Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Remembe(RED): What'll Ya Have?

“What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?”

I stared blankly at the woman. Annoyance was flickering in her eyes, but there was little I could do about it but stare. I could see her lips moving, but she might as well have been speaking another language. I just didn’t understand. My friend Amanda crowded up behind me in line. “Katie,” she said, exasperation and embarrassment ringing in her voice.

I was maybe ten years old. First year at a new school, first field trip at a new school. First trip to Atlanta landmark: The Varsity. The first of what would be many. The sights, sounds, and smells of this famous hot dog joint are old hat to me now, as much a part of who I am and my history as my love for writing.
But this was my first trip ever, and I’ll admit that I was terrified.

To understand a little of what I was going through, you need to first understand The Varsity. Originally opened in 1928 smack dab in the middle of downtown Atlanta, The Varsity is a drive-in of epic proportions. The restaurant itself can accommodate over 800 customers, and on a weekday, right about at lunch time, you can believe that 800 people are crawling inside. Buses full of field-trip kids, executives on their lunch breaks, Atlanta tourists: they’re all packed inside, waiting for their chance to snatch up a chili cheese dog, onion rings, and a Frosted Orange.

And I stood amongst them, overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. The lady behind the counter made a snarling sound. “What’ll ya have, kid?”

Thankfully, Amanda assessed the situation and my blank expression and took charge. “She wants an order of onion rings and a chocolate shake, and I’ll take a hot dog and fries.” The lady took our money, passed us our red trays, and then we turned around to face the lines and lines of people behind us.

I can vividly remember trying to navigate through all of those people, balancing the red tray and looking desperately for a free table to sit at. We ended up sitting in a dining room with school desks set up as tables. At ten, it struck me as incredibly funny to see grown men and women crammed into these desks, eating their greasy lunches. As I said, this was the first of many trips to The Varsity, and I eventually learned the language and attitude of the restaurant.

Field trips at my school, which was only 45 minutes from Atlanta, were typically made to Atlanta: the High Museum of Art, Six Flags, The Shakespeare Tavern, The Fabulous Fox Theatre, The World of Coke…all trips made with pit stops at The Varsity.

The ride to Atlanta was usually my least favorite part of these trips. When we would first load up on the bus, that unmistakable smell of hot rubber seats coupled with old puke and forgotten sack lunches would nearly overwhelm me. I’d spend the rest of the day trying to ignore that smell and failing miserably. Then there was the whole matter of my tendency of getting car sick, which was only amplified on a hot, smelly school bus. I don’t think I ever went on a field trip when I didn’t come home miserably sick.

And yet, I still look back fondly on those trips to Atlanta and The Varsity. I even smile when I remember that first trip, when I stood wide-eyed and scared to death in the middle of hundreds of hungry Atlantans, wondering what the heck I was supposed to do next, all because someone asked me “What’ll ya have?”

The above post was a response to the following Red Dress Club writing prompt: 

Write a memoir post about a memorable school trip. Word limit is 600.

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