Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“Reunion Run & White Castle Fun”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

On the first Saturday in August, members of the Ice family gather in Gallia County, Ohio to revisit old memories and catch up on new developments from the year.
This ritual means a great deal to those of us who remember meeting in Columbus, in yonder days, at the feet of our patriarch, M. C. Ice. Since his passing, the focus of our family has been changed by circumstance. And yet, we still meet each year to celebrate and remember.
Of primary importance on this day is the kinship experienced between us, by the river. Yet one extra event makes the day special for this writer.
For the past few years, it has been visiting a White Castle, along the way.
The story of this seminal fast-food chain remains part of American lore. Founded in 1921 by Billy Ingram and cook Walt Anderson, the company began in Wichita, Kansas. At the time, there was no industry dedicated to the vending of quick-made hamburgers. So these pioneers literally invented the concept. Eventually, their system would include making everything needed to set up a restaurant, including the building itself.
Being from Columbus, I had always thought of White Castle as a curious part of Midwestern culture. But five years living in the Finger Lakes region of New York changed my perceptions. Suddenly, I met people who were inclined to drive hundreds of miles for a simple meal of these square ‘sliders.’ Their zeal was amazing.
Never again would I take White Castle for granted.
Their location at Arlington Road, in Akron, appeared by surprise as I was making the family reunion trek, a few years ago. It looked easy to find, literally right off of Interstate 77.
For the past three years, I had chosen to stop on the way home from Gallia County, never earlier than one o’clock in the morning. This meant that each visit took on the character of a dream sequence. Only leftover rubbish bearing the ‘Castle’ logo proved that these drive-thru encounters were real.
My order last year had been for a ‘Crave Case’ of thirty hamburgers. After speaking my request, there was an audible sigh from the clerk. Fatigue made him visibly unenthusiastic about the task. And I felt a tingle of guilt while driving onward, toward Geauga. But that mood passed after about two bites of onion-steamed burger.
In current terms, I decided to change my routine. A daytime pause in ‘Craver Nation’ seemed in order. So I stopped in the early afternoon, actually going inside. The lunch rush had already come and gone. For a moment, the restaurant was nearly empty.
I took time to look around, while my meal was being prepared. A mural by the front registers depicted the urban history of White Castle, in hues of black and white. A large sign by the front door offered the image of a cook in his company uniform. Another, by the side entrance, displayed a cab driver waiting by his vehicle. All of these exuded a sort of retro vibe, as if merely being at a White Castle location had customers plugged into the vast continuum of time itself. I pondered how Ingram and Anderson’s creation from 1921 had proved to be so long-lived as a culinary and cultural phenomenon.
From PBR-sipping hipsters to full-throttle rednecks and rhyme-spitting urban outlaws, the crowd of those waiting to adopt White Castle as their own was considerable. A bit of research uncovered the company providing a list of many counter-cultural connections between their restaurant chain and the unwashed masses, including not only the adventures of Harold and Kumar, but also cinematic sagas like ‘Amreeka’ or ‘Fresh Horses.’
But in personal terms, this slider purveyor meant something more directly important. It represented part of our identity as a family.
Legend has it that Frederick Iaac came to the North American continent from Europe. He was German or Dutch, perhaps even Russian. He spoke several languages and was gifted with durable genetics.
Much debate has ensued regarding his loyalties, philosophical outlook and religious beliefs. But one thing always remains undeniable – that Herr Frederick would have craved White Castle hamburgers. That conclusion seems certain.
While traveling south on I-77 my thoughts have been fixed on aunts, uncles, cousins and unidentified mysterians, wandering in and out of the family. But this shining tower of squared steer has eclipsed everything else.
My journeys represent more than merely honoring family connections. They speak of life as portrayed on the doughy canvas of a hamburger bun.

White Castle
2900 South Arlington Road
Akron, OH 44312
(330) 644-0091

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