Once upon a time, many years ago, I was in the fast food restaurant business in Flemington, New Jersey. It was called Weiner King and our claim to fame was a specialty hot dog with mustard, chopped onions and the best homemade chili you ever had. Called a Texas Weiner, the chili was made with finely ground beef. No beans! It was brown gold.
We had a very faithful base of clientele; people who had come into the place since it opened in 1962. Many of them remained loyal right up to the very end, and tons of old customers from that area will tell you they still crave Texas Weiners and King Burgers. And chili cheesedogs with onions.
One of our faithful customers was a guy named George. George came in to eat every day, including weekends. Sometimes, he’d come in more than once. Twice. Three times in one day. He was such a good customer, he was almost like family. One afternoon, he approached the counter with a relatively serious look on his face. Usually, he was quite happy and talkative. On this particular day, he just asked for Jack. Jack was my boss, the owner of the place, and the best boss you’d ever work for. He asked me if I would cover the burger grill so he could walk up to the front counter…
“Hey, George. What’s up?”
“I’m getting married on Saturday and I want to have our wedding reception here.” I had met his fiancée many times before. Clearly, George wasn’t playing with a full set of teeth, if you know what I mean.
“Certainly, George! I’d be happy to accommodate you!” Jack responded. “We’ll make sure you have reserved tables. How many people and what time?”
I don’t remember the incidentals, but Jack offered free ice cream for everybody. Maybe, they brought a cake, too. When the wedding party arrived, right on schedule, George was beaming! They drove around the parking lot several times, tooting their horns in excitement. George was a married man! When they came in, he said they cruised down the main drag and around the three traffic circles, something Flemington is famous for, beep, beep, beeping away!
I know it was a big hot dog party. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries. Milkshakes and Cokes. The orders kept flying. Plus we had to wait on other customers. After all was said and done, his entire bill came to just over $13.00. But you have to understand that, back then, in the early 70s - if my memory serves me correctly - a hot dog was 35 cents and a quarter pound burger was 50 cents.
Yup, ole George did all right that day. Everyone had a great time, including us.
“Where are you going on your honeymoon, George?” Jack asked as the affair wound down.
“The Ringoes Drive-In,” he responded. The following Monday, George was back in for lunch. I don’t think anyone asked about the movie.
Two or three years later, George came up to the counter and, one more time, asked to speak to Jack. He had that same serious look on his face. This time, though, he wanted to talk privately, so the two met around the corner, by the side door between one of the dining rooms and the back room where we did our prep work. They spoke quietly, but, afterward, Jack said he needed to borrow $50.00. He was in a real bind. Of course, Jack immediately reached into his pocket and handed him the money because that’s just the way he was. “Is $50.00 enough?”
Sadly, it was the last time George came into the restaurant. It’s as if he fell off the face of the earth.
One day, many years later, Jack was on Main Street and he ran into him.
“George… George… where have you been?” The poor guy desperately tried to hide his face to avoid the encounter. Too late. “Listen, don’t worry about the $50.00. I want you back as a customer. We like you! We’ve missed you! Forget the money!”
“OK, sorry, I’ll be in,” and he scurried off. Maybe he thought that Jack was privileged. (He certainly wasn’t.) Maybe he felt Jack was rich because he could simply dig into his pocket and pull out $50.00 and he resented it. Perhaps he knew, when he borrowed it, that he’d never be able to pay it back. I just don’t know, but Jack never saw George again. None of us ever did.