On Vacation

Because I’m in touch with members of my high school Class of ’70, I learned recently that the dear old Alpine Restaurant on Lee Highway is about to be torn down to make way for a day care center. The second thing I learned was that it had been in operation since 1966, a year during which I was demonstrably alive, and had been for some time. But I couldn’t remember the restaurant at all. My friends reminisced about the place, and someone provided a photograph–a fake chalet sort of façade–and I still couldn’t recognize it, even though it had to be pretty close to my house. I checked the address.

Ah. The Alpine Restaurant was one and a half blocks from my house. If I stood in the front yard and looked south, I could see it. In its entirety.

Well, such is the nature of my Magic-Slate brain, in which most memory is peeled away for a fresh new sheet in case something interesting comes along. Clearly I have no recollection of the Alpine Restaurant because we never, ever ate there. One of my friends said his family didn’t go often because they didn’t have the budget for it, so that proves it. My father took the family out to dinner every Saturday night because he believed Mom should not have to cook seven days a week. And every single Saturday night for years we went to the Seven Corners shopping center and ate at the S&W Cafeteria in the basement. Where, I assume, you didn’t have to tip.

Somewhere along the line Dad discovered a sit-down Family Restaurant in Cherrydale that fit his budget and we went there a few times. Here’s what I remember. They had a cool toothpick dispenser at the cash register. And once, some adult came up to our table to compliment my sister and me for being so well-behaved. Was there another option???
There was another restaurant I do remember, but not because our family ate there. We did not. I think it was one of my friend’s moms who took us to the brand-new McDonald’s, one block west of the Alpine Restaurant (apparently) on Lee Highway, and treated us to a cheeseburger (18 cents), French fries (15 cents), and a chocolate milk shake. My world turned upside-down. How could food be so delicious? I couldn’t imagine why we weren’t eating there all the time. It had to be in the budget, because I was able to buy my own French fries with babysitting money, and I’m not sure I ever cleared more than four dollars a month.
It probably arrived around 1963 or so. A classic. Came with the two Golden Showers on top. Arches. Whatever. And a sign that said “over one million sold” that got upgraded every few months. At some point it hit “over a billion sold,” and very shortly thereafter they settled for “billions and billions.” Now there’s just a poster in the parking lot that says “You know you’re coming in here, just pull out your fucking wallet.”
The restaurant thing with my father was fraught. I learned to tip heavily but certainly not from him. He was focused on paying down a mortgage and providing a college education for four children, goals which strike me now as laudable indeed, but didn’t impress me one bit as a child. I wanted a bigger house with a rec room. I never got it. Got a stupid B.A. in Biology instead.
Vacation is fun!

We did go to restaurants when we were on vacation. One vacation my mom broke the heck out of her ankle in South Dakota and had to stay in a hospital while Dad drove my sister and me back home to Virginia. We went into a restaurant one night, the only one for miles, and as soon as we got seated we realized we’d made a huge mistake. The place was tinkly with inappropriate laughter from adults with genuine cocktails and the waiter brought enormous leather-bound menus over in which every entrée was at least one decimal point over budget. One of them was “Mermaid Steak,” presumably a surf ‘n’ turf deal. I was terrified. Daddy said we could leave and he got up to tell the waiter we wouldn’t be staying, but it took a bit to get his attention, and when I saw a straight path had opened up to the front door, I hollered “Run, Daddy!” and we all peeled out of there. I don’t know what we did for dinner.

I would’ve remembered if it was McDonald’s.