When I was growing up in the Los Angeles area and in the Eisenhower era, my dad was especially fond of something called a Chili Size. It’s really nothing but a hamburger patty on a bun, drenched with chili and covered with shredded cheese and/or onions. There are several legends about how this concoction came about and how it got its name. The real question now is: Do restaurants serve such things anymore? I haven’t seen it on a diner menu in a very long time. I have to admit, though, that I haven’t been looking, since a whole plate of chili, with or without an extra hamburger underneath, is more than I usually want to contemplate. Now, if there were tamales under there, that might be a different story.
At any rate, I fixed one of these treats for Hubby’s lunch today, and it led to the inevitable question: Are these still around? And what about some of the other things that one found absolutely everywhere back in the 50s and 60s?
Oh, yeah, you can still find these, but they don’t seem to be the same thing that lingers in my memory. Around 1962, my aunt (divorced and happily single again) invited me to come and live with her for the summer. I went gladly, thinking I was doing a good deed by keeping her company. It didn’t hurt that I was nineteen years old, and she worked as a waitress at the Mayfair Hotel. This may not seem important, but in those day, the Mayfair was home to a whole lot of young Dodgers who hadn’t yet found a permanent home with the team or a permanent domicile in the city.
My aunt, a rabid Dodger fan, knew them all: the old-timers and the new kids on the block. She arranged for me to get a job there at the hotel with her, and I donned the green-and-tan waitress uniform and pranced in to meet all those lovely young men!
So what does this have to do with steak sandwiches? We went to baseball games. A great many baseball games. On the way to the stadium, we’d stop off somewhere for a snack, usually at a little bar whose name I’ve forgotten where we’d order steak sandwiches. These were delectable things, a rare New York steak sitting on top of toasted, garlic-laden French bread, with mounds of French Fries on the side. We’d pour a good slosh of Lea & Perrins into Heinz ketchup for dipping, and gorge ourselves with the perfect pre-game feast.
“Never disparage the steak sandwich,” my wise relative told me from the depths of her culinary experience. “It’s exactly the same steak you get with the steak dinner, but if you call it steak sandwich instead, it costs about half as much!” I don’t know if that’s true these days; I haven’t had a steak sandwich in many years.
Yes, I know I’ve mentioned ol’ Harve a couple of times before, but I thought the drink—and the cake, if it comes to that—deserve a spot on this list. The martini will always be with us, I suppose, but I’m not at all sure that anyone would recognize a Wallbanger if one were presented. Just saying.
Good Humor Ice Cream Bars
I’m pretty sure you can still find these in your friendly neighborhood supermarket, but it’s the old chase-the-ice-cream-man bars that I’m thinking of here. When I was a kid (and that’s a very long time ago) an ice cream bar was a particular treat that didn’t come in six-packs in the grocery freezer. You bought it from the guy in the truck, or if your parents were feeling particularly rich and generous, you might get one at the movie theater. The truck ones were the best, because there was always the chance that you might, possibly, maybe get the one that had FREE BAR printed on the stick. A treasure to be guarded, that stick could be traded the next time the truck came around for an allowance-preserving free Good Humor bar. What’s more, there was was always the chance that you might, possibly, maybe get even another magic freebie! Of course, you could always trade your FREE stick for something more important, like a horror comic book. Nope, come to think of it, only the boys did that.
There are a lot of other things that could fit in this narrative. For some of them, it isn’t the contents of the package as much as the package itself. Milk in glass bottles, for instance, with a cardboard cap (and later, a foil cover over that); Log Cabin Syrup in cabin-shaped metal cans; Lik-M-Aid candy/drink mix in a paper envelope that could be saved and used as a premium to purchase gifts.
If you remember any of these things, or have something else that sits on the edges of your memory, would you do me a favor? Comment below. You don’t have to make a big production of it; give me a word or two to indicate that someone besides me still can recollect things that the next generation will have lost altogether. I’d also be curious to know if anyone ever really reads any of this stuff, or if After the Commercial is simply part of the great robo-“like” phenomenon.
I’ll see you again, after the commercial.