Part 2 — Columbus and the Reunion
This is the second installment of a three part odyssey surrounding my trip to the Columbus West High School Class of January 1956 reunion. It’s all about the food, what I call Ohio food. It’s different than what you’ve been reading about in this space for two reasons: For one, I’m traveling, and for two, the choices in Ohio are different than those in Northern California, much different.
Since I made the long trip to Ohio for a weekend, I extended the trip on each end for some adventures in Cincinnati, and passed through Carol’s homestead in Lancaster in each direction, as well. This epistle is divided into three parts; The Heartland, Columbus and the Reunion, and finally Lancaster Redux and Cincinnati.
Friday, August 18, 2006 (continued)
Short North in Columbus is a district that seems invented. Dream up a cool name and a logo… put some metal arches with lights across High Street every quarter block or so… restore a couple of buildings converted to condos or apartments… encourage the commercial landlords to lease to “proper tenants” and watch it go. It’s located north of downtown, just north of the convention center, and south of the Ohio State campus. My reason for being in Short North is to have lunch at White Castle. “Four Sliders and a small coffee.”
“That’ll be $2.79.” The young woman on the other side of the glass had TRAINEE across the back of her tee shirt in the same manner that PRISONER is across the back of those ubiquitous orange uniforms. Her tending of the patties, buns and onions on the grille seemed expert, she hadn’t had time to develop bad habits or grow bored with the routine. She slid my tray through the opening, I complemented her on her skill, and I proceeded to an empty booth.
The first bite was heaven, hot, moist, onion, pickle, and beefy goodness. I had bought the frozen White Castles, eight to a box, at Safeway in San Francisco, and microwaved them for lunch from time to time. That’s like caressing a faded photograph instead of the voluptuous woman. There is a hint of the real thing, but it’s not the real thing. But if you haven’t experienced the real thing for say, ten years, then you pretend. These White Castles were real and really good. I can only eat two of the frozen variety at a sitting, but I polished off these four with ease and gusto. Worth the trip. Which is not to say that if I lived in Columbus I would eat White Castles regularly, or even often.
I walked in to the “casual” pizza party, the first event of my reunion weekend at the Clarion Hotel in Dublin, Ohio, and quickly cased the room. “Where’s the bar,” I said.
“There’s no booze here, not tonight. There will be tomorrow night at the dinner,” said Judy Dyer Williams, the otherwise flawless organizer of the reunion.
“You’re kidding,” I said. “Not even beer with the pizza? I came all the way from San Francisco, and I drink. I guess I’ll hit the hotel bar, after.”
The dry pizza party was good in spite of its dryness.
It was a casual affair, several boxes of pizza, a simple salad; soda (or pop, as they say in Ohio) and water on ice in the bathtub (the function room had an actual bathroom). The pizza was good. I had multiple slices covered with pepperoni. It was hot and spicy and the crust crisp, and covered is the word, pepperoni on every bit of surface. Yum. Cheese and Vegetarian pizza was also available, but I didn’t partake. (Sorry, no pictures, use your pizza imagination.) Jerry and I reminisced about our trip to the drag races in Lawrenceville, Illinois when we were 16. Pizza had just come to Columbus, but in that small town in southern Illinois, a waitress gave us a blank stare when we asked if they had pizza in the restaurant.
People stood and talked for a while and then sat around round tables. Most knew each other from around Columbus. Out-of-towners like Jerry Rumley (Mesa AZ), Dick Furry (well Cleveland ain’t so far) and me were the only “strangers.” The evening was over by 9, in time for a Glenfiddich with ice on the side, at the hotel bar.
Saturday, August 19th
I called Kelli, my niece, she and her husband would pick me up at 10:30 to do Columbus. That left me plenty of time for the hotel breakfast buffet, which was good and inexpensive. Two kinds of melon, sliced (canned) peaches, many kinds of breads, stewed apples, scrambled eggs, sausage, orange juice, and coffee for $5.50. You can get an omelet cooked to order for $2.50 extra. They also had pancakes and waffles, but that’s not for me. The food was hotel-breakfast-buffet good, nothing special, but nothing tired and limp either. That was a good way to start the day.
Tom and Kelli picked me up and went on to fetch Traci (Kelli’s sister) in Hilliard (geez, Hilliard was a grimy spot on the map in the middle of fields back in the day… now it’s professional suburbia personified) and proceeded to German Village, passing by the site of the old penitentiary and through the Arena District around the Columbus Clippers hockey arena. Tom made a quick drive about the village, parked on Third Street, and we walked. It was only a little humid and a little hot, but we were very glad to walk into the cool Schmidt’s Restaurant and Sausage Haus. A big deli case filled with Schmidt’s sausages was just inside the door to get one in the mood for their fare. We were seated by a window and offered menus and invited to take a look at the buffet. We all ordered the buffet and medium (22 ounce) beers of various types, mine a light Belgium.
I laid a bed of white cabbage, red cabbage and warm German potato salad on my plate, and topped that with a chunk of each kind of the five Schmidt’s sausages. White cabbage tart, red cabbage sweet, potatoes creamy, sausages many flavors of good, and each distinct. What a lunch. I felt so good I bought.
Putting on a suit and special shoes for an event felt good. I felt good as I walked down the hotel corridor to the Reunion Dinner. The dinner was in a different, larger room than the pizza party, with six round tables with white cloths and full place settings. Forty-Eight, including a number of spouses, attended the dinner as opposed to 28 on pizza night. I got a Scotch on the rocks (the bartender sure pours short) at the bar (at least there’s a bar), and sat between Jim Heil and Jerry Rumley.
After the reunion group picture, a good and generous buffet was set up and our table was the first to partake of its goodies. Salad greens with three choices of dressing (I chose blue cheese), green beans, red potatoes, sautéed chicken, and sliced roast beef were the offerings that interested me. There were lots of great looking desserts, but by the time I went back for some, only chocolate cake remained. The food was better than ordinary for its type, but this dinner wasn’t about the food, but about renewing friendships of long ago.
Sunday, August 20th
The reunion was over… the pressure was off, except I had promised to be back at the Hale Homestead by noon. I could have slept in, but I didn’t… awake is awake for me. I took my morning walk and did the hotel breakfast buffet. By 10:30 I was on the road, as planned.
The part about the White Castles struck a chord. Carol and I recently drove up from South Carolina to Columbus for a football game. It was a long and boring day of driving through off and on rain and chillier than normal temperatures with the beginnings of a cold and sore throat – not conducive to walks at rest areas.
Shortly after getting through Cincinnati and into the home stretch, I spied those two magic words “White Castle” on the FOOD tableaux for the next rest stop. I said to Carol (who, as a New Englander has never really understood what growing up with White Castles really means to a person) “Isn’t it time for an appetizer?”
Long story short, the Avis rental soon stood in the drive-thru line of the nearest WC – I parked the car and had an olfactory and taste sensation. After one big bite (there are only four per sandwich), I had to call Tom and leave a voice-mail about the experience before polishing off my two sandwich allotment.
Reading Marcus’ reminescences above nearly brought back all of those wonderful White Castle sensations.