I was in fifth grade. That’s like ten years old, right?
The red dot was my house. My parents bought it, our first actual house, when I was a little way into fourth grade. Before that we lived in some town house apartments not far away. Those apartments however, were part of a different elementary school area. So I changed schools when I was in fourth grade. I changed schools more than a few times as a kid.
The green dot was Carrols. Carrols was your typical sixties/seventies burger chain. In our case, in Racine, Carrol’s was probably was one of the less desirable places. I have no idea why. There was a story about the cook spitting on the grill. And to be sure, the one guy who was the main grill cook there had a look that screamed “work release”. But I loved their food. It was cheap, so it had that going for it. The photo above isn’t my Carrol’s but ours looked a lot like that.
So why am I talking about Carrols? I was talking with my kid last night, about my childhood and how different her childhood and mine was. And this wasn’t one of those endlessly irritating “back when I was a kid” or, “you damn millennials” thing. She grew up in a very rural world with a few kids in her area and no sidewalks. I grew up surrounded by other families, with kids, walking to school (because they were nearby) and with businesses all around us.
So, Carrols. You know that bun in the middle of a Big Mac? It’s not a bottom or a top, it’s a middle bun? Carrols used to make a grilled cheese from two of those middle buns, on the same grill as the hamburgers. They were exquisite. Smashed flat, tasting slightly of hamburger, crunchy, crispy on the outside of the bun and soft and cheesy inside. I remember riding my bike from myhouse, up to Kinzie Street, down to Crab Tree Lane and up the hill on Crab Tree to Perry and there I was. I think a grilled cheese, in 1971, was like .30 or something stupid. All I know is, I could scrounge some change, return some bottles, maybe just borrow a couple of quarters from my mom’s purse and score a cool lunch, all by myself. At ago ten.
This floored the kid. She had no place to go. This was also the beginning of our long national paranoia about letting children do anything on their own. Even if she could go somewhere, the nearest business of any kind was a couple miles away down rural. So my tale, aside from the freakish pricing, was so other worldly to her because, “Where the hell were your parents?”
I have millions of these kind of recollections and I think it’s a damn shame my kid doesn’t.