The end is near!
The apocalypse is upon us!
Another pandemic? No. More civil unrest? No. A giant meteor approaching earth? No.
The AJC (Atlanta Journal and Constitution newspaper) announced on June 11th that “P.C.” is no more. Unfortunately, they are not referring to the term “Politically Correct.” They reported that the Varsity, Atlanta’s iconic drive-in restaurant, will no longer serve P.C. due to supply chain issues. P.C. stands for plain chocolate milk. Always served with a cup of crushed ice, it is a chocolate treat that defies description. Come thou font of memories, please say it ain’t so!
It must be another socialist plot to undermine the American way of life, or, at the very least, another scheme by George Soros to internally destroy the United States. Just saying…
If you have never been to this 92-year-old institution, you are missing a unique experience. The main diner sits on two city blocks in downtown Atlanta and can serve up to 800 people. The self-proclaimed “largest drive-in fast-food restaurant in the world” is known for its motto “What’ll Ya Have?” which is primarily hot dogs, fried onion rings, F.O. (as in Frosted Orange), fried pies, and, of course, their P.C. milk.
My earliest memories go back to the 1950s. I still recall my parents pulling into the parking lot where a contingent of servers raced to be the first to throw their respective cards on your windshield to claim you as their customer. Writing down your order, they hurried inside only to emerge in minutes with a tray full of your precious “greasy spoon” cuisine. I trace my love affair with crushed ice to the Varsity’s unique version. Their ice isn’t small nuggets or chunks, but rather small thin crunchy flakes. Drinks at the V just tasted better, or so I imagined.
The Varsity holds a special place in my heart. Not only because of its unique chocolate concoction known as a P.C. but also because it holds memories of the first date with my late wife on January 10, 1969. We were high school seniors when I heard her express a desire to see the movie “Funny Girl,” which was showing at the Capri Theater in Buckhead, just north of downtown Atlanta. How could I know that I would never date anyone else? That she would be the mother of our five children, that we would have an amazing marriage for thirty-eight years until her death forty-two years later? All I knew was that she said yes to my date request, and I didn’t want to mess this opportunity up. The movie was long, and when we stepped into the cold January night air, we were hungry. It was 11:30 pm, and few restaurants in Atlanta were open at that time, at least ones that two teenagers could afford to patronize. We both laughed as we agreed that the “V” was calling out our names. I’ll never forget that she ordered a Frosted Orange, and I ordered a P.C. on crushed ice. As we walked to a table, my eyes caught an older man checking out my date. When his eyes finally shifted toward mine, he caught my stare of disgust and quickly turned and walked away.
A Lesson in Gastronomy
A few months later, I started my college life at Georgia Tech, which coincidentally was located just across the interstate from the Varsity. I fully anticipated this being a frequent lunch stop. That was until one sizzling hot July afternoon. My last Tuesday class was at noon. My physical ed class didn’t start until 2 pm. Seeing an opportunity to grab a quick bite, this famished college student raced over to the V and grabbed two chili dogs, an order of (greasy) onion rings, and a fried apple pie. Fully satisfied, I lumbered up the hill to the Library, where I promptly fell into a food coma after my huge meal. Waking at 2 pm, I realized I was late for P.E. Fortunately, the class lasted from 2 pm to 4 pm, allowing thirty minutes on each end to dress for the activity. P.E. at Tech was no easy class. Every student was required to take Track, Gymnastics, and Swimming. These classes were so tough, many an overweight student waited until their senior year to avoid hurting their G.P.A. I had unwisely signed up for Track in my first summer quarter. On this particular day, we had to run a mile in 95-degree sauna-like conditions. Your time dictated your grade. In my case, the run also ended with me losing my lunch. It was a while before I ever ate at the Varsity again.
Fast forward to 1996, the Varsity was located across from the Olympic Village at Georgia Tech. In the months prior to the Games, this famous hot dog stand cordoned off part of its parking lot for a pin trading area open virtually around the clock. Initially, the Varsity sold their own “What’ll Ya-Have” pins. However, since the layout design of their Onion Rings resembled the Olympic Rings, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) confiscated them and threatened to sue for trademark infringement. The week before that story broke on the news, I purchased one of the pins at the Varsity. At the height of the Games, the value of the pin zoomed from $25 to $250. Now a rare and valuable pin, I couldn’t part with mine and decided to hold on to this unique token of Atlanta Olympic history. Yet another precious memory from the V.
The White Elephant
Toward the end of the Olympics, my wife needed to have minor surgery on her jaw. We scheduled a late morning appointment at Piedmont Hospital. The surgery and recovery would take at least three hours, so my Olympic-pin crazy wife suggested I ride over to the nearby Varsity and do some pin trading (and eat an early lunch) rather than sit for 3 hours at the hospital. The vision of sipping a P.C. over crushed ice was an offer I could not refuse.
As I walked around the now-familiar trading area, I encountered an official of the Thailand Olympic Committee. He was about to leave for Thailand and was selling his last remaining pins. One grabbed my attention. It was a white elephant, which he explained was their national good luck symbol. It was a beautiful pin, and I bought several, one to keep and a few more to trade. I promptly pinned one to my hat and returned to the hospital.
Called back to the recovery area, I met my wife’s nurse, who said everything was fine, and I could sit beside her until she woke up. The nurse was Asian, and I soon noticed she was staring intently at my hat. She grew quickly animated and wanted to know where I got that pin. “What pin?” I asked. “That one” she emphatically stated pointing to the white elephant pin. It turned out that she was from Thailand and grew increasingly excited over my pin. She asked if she could have it. Having just spent $6 for the pin, I asked if she had any to trade. Clueless to the art of pin trading, she simply wanted me to give her that pin. At this precise moment, my wife awoke to find her husband arguing with her nurse over an Olympic elephant pin. In hindsight, I should have just given the nurse the pin. Because, my wife never missed an opportunity to tell family and friends what she witnessed when she woke from surgery — “My husband arguing with MY nurse over a stupid pin.” So much for lucky elephant pins!
I spent the last twelve years of my career with BellSouth/AT&T at the Atlanta Headquarters building located a mere block away from the Varsity. Every month or so, several of my managers and I would make the short trek to our favorite hot dog stand. Fortunately, I never had to run a mile after lunch.
Ah, the memories. But wait, there’s more.
In 2017 when I learned that the woman I was dating had never been to this culinary landmark, I insisted we make a stop during a visit to Atlanta. She soon succumbed to the charms of the Varsity’s unique version of classic fast-food fare. If she could handle the Varsity menu, I figured, she could handle me. Was it just a coincidence I proposed soon after?
Please forgive me if my reaction to change at the Varsity seems a bit over-the-top. But life is best enjoyed when you can savor the simple things. And a P.C. over crushed ice at the Varsity is just one of those.
So do not be surprised upon my next visit to the V, when the counter server asks “What’ll Ya Have?, I will tearfully lament, “Have Ya brought back the P.C. yet?”