Thursday, May 8, 2008

In the entry . . .

. . . The Last 40-Minutes, I wrote the following, "In a later post, I'll share the winner of the Best/Worst/Best Employee, ever."

In Dodge City, during the early 90's, a fast food restaurant opened in the Comanche Plaza parking lot, Bionic Burger. It was a throwback to the malt shops of the 50's with vintage decor and a jukebox draping each booth. It closed only after a few years, but to mention it's name is to illicit the memory of the greasiest skin-on fries, ever.

Though the location in the Comanche Plaza is now a liquor store (the first in Dodge with a drive-thru), two Bionic Burgers still exist in the diamond of Kansas. Wichita.

Visiting friends, I dragged them to the location at Meridian Avenue. Despite having been ten years since I last tasted the food, the scent pulled me back into 1991. We placed our order and took a seat at a booth facing the kitchen behind the counter. Everything fit the feeling, with the exception of the staff. The woman tending to the register wore black jeans, and a t-shirt that seemed to have been decorated at home and with a sharpie. The jockey on the grill stared off into space as smoke poured out from around him and into the dining area. His lobotomy appeared recent.

A great deal of time had passed and our food had yet to arrive. I approached the girl and inquired as to the status of our meal. She looked down at the notepad the order was taken into, tore off the top sheet, and placed it on the revolving rack behind her.

"Order up," she shouted.

The chef's drool sizzled on the grill.

She turned back to me, "It'll be out shortly."

I walked back to the booth in a trance. "It's coming. In the meantime, let's listen to some music." I pumped a few quarters into the jukebox, only to find these units were just for show.

Another considerable length of time went by. Our burgers finally arrived, and it took only a few bites to realize that I'd placed way too much on the memory of this food.

A loud crash came from the entrance. A man rushed to the counter.

"I have been waiting in the drive-thru for the last thirty-minutes!" The hot afternoon had caused his sweat to soak through the fibers of his polo. His face was red.

The girl at the counter just looked at him, "Oh. This is my last day."

They stared one another down and not a word was spoken. He was expecting more. More than that. He tossed up his arms, turned, and left. His car could be heard raging out from the parking lot. She tore the top sheet from her notepad and threw it in the trash.

As we were leaving, I placed a five-dollar bill in the tip jar with the wish, "Good luck in whatever you do after this."

Several years later I was in Chicago. I'd met a friend who, through a chance series of encounters, had spent the previous summer cleaning pools in Wichita. We talked about Towne East. The Warren-chain of movie theaters (the best in the entire country). The re-birth of Old Town. Yesterday's Discs. When I asked if he ever ate at Bionic Burger, he started laughing.

"I went in there, and there was this girl working who had the most inappropriate shirt you could ever wear to work. It was so bad, I had to leave."

I smiled. There was something comforting in knowing she's still there.

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