Monday, December 28, 2020

A Narrative From When I Was Tiny

Back when my raging social anxiety and moderate misanthropy were my only obstacles to in-person social interaction, I would often be asked how my interest in tracking down the surviving locations of mostly defunct restaurant, and occasionally, retail chains began. In many answerings of this and similar questions, I honed a boilerplate response that would be something to the effect of, “I liked to eat at Taco Tico and G.D. Ritzy’s when I was a kid in the ‘90s in Kentucky. All the locations of those two chains near me closed at around the same time, and when I discovered, years later, that there were surviving locations of both chains, it made me wonder what other survivors may be out there.” I’d then credit the late, great Evil Sam Graham’s work in the fast food blogosphere for being my inspiration to document my adventures in writing, and then excuse myself from the conversation as graciously as possible in accordance with the aforementioned social anxiety and my strict upbringing in a culture of honor. 

While my carefully crafted response was the truth and nothing but the truth, however, it did not reflect the whole truth. It showcased merely the most prominent threads in the tapestry of my fixation on anachronistic restaurants and stores. In actuality, a veritable panoply of experiences led to me becoming the very specific type of nerd that I am today, and since I can’t exactly take a multistate road trip to eat inside a restaurant without posing a significant risk to myself and others these days, I thought I’d reminisce about one of my earliest experiences visiting a surviving location of a broken chain instead. 

It was my Aunt Sis who introduced me to G.D. Ritzy’s in the early 1990s, shortly before it became a broken chain. She was often gracious enough to take me and my younger brother on various outings, not only to G.D. Ritzy’s but also to movies and on Christmas shopping trips anytime my parents required respite from the daily horrors of raising children. One day out with Aunt Sis in particular sticks out in my mind as one of my earliest, perhaps my first encounter with what was then a broken chain. 

During my elementary school years, Aunt Sis’s mother, my paternal grandmother, Granny Nova Scotia Actionsdower was in her late 70s, living alone in Stanford, Kentucky. My father and aunt would each try and make the drive down from the Lexington area once a week to check in on her and help with household chores, as did her other son, my uncle, and my numerous adult cousins, all of whom lived nearby in and around Stanford. On a spring day in the mid 1990s, Aunt Sis saw fit to bring me along on a trip to Granny Nova Scotia's house instead of our usual lunch and movie, perhaps in an effort to assassinate two proverbial pigeons with the same pyrite. Even in her prime, Granny was a mediocre driver, and she relied on friends and family to chauffeur her on out of town excursions by the time she was deep into her retirement years. 

Granny was an avid collector of S&H Green Stamps, trading stamps used as a marketing tool by various small businesses to various extents throughout the 20th century and to almost no extent by the dawn of the 21st. The stamps were sold in bulk to business owners who would then give them out to customers in proportion to the dollar amount of their transactions in an effort to attract new customers and encourage existing ones to spend more. Customers then collected the stamps, often pasting them by the hundred in special green stamp books. They could then trade them for items from the S&H Green Stamp catalogs as well as brick and mortar Green Stamp stores. If you’ve ever saved Pepsi points, Camel Cash, or any chain restaurant loyalty points, the concept is similar, except, multiple unrelated businesses gave out Green Stamps and/or other brands of trading stamps regardless of which items a customer purchased. Trading stamps gradually began to fall out of fashion in the 1970s, and things like rewards credit cards serve a similar function today. 

Back in the mid 1990s with Aunt Sis and Granny Nova Scotia, Green Stamps still existed, but were clearly a relic of another time and not long for this world, not unlike Granny Nova Scotia herself. The only business I ever witnessed handing out Green Stamps was the bizarrely old fashioned pharmacy in my hometown that still had a working art deco soda fountain and lunch counter and shelves stocked with decades-old brittle and yellowed packages of Brylcreem and Ipana. Naturally, Granny Nova Scotia enlisted my father to have all of her prescriptions filled by the crusty old pharmacist who ran the place just like his crustier older father before him so she could reap the Green Stamp rewards. She had likewise enlisted Aunt Sis to drive her 35 miles south to Somerset Kentucky on the day in question, with me in tow, to the nearest Green Stamp store, which had recently announced its impeding permanent closure. 

Truth be told, I don’t remember much about the visit to the store itself other than vague memories of standing in a long line amid half-bare shelves in some tiny, nondescript storefront in a strip mall, but the experience gave me a lasting appreciation of the then vanishing, now extinct, concept of trading stamps and perhaps also instilled in me an interest in tracking down the businesses that offer a glimpse into a different time, and whose brands still manage to exist in some small way despite overwhelming odds to the contrary. It was then that I had my earliest inkling about the broken chains that may still be out there hiding in plain sight. I like to think I had the foresight to make a mental note to look into that 20 to 25 years later, but I very likely didn't. 

As if to really emphasize the lesson that a handful surviving locations of a chain often last long past the majority of their brethren, our next stop after Granny cashed in her Green Stamps was at the Somerset Kmart. Granny At the time, Kmart was still a relevant retail brand, merely approaching the precipice of its ultimate decline, but I recall the visit to that Kmart being a nostalgic experience for me even at the tender age of 8 or 9 since the only Kmart my family would ever visit with any regularity was the one in Nicholasville which had closed a year or two before. 

It was late in 2018  when I learned that the Somerset Kmart was still open for business, and was the only Kmart I had visited as a child that was still in operation. It was Memorial Day weekend 2019 by the time I paid the store a visit, which turned out to be well-timed, as its liquidation and closure were announced only a few weeks later, along with the only other surviving Kentucky Kmart in Erlanger. I’ve visited and documented many doomed Kmarts over the years, and I took a walk through the store executing the routine photography protocol I had developed over the course of countless Kmart runs. I was saving the pictures for a rainy day, and since this year has been a deluge, now seems as good a time as any to share images of the Somerset Kmart near the end. 

A sign adorned with branded word salad greeted me in the parking lot.

The exterior was in decent shape by Kmart standards. 

These cart corral signs are usually weathered and faded, not so here. 

The garden center was even operational, a rarity at the time. I'd be surprised to hear there are any Kmarts that still have operational garden centers these days. 

There might still be a Kmart pharmacy or two kicking around though. 

More Pharmacy marked by classic Kmart signage.

It's been a year and a half, so I can't be sure, but I think I took this picture so I could mention that the alleged discount price was dropped from a grossly inflated one, and was still comparatively high. I had bought a comparable freezer from Menards earlier that year at full price, which was well below $200. 

More classic, if inaccurate signage. I haven't seen actual music and video in a Kmart music and video section in years. 

Most Kmarts have these giant round ceiling vents. I try to photograph one in every store I visit. I remember seeing them in more places years ago, but they've mostly vanished from everywhere but Kmart thanks to their perpetually delayed store upgrades and maintenance.  

Starting around the 2018 bankruptcy, Sears and Kmart really had trouble convincing their suppliers they could pay for merchandise. Bare shelves abounded as a result. 

This is the typical appearance of a Kmart soft drink aisle. This picture is from the spring of 2019, long before panic buying became a thing. 

This was a blatant lie, unless they meant that the sales floor would be completely empty and the store closed by the end of the year. 

The Die Hard automotive battery shelf has been nearly empty at every Kmart I've visited in recent memory. One of Sears/Kmart's last assets of any value, the Die Hard brand has since been sold to Advance Auto Parts as part of CEO Eddie Lampert's years-long quest to profit off the lumbering decline of the Sears and Kmart brands. 

Again, it was late May in Kentucky on the day of my visit. The temperature outside was close to 90 degrees, but the Somerset Kmart had plenty of rock salt and snow shovels for sale at full price. 

Plastic totes spread out to hide bare shelves; this was a common site at many of the Kmarts I've visited. It probably still is, but I haven't been to a Kmart in almost a year. 

The Layaway counter likely looked exactly as it did when I was last here during the first term of the Clinton administration. 

Every Kmart has a breakfast nook on display. Who buys them? Nobody knows. 

It wasn't all snow shovels and rock salt. To their credit, they did have a nice display of patio furniture and Kenmore-branded grills. I don't believe Fast Eddie has sold off the Kenmore brand... yet. 

Florescent lighting always looks bleakest in a Kmart. 

As with all my Kmart visits, I try to spend a little money while I'm there gawking. 

The furniture department didn't look half bad. 

This was once the in-store cafe. It was off to one side, though I remember it being at the back of the store. I'm probably wrong though. I was only there once 25 years ago. 

But that’s not all! In January of this year, my beloved Esmeralda Fitzmonster and I took a trip to South Florida, and we managed to visit two of the three operating Kmarts in the Florida Keys. Most people would probably regret spending their last vacation in the final carefree days before cataclysm gripped the world shopping at Kmart, but I am not most people, and Esmeralda was and continues to be a good sport about my various quirks and flaws. In accordance with Broken Chains year-end tradition, below are a selection of photos of those two island Kmarts, who along with around 35 other locations spread far and wide across the U.S. and its territories are the last that have managed to stay in operation. 

Kmart in Key Largo; not pictured are the wild chickens that roamed the parking lot. 

It was the first time I had encountered these cylindrical department signs. They're apparently part of a rare decor package, and I'm the kind of guy who gets excited about that type of thing. 

Remember before when I said every Kmart had a breakfast nook on display? The one in Somerset was $100 cheaper. 

Another rare, if inaccurate, cylindrical department sign. 

The Marathon Kmart is unique in that it has a massive section of the store devoted to fishing equipment and is adorned with an ocean-themed mural. 

Mural detail 

They still had plenty of Christmas wrapping paper out on MLK Day weekend, but it was at least marked down. 

The Kmarts in the Keys were among the nicest I've visited in recent memory. While definitely dated, they still felt functional, serving tourists and locals alike. Hopefully the lack of competition in the area will keep the Key Largo, Marathon, and Key West Kmarts going a while longer. 

That's it for 2020 blog posts. I'm going to try to post at least once per month moving forward, and I hope to be able to hit the road again and return to something closer to my five post per month schedule once things are a little more normal, hopefully sometime in 2021. Thanks for sticking with me during the weird times. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Enjoy Every Sandwich

You didn't think I'd forget Big Boy Month, did you?

A few weeks back I was inundated with messages and comments from readers, friends, acquaintances, frenemies, and enemies about a video the noted YouTuber, author, and Vlog Brother Hank Green had uploaded to the YouTube channel he shares with his brother, John. He discussed at length their childhood meals at the local Rax restaurant and segued those memories into a discussion of an ad campaign for the fast food chain that was launched shortly before their 1992 bankruptcy. I had long been aware of Uncle Alligator, the Rax mascot geared toward the youngest Rax customers, but I had never heard of Mr. Delicious, the plaid suit wearing middle-aged character associated with the chain’s final pre-bankruptcy ad campaign. Mr. Delicious was the antithesis of the avuncular cartoon gator that adorned Rax kids meal bags and molded plastic drink bottles. Mr. Delicious was instead meant to appeal to adults looking for a grown up, dare I say, stylish fast food experience. Amid the Rax bankruptcy, Mr. Delicious faded into obscurity as quickly as he appeared, and he likely would have been largely forgotten were it not Hank Green’s video.

Mr. Delicious, Rax pitchman and Steve Higgins lookalike. 

Mr. Delicious, and obscure restaurant mascots in general were on my mind as I was brainstorming how I could best observe Big Boy Month in a time when travelling long distances and eating in restaurants are both inadvisable, if not impossible. Earlier this year, seemingly in response to the chicken sandwich craze that Popeye’s sparked, the Michigan shard of the shattered Big Boy empire revived one of the Big Boy brand’s own obscure mascots to be the face of their entrant into the suddenly crowded premium chicken sandwich market. Dolly, the namesake of the new sandwich, was once a character who appeared with Big Boy in the eponymous Big Boy comic books that were once handed out to the youngest Big Boy patrons. I don’t recall ever seeing a Big Boy comic book anywhere but the odd antique shop or vintage comic book store in my three odd decades as a human being and occasional Big Boy customer, but Dolly was ripe for rebirth nonetheless, likely because she could be resurrected cheaply without having to pay any artists or lawyers to create or license a new character. 

Dolly, holding her namesake sandwich in the traditional Big Boy pose.

I have somehow managed to avoid eating a Popeye’s chicken sandwich as well as its many analogs save for an occasional Chick-fil-A in my weakest moments when my desire for greasy poultry and pickle slices on a bun outweighs my distaste for the bigotry of the brand’s owners. As for Popeye’s, It’s not politics, but poor service that has kept me away. I’ve visited Popeye’s locations all over the country, but I’ve never been to one I would describe as “Clean” or “Well-run.” Add a drive-thru line that stretches out of the parking lot and down the block, and it’s been more than enough to make it easy for me to resist the allure of a Popeye’s sandwich. 

My complex feelings about premium chicken sandwiches had been the back of my mind for weeks when I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and happened upon a post by Tuckey’s Big Boy in Tecumseh, Michigan, where I had a very pleasant meal last fall, announcing that they had both online ordering and curbside order pickup. I immediately saw this as an opportunity to give the Dolly chicken sandwich a try and to get out of the house for the couple of hours it would take me to drive to Tecumseh and back, so as soon as I had the time, I got out my phone, navigated to the only slightly glitchy online ordering platform and put in a late lunch order. I’ve lately passed my free time exploring the back roads of Southeast Michigan, and I plotted a semi-circuitous route of my favorite semi-scenic, semi-paved thoroughfares to take me to Tecumseh. 

I pulled into the empty Big Boy parking lot at 1 PM on a Friday, two days into a three-week ban on inside dining issued by the governor. The governor’s order had little effect on me. I haven’t eaten in a restaurant since March, opting instead for takeout and DoorDash orders, but the sudden decline in business resulted in Tuckey’s Big Boy cutting back their hours to offer only dinner four days per week. On the days they were open for lunch, there didn’t appear to be much of a rush of takeout customers, at least there wasn’t a rush when I was there. I pulled into one of the four empty parking spots marked for curbside pickup, and called the restaurant. I informed them I had placed an online order, and the voice coming through my phone informed me that it would be right out, an assurance offered without asking for my name or order number, implying that mine was the only pending online order. A masked Big Boy employee emerged from the restaurant’s front door a minute or two later with my bag of food, which I promptly took before driving around to the back of the restaurant to eat in my car. 

My exact words upon receiving this bag were, "Ohhh Boy! Big Boy®"

I like my slaw cole, my TV loud, and my transmissions manual. 

Eating this sandwich in my car is in my top 5 best experiences of 2020. 

In addition to the Dolly sandwich I ordered, I also requested coleslaw, coconut cream pie, and mandatory fries came with my sandwich as is customary at Michigan Big Boys. I’m happy to report that the various sides and desserts were far from the worst I’ve experienced at a Michigan Big Boy, but the sandwich was the main event. Just like Popeye’s chicken sandwich, the Dolly is offered in mild and spicy variations. I opted for the mild version, not out of an aversion to spicy food, but due to the novel fact that the mild Dolly is topped with tartar sauce, perhaps inspired by Frisch’s, the Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky contingent of the remnants of the Big Boy chain that tends to put tartar sauce on everything. The first bite of the Dolly made it abundantly apparent what all the chicken sandwich-related hoopla has been about. It’s not an exaggeration for me to say it was the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever eaten, thanks to the presence of a thick and juicy fried chicken breast, and the perfect amount of tartar sauce and pickles that have a subtle spicy, tangy flavor that remind me of some flavor I experienced in better times, perhaps decades ago, but can’t quite place. The brioche bun, while trendy, was also the perfect delivery device. Its dense crumb held up well to the briny pickle chips and tartar sauce that had lost its viscosity once it came into contact with hot chicken. Best of all, the Dolly is a sandwich that can be experienced without strings attached. As far as I know, the Big Boy brand carries no political baggage comparable to that of Chick-fil-A, and the worst service I've experienced at a Big Boy is better than the best I've had at a Popeye’s. The Dolly stands as a great chicken sandwich, uncomplicated by the unpleasantness of the world around it.  

Standard issue Michigan Big Boy fries...
...and coconut cream pie

An individual more talented than myself once offered the advice to enjoy every sandwich, and that chunk of wisdom is on my mind as I recall eating that Dolly chicken sandwich in my car while parked behind the Tecumseh, Michigan Big Boy. In a time with relatively few bright spots, something as simple as eating a really good sandwich stands out more than it usually would, and serves as a reminder that every sandwich, every small, simple pleasure is worth savoring and enjoying, especially when pleasant, normal, experiences are in short supply. But it was the ritual surrounding the sandwich, the drive to an obscure corner of the map, snapping the surreptitious photos, and indeed, writing this very blog post that have the fleeting, subtly spicy tang of the semi-recent past, and hopefully also the not too distant future when I can again travel wide and far to experience the surviving locations of the broken chains. 

With the conclusion of Big Boy Month comes Raxgiving, a day set aside to support the broken chains. I won’t make it to a Rax this year, but I plan on supporting a broken chain restaurant or two that are closer to my home. I encourage anyone reading this to support their local restaurants as well, whether or not they be associated with a broken chain, provided that you can do so safely.  

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Kewpee

Once upon a crazy year, while I fretted and cried into my beer, 

Over many a bleak and troubling story in the news-

As I trembled, nearly crapping, over politicians scrapping, 

I heard the crinkling of wrapping, wrapping like fast food joints use. 

“‘I am hearing things,” I muttered, ”Because of my anxiety and booze.”

I laid down to try to snooze. 

I was as blue as Papa Smurf or Grover, it was early in the cool October;

The year’s plans collapsed like Clarence Oveur after a fish dinner he did choose.

I tried in vain to relive the past; when chain breaking was a blast, 

My silly road trips unsurpassed, until the world turned into number twos,  

In the second year of my life with two zeroes and two twos, 

More off-putting than Ted Cruz.

And the constant, sad, uncertain stream of each news story

Distressed me-depressed me with panic worse than strenuous flus;

So that now to slow the dread, I mumbled prostrate from my bed

“‘Tis but leaves in the yard beneath some passing shoes-

Some jerk in my yard in passing shoes;-

I realized it was no time to snooze. 

Presently, I grew alerter paranoid from news of murder,

“Sir” said I, “or Madam, you of trespass I accuse!

The fact is I am close to snapping! You crinkle like a burger’s wrapping!

Show yourself and take a slapping! Slapping is the attack I choose!

I am built like Terry Crews!”

Into the night, I started staring, long I strained my eyes, hardly bearing,

The constant dry and crackling rustle that never lessens nor subdues;

The growing noise only stoked my fear as its source remained unclear,

And the only words there to hear was the phrase “Drive Throughs?”

This I sighed, and an echo groaned back the phrase, “Drive Throughs.”

I handled the truth worse than Tom Cruise. 

   Back onto my mattress falling, pretending I didn’t hear the calling,

Soon again though, came the flapping, now a sound that I could not confuse. 

“Clearly,” said I, “Clearly it’s a wrapper encrusted with dried-out lettuce;

Let me see, then, what the threat is, as I go to find refuse-

Let my mind be calm a moment as I go to seek refuse;”

I got up to look for clues.

Onward then I turned the lighting, when amid a sudden brightening,

Therein stood a creepy Kewpee wearing no shirt, pants, nor shoes;

Not the least attention it showed toward me, but for a hat, no clothing wore she;

Unsettling as the art of Edward Gorey, the Kewpee stood for burgers I could not refuse-

Printed on a Styrofom chalice, near the other cups that once amused-

A hallucination I failed to disabuse.

This unclad toddler forced my gloom to the forefront in my lighted room,

With its culinary toque and the spatula it used,

“Though you stand for burgers and fries,” I said, “you fail to appetize,

Naked pasty baby thighs forced obscure by Wendy’s ruse-

Tell me why I find myself nervous and confused!”

Quoth the Kewpee “Breaking News!”

I was surprised this cartoon baby could hear my inquiry so plainly, 

It’s reply a phrase I wish I my brain could lose,

For I cannot help but hearing, into my slipping sanity searing, 

Those two words signalling new situations to defuse

Kewpee cup harbinger of society eviler than Minions and their Grus.

With a proclamation of breaking news.

But the Kewpee blushing plainly on the flaccid cup, spoke only

Those two words, as if from the grail those two words did slowly ooze, 

Nothing further then it mumbled-as I shuddered, twitched, and stumbled

Until when I finally grumbled “My mind has likely blown a fuse-

In the morning, I’ll feel better, despite the blown brain fuse.”

Then the Kewpee said “Breaking News.”

   Flustered by the interruption and by the cartoon baby’s chilling gumption,

“Clearly,” said I, “what it says is nothing but a blatant ruse

Prompted by some depraved trickster to scramble my mind up like a mixer.”

I took a gulp of of my elixir- one of Milwaukee’s finest brews-

But the TV in my room bore that melancholy bruise,

A Chiron screaming “Breaking News!”

    But the Kewpee still unsettling, my addled nerves in need of fettling,

Down I plopped a bean bag chair in front of the Kewpee and the other cups in slews;

There upon the vinyl sweating, I betook myself to fretting

Worry begetting worry, betting that the Kewpee was following cues-

Who could feed this cutesy, nude chef-child corporate mascot cues?

To alert me to ever-more breaking news?

This I thought there, speculating, but not a word I considered stating, 

To the child whose cartoon eyes began to pierce like screws;

That and more I laid deciphering before the Kewpee in need of diapering

On the bean bag’s synthetic fibering that always smelled of Krazy Glues

And whose carcinogenic liner-ing smelling of ever-Krazier Glues

Was once the subject of, ah, Breaking News!

Slowly then, the air grew smelly, perfumed by my gassy belly

Loaded with burrito cannonballs, and a couple beers to light the fuse.

“Cup!” I cried, “Polystyrene soda silo, that I brought home from Ohio

Lay off-lay off and desist reminding me of the news;

Quaff, oh quaff this warm tall can and drown my fears in booze!”

Quoth the Kewpee “Breaking News.”

“Infant!” said I, “Discount Cupid!-much less weird if you were suited!-

Whether vile nightmare or whether you’re a product of my alcohol abuse, 

Your nudity you’ve casually flaunted, you disposable cup that’s clearly haunted-

Consider me now thoroughly taunted. Tell me as I sit before you bemused, 

Will there soon be a new normal? Will dining out again become my muse? 

Quoth the Kewpee “Breaking News!”

    “Mascot!” said I, “thing of marketing!-profit generating, appearance starkening!

By the state of Ohio below us-where I bought you with some foods-

As I sit with churning guts, tell me if in a few months, 

I shall inhabit a restaurant table, and eat food not from drive throughs-

Eat a burger, taco, chicken, fish not bought from drive throughs.”

Quoth the Kewpee “Breaking News!”

    “Those two words our sign of parting, Kewpee cup!” I yelled, while farting-

“Get thee back to Ohio with Rax Roast Beef and Cincinnati chili stews!

Leave no Styrofoam as evidence of your bad tidings of war and pestilence,

Leave me shaken in my residence! Leave my shelf, and follow my cues!

Take thy straw from out my brain, and from my life yourself recuse!”

Quoth the Kewpee, “Breaking News!”

And the Kewpee, never landing, still is standing, still is standing

On the flaccid Styrofoam chalice, in the environment it abused;

And its form has all the presence of a dark and evil essence,

Like a senator proclaiming, “My words against me you must use!”

As I pine for days gone by of wandering like Moses and the Jews

Put to a stop by breaking news!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fall Check-In

Hot 'n Now's drive thru only service turned out to be an idea ahead of its time. 

I'm still here. I'm healthy. I'm employed. Most of all, I'm thankful I can make make those statements when so many cannot. 

However, it is a ridiculously bad time for one's hobby to be travelling long distances to eat in restaurants. I therefore have not dined inside a restaurant since March of this year, and it's looking like I won't feel safe dining in again until sometime next year at the earliest. It's been tough for me to keep up with my normal fiveish (Finkle) post per month schedule that I maintained as recently as the simpler time known as seven months ago. I hope that I can one day resume something that resembles my travel and post schedule from the before times. In the meantime, you probably won't hear much from me aside from occasional cutesy rhyming blog posts, as my motivation to write vanishes in all but the best of times. 

Back in early June when it looked for an instant like the worst was behind us, I donned my favorite mask  and took a cautious, socially distant, multi-state trip across the Midwest to order from some of my favorite broken chain drive thrus as well as some I hadn't experienced before. It was a welcome taste of the old normal, even if I did have to sleep in my car. Of course, not long after my return home, things began to trend much worse than they had been, and I haven't ventured out of my home state of Michigan since. I can't muster the motivation to write much about those experiences from the road in late spring, but I thought I'd share some of the pictures I took along the way, as well as a few from a late February trip to what was then Lexington, Kentucky's newest Taco Tico operating out of a nicely converted G.D. Ritzy's building. I reserve the right to author full Broken Chains posts about any and/or all of these experiences in the future, but for now, it is my hope that the pictures will provide some distraction from what has been a pretty terrible year, and is likely to stretch into an equally terrible two to three year period. 

The Taco Tico at the corner of Man O War Boulevard and Pimlico Pike opened in February. It's still going strong, and another location has since opened across town in a former Arby's, making a total of three Taco Tico locations in Lexington, more than any other town outside of Kansas.

Modern signage and menu boards adorn the drive thru.

The dining area has been completely remodeled. These pictures were taken in February. The dining area closed not long after this, but the drive thru remains open. 

A curved corner hints at the building's origins as a G.D. Ritzy's.

This may have been the last time I dined in at a fast food place. 

Tastee Freez once had 1800 locations all over the US. Today, there are nine of them still in operation, including this one in Mt. Carmel, Illinois, that sports a strangely familiar trapezoidal sign.

That's right. This Tastee Freez is a former Dairy Queen. That's like opening a new Sears in a former Walmart building or putting Studebaker badges on a Hyundai. 

Wienerschnitzel owns the Tastee Freez brand these days and still supplies them with menus that look modern, if a bit generic. 

Promotional signage is similarly contemporary, if unremarkable. 

Their ice cream parfait is like a vertical, banana-less banana split. 

A chili dog, outsize the Tastee Freez, free of Cougar-Mellencampian innuendo.

The Big T is Tastee Freez's Big Boy inspired double deck burger. 

Despite being a G.D. Ritzy's fanatic, I had never ordered from their drive thru. I remedied that at the First Avenue location in Evansville, Indiana. 

It was a popular place on a Saturday afternoon. 

The drive thru speaker was equipped with a modern order screen. 

But the nicely maintained menu board still had its vintage Ritzy's flair. 

I don't disagree, but I found the placement of this sign to be odd. 

Nicely branded packaging. 

Banana supreme ice cream, a flavor unique to the Evansville Ritzy's locations.

The fabled Double Ritz with cheese, my favorite fast food burger. 
The outside building was spotless as always. 

And I was pleased to find that the unique three sided sign that was absent from its pole on my previous visit had been repaired and restored. The owners of the Evansville G.D. Ritzy's go to great expense to keep their facilities looking as pristine as the day they opened 30+ years ago. 

A sign of the times.

Across the river in Owensboro, Kentucky, the Ritzy's menu board has a bit more patina. 

But the building is still presentable. 
The signage is simpler here.

An Owensboro Ritzy's PB&J tasted great at my campsite.

The final broken chain stop of my trip was at the last operating Druther's restaurant in Campbellsville, Kentucky. Druther's was originally called Burger Queen, but the chain changed its name in 1980. Amazingly, if you look closely, you can still see remnants of the old Burger Queen signage on the roof of the building. 

Speaking of drive thru menu patina, Druther's has close to five decades worth of it. 

The drive thru was an addition to the existing building. I'm sure they're glad to have it these days. 

Blah blah blah... toilet paper... something something... Tiger King... yadda yadda... Unprecedented/uncertain times
I dare you to find a better breakfast sandwich this side of Tudor's Biscuit World. 

Queenie Bee, the old Burger Queen mascot still adorns the sign. Hopefully the hole Druther's sign is repairable. 

Thanks for reading and for your notes and comments, especially over the past few months. Hang in there, and we'll get through this sooner or later. In the meantime, wear a mask and wash your hands. Support your local restaurants if you can do so safely. 

If you're reading this from the US, take a minute to make sure you're registered, and make a plan to vote. It should be plainly obvious to any reasonable person who the bad guys are at this point. Vote against them, maybe? That's as partisan a statement as I'm comfortable making, at least on my silly fast food blog.