Eat This

Summer Is Here: Time To Get Yourself To Keller's Drive-In And Get Out Of Your Car

On a Sunday afternoon the pavement was hot: a shimmering expanse of concrete on the side of town where trees look like islands, and shade is a hard-to-find refuge. Keller's Drive-In provides a little solace from the blaring sun. Eddie is a regular who's been coming here since the place first opened in 1965, and by the looks of the signage, the peeling paint and corrugated-roof stalls pockmarked with decades of hail, things haven't changed much since. Back then he shared an apartment down on Greenville with two friends from college. Back then their motivation to come here was cheap burgers and cheep beer.

Shirley's been coming here since 1965, too, though she comes for the tips, not the beer. She's been jotting down orders on her paper pad and serving up grease-laden trays for 46 years now -- this fall makes 47. Shirley was working the east side of the drive-in, where classic sports idled and men past their prime leaned on hot metal eating burgers wrapped in tissue-thin paper stained yellow with mustard. They drank Silver Bullets and talked about engines, paint jobs and garden tomatoes of all things. Old gardeners take the summer fruit very seriously.

I chased a napkin in the wind when an old Chevy pickup truck with three husky mixes in the back pulled up. One had one brown eye, the other blue, and they all lapped at water from impossibly small plastic cups, drooling as much as they drank. Eddie said they were wolves but I didn't believe him. Part wolves, maybe.

On the other side of the building the motorcyclists gathered. Some had rag-tag machines pieced together like an iron patchwork quilt -- one hell of a carpet ride -- while weekend warriors rode shiny couches with no scratches and low miles. The motorcyclists didn't seem any different than the other gear heads. They were drinking beers and chomping on burgers too.

The southern stall sheltered a different sort of drive-in customer. Their windows were cinched tight save the one rolled down for the clip-on food tray, and they they stayed in their cars, engines running and radiators kicking into overdrive as they munched on tater tots and sipped on sodas. It seemed to me they were missing the point.

If you order a cheeseburger with everything you'll get your own paper-wrapped parcel and a handful of napkins. A soft poppy seed bun holds a dry beef patty, barely as thick as a corn tortilla, tomatoes, salty dill pickle slices and an entire onion slice. Bright yellow mustard oozes out the sides just like it did half a century ago when a local beer cost 25 cents and premium was 10 cents more. A bottle of Budweiser costs $1.85 now and I didn't see anyone drinking premium anything, but everyone had a burger in hand or a mustard stained wrapper from one they'd recently finished.

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Scott Reitz
Contact: Scott Reitz