “ambiance” was exactly as I remembered, it just wasn’t the same. I took the Little Black Dress there a week later, hoping, praying my last visit was some imbalance in the galaxy or something.

It wasn’t. Even the LBD said it was different.  Something was missing in the taste and I still can’t put my finger on it. Even the root beer, the one constant, seemed different. And No. 2 Son of Thunder pointed out the coconut pie wasn’t as good as usually. And that’s a big sign.

And that made me sad. Because “your” joint should never change. We need a few constants in life, a few things we can always rely on.

But I guess life goes on. But I’m not really sure that’s such a good thing in this case.

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1 Comment

  1. Betsy Perry

    I share your sentiments…..the “joint” we frequented in our little town no longer stands. There is a McDonalds where it stood. Many generations have only lived in a “drive-thru” society. They never knew the memories made in those plastic covered booths and on black stools with shiny chrome bottoms. Life does go on…and continues to change. I guess that is the same thing that MY parents said.

    Prayers continue that the new memories you make in Tulsa, will be treasures for the Sons 🙂