Don’s Drive-In


Don’s Drive-In

We sought respite at Grand Traverse bay during the spring break of 1994.  The majesty and splendor of this wonderland was only partially hidden beneath a sheath of snow and ice.

The lower end of the bay is comprised of densely packed shops and motels/hotels.  Tourism during, the temperate months, both strains and binds the fabric of this community.

But where was the best hamburger?  The man at the gas station quickly and confidently said “Don’s Drive-In”.  The lady waiting in line at the cash register said: “don’t miss their old fashioned malted milk”!

It was a freshly painted building and when we walked through the door it smelled like the 1950’s. Numerous photos of cars, and old hubcaps on the walls were from that era.  The “Greasy Spoon Burger Basket” was exquisite—french fries four inches long and as big around as my little finger, done to perfection.  “Boy, those are special fries”, I said to the brash and loudmouthed waitress.  She looked me hard in the eyes and said “everything here is special”.  She was correct.

A fading hand-painted mural on the wall showed Don’s location on a narrow two- lane road. Now it is a very busy four-lane road. The view showed a much smaller Don’s Drive-In, nestled among a grove of white birch trees. Now there are businesses and asphalt parking lots crowding on both sides of the road for as far as the eye can see. In the mural, the narrow road and Don’s restaurant was dwarfed by a narrow band of woods across the street and, just beyond, the majestic blue expanse of Grand Traverse Bay. As I looked out the front window of Don’s all I could see is the blur of traffic and a wall of densely packed motels, hotels and parking lots. From Don’s current perspective, without the use of my “minds eye”, Grand Traverse Bay no longer existed.

The mural was faded and a little crude. But the thoughts and feelings it brought to me were as powerful as those of any great work of art— and they were mixed. 

The advantages of incremental increases in greater general mobility and affluence, along with entrepreneurial initiative, has yielded equal units of loss to the pristine and awe-inspiring sanctuary that once was the south end of Grand Traverse Bay.

Marvin Harris’ theory of Infrastructural Determinism is alive and well.

Don is gone now, but his business (owned by another) has survived profound environmental and demographic changes for 36 years. This because their food is simply exquisite and timeless in its appeal. The past has survived the future.

VTM,  3/5/94

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