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Hamburger Diaries: Sonic Drive-In, Part 2

Tuesday, 3 August, 2010

I don’t know why Sonic isn’t in my quick-service restaurant rotation. It may have something to do with not wanting to sit around in my car, not really knowing whether to tip …

Food-service people who would advise me to always tip under all circumstances, even if I am not at a restaurant or receiving any kind of product or service at all, need not chime in.

… the awkwardness of negotiating the a drive-in tray within a post-1985 automobile interior, the weather. Presently the not especially ambitious part of Summer has ended and the heat has commenced in earnest. This makes the drive-in far less appealing. During the previous abortive visit to a Sonic Drive-In, I could not help but notice the peculiar spectacle of line of automobiles all running with air-conditioner condensers dripping, power windows dropping to interact with staff. Several of the cars had more than one occupant but conversation was not occurring. The official air temperature was 97/36. The rule of thumb, in-town rush-hour sun highest in the sky heat island effect, adds about six degrees Fahrenheit.

As I type I intend to visit one of the local Sonic restaurants with a dining room. I am aware of two and Sonic provides nothing in the way of assistance to finding such locations. This is my destination. You will note it has a dining room, drive-thru and no drive-in component. In fact, I believe this was building originally was a PSB Hardees. (Once up close and especially inside it very clearly isn’t an old Hardees, but I do not otherwise recognize the structure.) It is placed on a pad site near Austin’s most long-standing dead, and possibly recovering, mall. The remainder of the 1960s-established neighborhood is flourishing. Most interesting to me is the layout of this neighborhood which is automobile, cyclist and pedestrian friendly. As though we had not yet dedicated our society and fortunes to the exaltation of Daimler’s folly. If I had a selection other than corporate-trickster apartments and outright home ownership, I would have moved into the area years ago.

I admire what Sonic has accomplished in sixteen years. After the same number of years McDonald’s was running their very first national advertising. The cult of Sonic remains as mysterious as it is apparently genuine. Can a mere Burger joint be so satisfying? Are the suburbs and exurbs so very vacant? They aren’t so vacant around here. The suburbs are where culture has moved. I digress.

Quarter after eleven, Tuesday. People are ordering as quickly as they can move to the counter. No wait at all with three people in front of me. None. I am told my number, but no receipt is provided. I watched it and could not tell you how it is done.

It’s a shabby little dining room. Nothing’s really wrong with it, and I couldn’t say it is in a state of disrepair. White walls, red, wall-mounted, generic, fast-food-booth seats, faux-wood polymer tables. I presume Sonic HQ doesn’t have standard dining-room dispensers. I cannot imagine why generic ones are not being used. Ketchup packets, napkins, salt and pepper packets, &c. are displayed in stainless-steel tureens.  Then again this dining room is filled with people. Living people. It’s like not being in Austin at all. A crowd of teens are giggling at a table, a couple of senior citizens are enjoying apparently forbidden sundaes, a father and son have stopped for a malt and a sundae, one of the teens returns with a single order of onion rings, his companions comment upon its generous size.

I order, as intended last week, No. 2 (Super Sonic Cheeseburger) with tots and Coca-Cola Zero. I arrived at a seat and my number was up. I was served Diet Coke, but it arrived within three minutes.

Because I cannot type these comments without fear of being misinterpreted: two staff members were characters from a David Lynch universe. I am relieved to know they are in town. I shall return simply to visit with them again.

It was a perfectly respectable burger. Two thin fried patties on a four-inch sweetish bun with name-brand, grocery-store condiments. It is successful in the way Jack in the Box is successful and with a similar chemical aftertaste. It isn’t actually a great burger. The ingredients are not particularly spectacular. Somehow it blends well. The patties are a little bland, but not offensively so. American “cheese”.

Tots deep fried in veggie oil. Served in a restaurant. It’s nice that something other than ubiquitous fries are available. Despite my advancing age, tots are still fun to eat. These are moist but not greasy at all. I’ve oven baked greasier tots, honestly. But, you know, its just tots.

Bag on a tray, food in the bag, with napkins, a peppermint candy and a coupon for two dollars off admission to Schlitterbahn. In other news, several Schlitterbahn parks are in the world. Last time I was paying attention there was just the one.

Within twelve minutes I was back out in the truck ready to carry on. I do not have effusive praise for Sonic, but left quite very nearly satisfied. It was $7.35. As is my habit, I ordered the large combo. Not upsizing would have dropped the price to just under seven dollars. Perhaps the comparison to JBX is unfair, but they also have an elaborate menu. I can get a Jumbo Jack combo in large for just over five dollars even if I specify cheese and curly fries. Of course, that does not address Sonic’s true reason for being, novel beverages and desserts at modest prices. You will note I didn’t get any of that.

It’s been about five hours. While on the other side of town I went to the nice grocery with all the international stuff. I have cookies from the UAE and exotic ramen. However, I am very seriously considering driving in to Sonic and getting the foot-long coney with a chocolate malt.

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