Long ago I and a few Mooringsport buddies went to college in Ruston, Louisiana. (“Going” ain’t quite the same as “attending”.) The school was known then and now as Louisiana Tech. Tech had excellent programs in engineering, accounting, and education. Everybody had a country accent, so mine not only didn’t stand out, it fit right in. I discovered that college was four years of freedom. Nobody really wanted to go home on weekends, and so long as there was a football or basketball game, a concert or any weekend diversion, everybody stayed on campus. However, there was a catch: most of us didn’t have weekend food arrangements. Even the most comprehensive meal ticket left Sunday nights unfed. Cheaper plans left all day Saturday and Sunday unfed. Parents tended to prefer to pony up for the five day plan. That meant staying in Ruston on those precious weekends was going to require something nobody had: cash.
Our food of choice was pizza, but that was for special occasions – it was pricey. The burgers at A&W Root Beer were more affordable, more filling, and nearly as tasty. We fleshed out the other meals with canned spaghetti and meatballs heated in a sink by an hour of running hot water, or marked down pastries from the big groceries. Freedom is precious but it has its price.
I visited an A&W today for the first time in forty years. I was hoping to scratch my nostalgia itch and find every Techster’s burger of choice, The Papa Burger. The Papa may have been the first double patty burger on the market, and it came dressed with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a peculiar yellow-orange sauce that I now associate with Thousand Islands. Yeah, it’s a lot like Big Mac’s Secret Sauce, and the combination worked wonders on a teenager’s appetite. What was then $1.49 is now $3.99, but Papa lives! Today’s Papa Burger was deliciously the same after 45 years, except that upon consuming it, I was full as a tick.
Back in college we were all prone to braggadocio. One Sunday night when everybody was starving we loaded up a car and drove to Ruston’s A&W. One of our number, whom I will call Hubie, proclaimed on the way there “I could eat four Papa Burgers!” Another one, alias Cliff, laughed that off: “You couldn’t eat three!” There were three of us in the car not known as Hubert, so I proposed a bet: “We’ll each pay for one PB if you can eat all three in five minutes and not puke for the next hour.”
That sumbitch swallowed the last of #3 with 10 seconds on the clock. Hubie wanted to puke in the worst way, but we watched him close, and somehow he held it down. Yo, Hube: put an ice cold Red Stripe in your Porsche’s cupholder and go get a Papa Burger and a side of fries. If you’re hungry it’ll taste way better than that third one did in 1970.