White Castle Time Machine
A decade ago, sliding into South Plainfield NJ with just enough time to check in to the hotel, grab a bite and fill the car’s gas tank before a psychic expo…I did something I hadn’t done in fifty-odd years.
I went to White Castle.
Yes, the food is mystery meat and yes, I had not done any beef at all since my primary physician made me flee Paleo, and yes, it was not the most delicious thing in the world. But for me, White Castle is a time machine.
You see, in 1959–60, when I was four and five, all long glossy ponytail and four-eye glasses, every once in a while my father would declare a “Daddy-daughter date” and take me to the the little hamburger joint (our version was called White Tower then) a mile from our home in Camden, NJ.
Yes, Camden — today America’s most dangerous and poorest city. In those days it was still a prosperous place due to the RCA Victor and Campbell Soup factories, and a bustling place to grow up.
He’d be warmly greeted by the girls behind the counter — everyone in Camden knew Dr. Dorkin, the nice family doctor down the street who always took extra time for his patients and made house calls no matter what time of night it was. We’d sit at the counter, and solemnly order the ittybitty burgers that I thought were just the neatest thing in the world. And we’d order french fries and dunk them in ketchup together.
And we’d each get a milk shake — me vanilla, and Dad chocolate. Always chocolate for Dr. Dorkin.
It was very special and grown up to sit with my father over lunch. All the family problems would go away. The fact that I was the butt of the class jokes never mattered. I was there with the father I adored, and the day was always the brighter for it.
Now, that world is as gone as pre-industrial England. Camden is a hellhole. My father is more than twenty years dead. And I am far older than he was when we sat together at that little white lunch counter.
But that afternoon in South Plainfield, those days — and my father’s wonderful presence — were no further away than a tiny little burger on a tiny little bun.
And having that back, even for a few minutes, was worth every greasy, mysterious calorie.