DEC. 30, SOUTH BEACH, OR–After yoga class, feeling fit and flexible, I cruise over to Flashbacks for a thoroughly un-yogic lunch. I can hear the music as I get out of the cars. Beatles. The Rubber Soul album.Through the windows I see two middle-aged women, their brown hair in upswept dos. There’s nothing left in their red baskets except grease and salt.
I push through the door, pass the grab-a-toy game, and gaze at the much-erased and rewritten specials board: Cheeseburger, fries and medium drink, $5.95. Shake of the day? Pumpkin. Soup? Chicken noodle. Pie? Apple.
A waitress clad in a red Flashbacks tee shirt approaches, menu in hand. Before she can lead me to window area, I ask if I can sit in one of the corner booths by the ice cream counter.
Ah, my table. It’s warm, private, and the red vinyl seat isn’t torn yet. “I Love Lucy” posters hang over my head as I take off my coat, open my book and settle in.
I remember when this place was new. About 10 years ago, I interviewed the original owners for the News-Times. They had a vision of an old-time 1950s diner where all the kids would hang out. The juke box played more Elvis than ’60s music in those days. Yellowed copies of Popular Science graced every table for pre-dinner reading. The waitresses wore poodle skirts, and every now and then they’d stop everything to do a dance number.
Ah, those were the days. But the owners had another restaurant, The Chalet, at the other end of town, and running both was too much. Plus Flashbacks soon gained a reputation for miserably slow service. It was a great place for meetings because you had plenty of time to talk, but if you just wanted to eat and go, not so good.
The new owners have dropped some of the 50s kitsch and speeded up the service. They also added pizzas to the menu, but it’s the burgers and ice cream dishes that make it worth the trip. As the only place open for dinner every night in South Beach and located within walking distance of two hotels, Flashbacks is well situated to survive in this tourist-based economy. With the new college opening up the hill next year, things will only get better.
Today, it’s Christmas vacation. I watch as skinny young girls peruse the ice cream tubs. “I want some of that and that and. . . ” Lilly, a tiny efficient waitress, dishes up ice cream, tosses on sprinkles, sprays whipped cream from a can. She mixes trays full of milkshakes, served in big glasses with the leftovers in tall tin cups like the old days. In between, she runs the cash register and waits on regulars like me.
I order my usual, the BLTA. That’s a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with avocado. It comes with a ton of crispy fries that I wash down with iced tea. I read my book and spy on the other customers.
A father tells his little boy, “I hear they have a game where you can drive a car.” I nod to myself. They do. Three of them in the next room, which is set up so the tables face a mural of a drive-in theater like the one that used to sit across the highway. Beyond that is a glassed-in room full of video games.
I’m not doing a commercial here. Some of the dinner items aren’t so good, and there’s something odd about the pizza sauce, but Flashbacks is a great place for boomers to take their kids and grandkids. Mom-types like me sit there singing with the jukebox while their embarrassed offspring play games until the food is ready. The kids don’t care about the Three Stooges or the Beatles or Elvis, whose pictures cover the walls, nor are they excited by the life-size cutouts of John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe on the way to the restrooms, but the folks enjoy the memories.
My BLTA tastes especially delicious today. Mayonnaise oozes out the sides, and thick slices of bacon hang over the edges of the bread. Soon my hands are covered with mayo and avocado. And the fries, oh the fries, crisp on the outside, soft and hot on the inside. I read and eat and observe.
At the table across the way, two kids drive the cardboard Corvette convertibles their food came in across the red-and-chrome Formica table. A fat guy wearing pajama bottoms pays at the register. An attractive woman with hard-soled boots and tight jeans clomps up behind him. A mother and daughter study the ice cream. Bubble gum or mint chocolate chip? The owner rushes out of the pizza kitchen, wearing an apron, a black scarf tied pirate-style around his head. “How ya doin’?” he says, not stopping on his way to the grill.
The phone rings, muffled video games jingle from the back room, conversation murmurs like the nearby ocean, and I sing “Under the Boardwalk” with the jukebox as I read, sated and content.
It’s going to take a lot of sun salutes to work this off, but I don’t care. Live in the moment. Ommmm.