A & W
In high school in the nineteen-fifties I frequented the first A&W in Edmonton, maybe in Alberta.
Today it’s an antique. Then it sparkled.
Carhops, cool and good looking, expertly handled the heavily loaded trays while fending off carloads of testosterone time bombs masquerading as personable young men.
Hotrods, chariots errant zealously slaved over in Scona Comp’s automotive shop, and the stars of moonlit drag strips, paraded with outlaw-tinted glamour.
Your music blasting from somewhere, from everywhere. Tunes so bewitching that you were barely aware of a train whistling on a nearby track.
Bill Haley, Ivory Joe Hunter, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Richie Valens, on top of the world with his mega hit, La Bamba, dead at seventeen. Buddy Holly, gone at twenty-two.
For romancing the beauty beside you on the comfortable bench seat there were the artfully smooth Everly Brothers, The Platters and Fats Domino.
For two sixteen-year-olds locked onto the pull of Saturday night, the A&W was the cool place on the South Side. Cocooned in its ambience, a thrilling pulse told you that you were at the beginning of a mercurial age.
It was true, you were. And it would be intoxicating.
Your parents were doing well thanks to the oil boom ushered in by the discoveries at Leduc, a few minutes down the road. They assumed you would take part in the prosperity. A geologist. A petroleum engineer.
But what they planned for you would not survive the tumult of the sweet and sour sixties with its evolutionary ideas and fresh attitudes.
A brand-new driver’s license in your wallet and money to spend on the girl glued to your side, you approached the drive-in with trepidation but also confidence.
You knew the place was built for you. You just had to chance upon an empty slot. You circled the building tailing a lowered Mercury with rear fender skirts, purring chromed exhausts, and a spare tire kit that made it seem as long as a freight car.
A spot opened. Carefully, slowly, you nosed into it. On your left was a metallic gold ‘32 deux coupe rag top, on your right a two-tone blue and white ’57 Chevy Bel Air, just off the production line and already a star for the ages.
A carhop hurried to your window.
Savory meat and abundant condiments merging in your mouth for the first time proved richly satisfying.
The syrupy sweet but peppery root beer in frosted mugs went perfectly with the burgers.
For me, though, the most desirable items on the menu were the milkshakes. A skinny kid always feeling half-starved, I might owe my life to A&W milkshakes.
Full, mellow and happy, you exited the drive-in’s ambience reluctantly. Now where? A drive-in movie or just roaming the highways and back roads, her shampooed hair fragrant on your shoulder?
Sweet options beneath a white ghost moon in the lingering northern light.
Two things were certain. One was that childhood was falling from us like a shed skin. The second was that we would be back at the A&Dub again and again all that short and fragile northern summer long.