ANDALUSIA—The first thing I always do in this town is eat ice cream. I order a Blizzard from Dairy Queen. If I’m in a good mood I might even get a Dilly Bar.
When I was dating my wife, I took her to this Dairy Queen for one of our first dates. Times were tight, I was really trying to stretch my cash. I ordered a large Blizzard and a tap water. We split the Blizzard.
She called me “Mister Big Spender” after that. She still calls me this.
This is not a term of endearment.
We are rolling into the drive-thru right now. It’s a summer afternoon. I’m idling behind three cars in the to-go line. One Oldsmobile, one Pontiac, and a Chevy Z71 truck.
The Dairy Queen on East Three Notch Street is among the finest in the nation. And that’s not an opinion. There aren’t many like it left in the U.S.
If you’re passing through this Alabamian hamlet with time to kill, order a single dipped cone from this 1950s-style establishment and see what I mean. You’ll forget all about the coronavirus for a few minutes. You might even find that you need a Dilly Bar.
The DQ’s dining room isn’t open right now because of COVID-19, but the drive-thru is. Which is similar to how Dairy Queens worked back in the ‘50s. Most stores did walk-up business only.
I pay for my Blizzard. The girl at the window hands me a tap water and says, “Have a nass day.” She is a ray of sunlight.
I park near a curb. My wife and I remove our surgical masks to eat. I play some early Hank Williams on the radio. We take big slurps from our cups. My Blizzard is so thick it could be used in a Quikrete advertisement.
After two sips I develop an ice-cream headache.
My wife laughs. “Mister Big Spender has a brain freeze! Why don’t you drink some of your free tap water?”
I choose not to dignify this remark.
I’m in too good of spirits. Ice cream does that to me. So does this little town.
Just down the road from this ice cream joint is the place where Hank Williams married Audrey Sheppard. They tied the knot here in ‘44, at a little service station. It was a shotgun wedding. There’s a large mural downtown to commemorate it.
If this Dairy Queen would have been in operation when they got married, Hank would have probably ordered a Blizzard and a tap water after the ceremony.
This tiny DQ reminds me of those former days—when Hank’s tunes were still on the radio. When young women still wore cotton dresses and young men still tuned their own carburetors.
Dairy Queens this old are hard to find. You have to really know where to look. The only ones left are located off beaten paths, situated on crumbling two-lanes, or in small towns with triple-digit populations.
I’ve been to a few. I went to one Dairy Queen in Masontown, Pennsylvania. I found another in Lima, Ohio. And I once visited a quaint Dairy Queen in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where I ate three Dilly Bars.
The tap water was delightful.
When I was a boy, my father would take our Little League team to Dairy Queen after every single game. Our games were usually bloodbaths with few survivors. We would get beaten so badly that several of us resolved to take up new sports. Like backgammon. Or maybe Jazzercise.
My father and Coach Dan would march the whole losing team to the walk-up window. You should have seen us trudge across the parking lot. Sulking. Thirteen unkempt, unathletic, untucked, uncoordinated, underweight, underachieving boys.
We would order enough chocolate dipped soft-serves to put the DQ franchise out of business. And slowly, with each bite, life returned to our faces. Pretty soon we’d be laughing, cheeks smeared with white goo, and we didn’t feel like losers anymore.
Those nights live in my memory forever.
In 1938 J.F. McCullough and his son, Alex, developed a recipe for something they called “soft-serve.” They knew they were onto something great.
Eventually, they convinced a local ice cream shop in Kankakee, Illinois, to serve the stuff on a trial run basis for one day. Just to see what happened.
This was a Great Depression, not the best time to launch a new product. They were ready for a modest turn out that day, but nothing major.
When the store window opened, the crowds were more than modest. Much more. The customers never quit coming. Single-file lines extended toward the horizon. After only two hours they had served 1,600 people. One serving every four seconds to be exact. It was pandemonium.
America’s first Dairy Queen opened in the nearby town of Joliet shortly thereafter. And a few years ago, Dairy Queen reported that it currently had 6,400 stores in 25 countries.
The original store still stands today. It looks a lot like the one here in Andalusia. One day I plan on going to see it. If for no other reason than to pay my respects to a couple of guys who helped make losing baseball games bearable. Who made a pandemic a little easier to handle, even if only for this brief afternoon.
But then, a road trip to Illinois would cost big bucks. So I guess it’s a good thing they call me Mister Big Spender.
Have a nass day.