At Forest Retreat RV Park, New Caney, Texas...
We are in the last few days of the Christmas/New Year's/Grandson Pryce's birthday celebrations before returning to Ranchito Hondo. We have had a grand time visiting family and friends, and we cherish each moment with them. So as not to overdo the photos of such festivities in this blog that's supposed to be about travels, we will skip the family/friends photos this time and perhaps bore you with them on another occasion, when the changes in all our appearances may be more evident--some for the better and some, unfortunately--well, age does take its toll, doesn't it?
Since a family visit doesn't really count as a new travel experience, I'm going to post another of my columns from Around the Town, my hometown advertising newspaper. These seem to have met with a good deal of interest in the paper so, sharing them with you seems like a good idea when we're not really on the road to new territories.
Here we go:
So Whatever Happened to Pig Stands?
If you have read a few of my columns, you know by now that I tend to harken back to the days of my youth, when things seemed, well, normal. I often think of my teen years in Nacogdoches and some now long-gone eating joints like the Top Burger where, in high school, I could get a burger, fries and a Coke for 50 cents…I kid you not! There were also the late-night hangouts, like John’s Restaurant on South Street, a favorite chicken fried steak emporium and, also on South Street--how many iced mugs of root beer did I drink from the old A&W stand? Who knows? And let’s not forget the Caraban, way out north on U. S. 59; I think they had an especially good charburger.
But this story is not about the restaurant ghosts of Nacogdoches’ past; I’m writing about Pig Stands. Now you probably won’t remember Pig Stands unless you have quite a few decades under (over?) your belt, but there were more of them than you probably realize—more than 120, in fact, throughout the U. S. They started in Dallas in 1921, just when the automobile began to achieve some real popularity. Being quite a visionary, George Kirby took note of the increasing number of cars on the road and decided to offer them curb service food, complete with carhops, resulting in the first restaurant drive-in in the country.
The Pig Stand’s signature sandwich, as you might expect, was the Pig Sandwich. This was a big hit before the world’s insatiable craving for beef burgers took off. The Pig Stand also has the distinction of inventing fried onion rings! As the legend goes, one of the cooks wondered what it would be like to put some breading on onions and toss them into the fryer; the rest is history.
Now, let’s fast forward 102 years. During the meantime, changes in ownership, bad business decisions and non-payment of taxes began a gradual winnowing of the restaurants over the years. Guess how many Pig Stands are left from the original 120 or so? If you said “none,” you would have matched my guess. But imagine my surprise when Sandy and I, quite by accident, ran across the very last one in operation. It has been there since 1967, near downtown San Antonio, buried underneath an I-10 interchange. It is rather shopworn, and the drive-in part is shut down, home now to a few junky vehicles. As you can tell from the photo, the sign has faded, and the pink art-deco design was out-of-date when the place was built more than 50 years ago. Also gone are the Friday night hot rod gatherings that were all the rage back then.
We had to stop there, of course. Luckily, we hadn’t had lunch, and judging from the rundown look of the place, it had a potential for a death knell itself. We knew this could be our only opportunity ever to patronize a Pig Stand.
To our utter delight, the inside had the same corny décor of many restaurants of the ‘50s and ‘60s. We even gasped when we saw the juke box play selectors at the booths. Could this have gotten any better? And we hadn’t even been seated yet! We were led to a booth by an ancient server in a waitress’ uniform, of all things! I didn’t get her name, as I usually do; my senses were overloaded as it was. Looking over at the juke box selector (I can’t remember if there was a different term for them back when they were popular), I could see that the Beach Boys were still going strong, as were Elvis, Marvin Gaye and Buddy Holly. My nostalgic rush was so strong, I almost didn’t notice when the menus were dropped on our table.
If you think I would leave there without eating one of their famous pig sandwiches, you would be wrong. That’s what I ordered, and Sandy ordered a hamburger. Having no idea what their classic pig sandwich was like, I was a bit surprised when it arrived. It consisted of thick slices of pork loin and dill pickles between two hamburger buns lathered with barbeque sauce. While it was a decent sandwich, the pork loin was sliced too thick to be tender and, if it had been smoked, it was not really evident. I’m thinking it was just roasted in an oven.
Sandy’s hamburger was declared to be “okay.”
Okay, so the meal wasn’t spectacular. It did not diminish, however, from the feeling I was young again and that Sandy and I were on a date, listening to Bobby Vinton crooning away from the jukebox. I was in heaven.
Looking around, we couldn’t help but notice a vast collection of ceramic pigs in every pose and caricature you could imagine. You can see part of the collection in the photo. I especially liked the pig in a chef’s uniform and the pig on a motorcycle.
I’m pretty sure all the pigs were for sale because an older couple were standing at the cash register in front, peering into a glass case at a selection of ceramic pigs inside. Our server was there, pointing to the various pigs, most of which appeared to be piggy banks. I overheard her say to the couple while pointing to one of the larger piggy banks, “Now, this one is two hundred dollars.” I was a bit taken aback by this, but I didn’t know if it was a rare artifact or if that was the going price. That’s probably because I have not shopped for any ceramic piggy banks lately.
I guess I’ll recover before long from this blast from the past. I even told Sandy I might try to get a ducktail haircut next time. Always a bastion of support, she said, “Well, you better hurry; that’s about all you’ve got left.”
Oh, the places we go and the places we’ve been. I hope sharing our travels brings back some good memories for you, too.
Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.
Great write-up. This needs to be submitted to Texas Monthly.ReplyDelete
Wow! That was unexpectedly high praise for this junkyard writer. Thank you for the kind comment.Delete
Love the Pig Stand story. And we would definitely have tried it out. Fun to walk down memory lane.ReplyDelete
I know, Sandie; the older I get, the more I do that, especially since I'm glad I grew up when I did. Thanks for being a coveted reader.Delete
Forget the food - I'd go just for the jukeboxes! And I'd try the onion rings, too, if they were still on the menu. This was such an entertaining read, Mike! It reminded me of a popular diner that Alan and I frequented when we were dating. As decades passed, it became less popular for some reason, and finally its doors closed a few years ago. Just about broke our hearts. We still have our memories though - thanks for sharing yours!ReplyDelete
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Mary. Isn’t it funny how we always say, “Those were the days?” Well, in my view, they WERE!Delete
In my original hometown I could get a small Coke and a hot dog for 25 cents at Dave's, and the best stack of greasy curly cue fries for 25 cents at another local restaurant. It was 2 blocks from school. I didn't have a quarter often but when I did I sure enjoyed these treats. Good memories. I would not hesitate to try the Pig Stand just for the nostalgia of it.ReplyDelete
Isn’t it amazing how simple and inexpensive things used to be? I miss those days!Delete
That Sandy was mighty quick with that comeback about the ducktail. . .I just love that woman. . .LOL! So great to have seen you guys TWICE within the last week!ReplyDelete
Her rope goes only so far, and I get hauled back in. But I get away with a lot, don't I?ReplyDelete
It was so great to see you again. Next time, we have to brush up on 42!
Another entertaining read!! I had a fabulous trip down memory lane with you👏👏👏ReplyDelete
Aren't we glad we still have enough memory to have memories? HaHa!Delete
Literally busted out laughing at Sandy's comment on the "Duck Tail."ReplyDelete
That woman has your number!