Sunday, September 20, 2009

Whistle Stop

Last night, The Piper and I made a late-summer pilgrimage to one of our favourite eateries: the Fat Boy Drive-In. Cleverly sandwiched between a military base and a college campus, Fat Boy's is a independent family-run seasonal institution. As you might guess from the name, this is a no-frills fast-food establishment. Only train tracks and a thin line of trees separate it from the ugly grey towers of the old Dragon Cement plant. Seagulls wheel above the green-and-white corrugated fiberglass roof. What it lacks in charm it makes up for with quick service, good food, and prices that make starving students--and hungry farmers--smile.

Fat Boy's has been in business for over 50 years. Generations of high school and college kids have worked their way from April to October at the big grill or on the asphalt, balancing trays and swooping between the cars ("lights on for service!") to take orders. Tourists usually park and wait for the carhops to come to them, but locals often come inside. There are only four small booths, each one stocked with a paper napkin dispenser, a ketchup bottle, and a paper cup full of crayons so kids can color on the paper place mats. More than once we've used these materials to sketch out farm projects, designing house, garden, and pasture fences as we wait for our burgers and "frappes."

Last night, The Piper and I both worked late off the farm--I at the shop, she playing pipes for a wedding somewhere on the coast. She picked me up from my workplace, waved her cash tip in front of my eyes, and said, "Wanna go to Fat Boy's?" I gave her a hungry smile, hopped in, buckled up, and we headed on down the road.

The place had quieted down a bit since Labour Day. The parking lot was only one-third full and there was no-one else sitting in the booths. The young grill workers and carhops were enjoying the rare chance to relax, chat, and tease each other in between filling orders. They weren't slacking, though: we had almost instantaneous service as we slid onto the orange naugahyde cushions in our chosen booth.

We scanned the menu out of habit, although we knew it almost by heart. Hmmm. Fresh haddock sandwich? Hamburger with all the fixings? Or should I just get the House Special, a BLT made with Canadian Bacon and served with lovely thin, crispy onion rings? And what flavour of frappe--pronounced, I shudder to inform you, as "frap"--should we share tonight: chocolate or vanilla for The Piper, maybe mocha for me? We ordered orange cream just things up.

No colouring this time. We were both tired beyond creativity. We sat quietly, content to people-watch as our order was prepared. The rhythm of other folks' work was soothing after the busy-ness of our respective work-days.

Just then, the side door banged open. Two men rushed in with an air of tightly-scheduled importance. One of the men could have been any sort of labourer, with his heavy boots, Carhartts and canvas jacket. The other man's gear puzzled me. What kind of worker wears a black vest, black pants, a white shirt, and a complicated holster with what looked like a walkie-talkie clipped to the edge? Except for the holster, I would have guessed a bartender, but that didn't make much sense. The two men stepped quickly to the counter. I heard the cashier say, "the usual?" and the men nodded their assent. Three minutes later their orders were bagged, rung up, handed over, and the men were on their way back out the door. "Drive safe!" the cashier called out. The men grinned and the black-vested one turned back to answer, "Always." As he turned, I finally caught a glimpse of the emblem and the yellow lettering embroidered on his vest: "Eastern Maine Railroad."

Two minutes later, we heard two long blasts on a train whistle: the engineer's way of saying thanks for a job well done. The railroad men had made Fat Boy's their own little "drive-in," and now they were on their way.

(photo credits:
(I'm usually far more focused on eating than picture-taking when I go.)

1 comment:

angela said...

Oh, I think that's a beautiful glimpse into the place--and what characters to get the order picked up and off they go with whistle tooting!

Very nicely done.