The Park & Eat

by Betty Boellner- Jones

Out south on Atkinson sat a whitewashed little structure dwarfed by a huge red and orange neon sign, the "Park & Eat." It was there you parked, hopefully in front, where you could see and be seen in a surrounding circle of gravel and dust. Where the carhops always seemed to be from out of town, where Hank Williams', "Your Cheatin' Heart" wailed from the jukebox, ever louder above the car horns of the hungry.

And hungry we always were. For a quarter you could devour a huge greasy sack of french fries, a peanut butter milk shake cost fifty cents, less if you ordered a hamburger with it. Service was on the slow side, really slow when one of the carhops tossed her waitress hat at someone in a dark car and walked off the job. "Park & Wait" we called it then.

On a school night when 9 o'clock was heading home time, it took a lot of skillful convincing on your part to extract the family car from suspicious parents. "Oh, I left my English book over Eleanor's house and I've got homework for tomorrow. Can I have the car? Maybe pick some of the gang and go for a coke? I won't be gone long, okay?"

Just long enough to round up the hopefuls, drag Main on the way, and head for the "Park & Eat. It just might be your night. HE might be there. You arrive in a cloud of dust and crunching gravel,-- there's a spot in front. It is going to be your night, you can just feel it.

Oh, no- he's getting in the car with that flirty sophomore, what does he see in her? And they're climbing in the backseat? It's too much to bear. What do I want to order? Who can think about food right now? Guess it didn't take,-- he's getting out of the car, talking to the letter-sweater group.

Wave at them, just don't honk the horn and provoke the carhop again. Food has arrived, the guys will be angling over this way for sure now. It's that breathless moment- shut up everyone so I can hear what he's saying. Just, "Hi," and that's all?

He's leaning in the window -say it! Just say it! "What are you doing Friday night" Les Paul and Mary Ford's "Tiger Rag" is blaring, "Hold That Tiger -- Hold That Tiger,"-- he's smiling at you now -- "Want some french fries?" A voice from the backseat -- who ordered those fries anyhow?

Cars are pulling out and circling now -- have we been here that long? "I'll see you at school tomorrow," he says. Those giggling sophomores just drove by and honked again. Time to head home. The first of the drop-offs are gone -- time to plan tomorrow's strategy. I can do my homework on the way to school. And see HIM –

See you at the Park & Eat.