Carhops

“I want to eat French fried mushrooms from A&W,” I announced, responding to a sudden craving I had. I was driving with my two younger children to complete some last minute holiday errands. The food item was one I experienced in my childhood, and one that I sometimes crave simply because it is no longer available.

“A&W… isn’t that beer?” my daughter asked.

“It’s root beer,” my youngest corrected from the back seat.

“And yummy root beer, at that,” I said. “You can still get the root beer, but sadly, the A&W is closed.” I allowed my mind to wander for a minute, reminiscing on the taste of fried mushrooms delivered on a tray to the car window on a warm summer night. “We would pull in and park, and they would come take our order and serve us right at the car.”

“So it was a drive-thru?” my daughter asked.

“Not a drive-thru like today. It was a drive-in restaurant. I don’t think many exist any more. We would go there and park and stay in our car. The waitress would come to the car window to take our order, and they would bring the food on a tray with hooks on it. Grampa would roll down his window most of the way, and they would hook the tray to the car window.”

“Is it still there?” my daughter asked.

“The A&W? The building is still there, but now it’s a pizzeria. No more carhops or window trays. I suppose you could eat in your car if you really wanted, but it wouldn’t be the same.” I remembered many summer nights when we would go to the A&W; I thought of the foil coated burger wrappers and the times we ended up eating next to a family we knew. When we were really young, my mother would spread a striped sheet on the seat of the car so that my sister and I wouldn’t spill our food and stain the seat.

When we returned home from our errands, I googled “car hop.” I came across pictures of the trays with the rubber-coated hooks and feet. There was even a frosty mug of A&W root beer on a tray that was hooked on a car window. You can even purchase one of these trays on eBay! Yes, it would be fun to share this experience with my children, but drive-in restaurants are a thing of the past. Our summers are too short for such a business to succeed these days. And drive-thru restaurants are quicker and more convenient than drive-in restaurants.

I sometimes think about the many experiences I had in my childhood that my children are not likely to have. I wonder what we are currently experiencing that my grandchildren will not. And I wonder what they will experience that we have not dreamt of yet. I hope their experiences will be fun and positive and worth remembering, experiences of their own “simpler times” when people gathered together to be present and to enjoy the company of friends and family.

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