When I was 18, I worked in the summers on the make-ready crew for a builder. I was the one who scraped all the paint and plaster off of walls, cleaned out the bathtubs where every worker had thrown tape, nails, spit cans, food wrappers, and things which I have thankfully forgotten. My work was done before electricity was up and running in the houses, so there was no AC or lights. It wasn’t quite as hot as it is right now, but it was close. Most days I tried to start by 7 o’clock to beat as much of the heat as I could.
Outside was worse. The best way to describe my outside job is that I was a human Bobcat mini-tractor picking up lumber and concrete chunks and wayward nails and everything else in spaces that were too small for an actual Bobcat. It was the hardest physical work I’ve ever done in my life, and I was a Division I athlete.
My saving grace each day was to go to Sonic for a late lunch before I headed home. A chili cheese Coney with onion rings and a Dr Pepper. Every single day. It was like a bit of heaven.
When I need a pick me up, when I need to ground myself and let all the worries and cares of adulting go and just feel good about the world and my place in it for a while, I still love a chili cheese Coney and onion rings from Sonic, though I now drink Coke Zero as a nod to my age and metabolism.
Here’s the sad thing that you already know. It’s hard to find a Sonic anywhere anymore that is open. There is not one that is still operating within 10 miles of our house.
I drive past those empty Sonic parking lots and see graffiti starting to crop up on the walls and smashed plastic stall menus, and I am sadder than I ought to be.
How can there be no Sonic? The place I’ve always gone to for pick-me-up lemon berry slushes. For special treats for my kids and grandkids that were affordable. For Sonic’s quick service. For feeling reconnected to those brief few years when I had many of the freedoms of adulthood with few of its responsibilities.
I don’t know what happened to Sonic. I don’t know if their success in so many places for so many years was an amazing streak of luck. I don’t know if Covid pushing thousands of restaurants towards drive-in service was responsible. I don’t know if they were mismanaged or if people stopped liking their food. I don’t know if simply too many people like me stopped by only when we needed to feel better, and that couldn’t sustain their business model.
Here’s what I do know. This morning I sat down with my checkbook and my phone. I signed up for recurring giving to NPR. I bought school supplies for the Deacons back to school drive. I wrote an extra $200 check for my church. And I sent money to Planned Parenthood and the kids from Parkland.
I hate that we’ve lost Sonic. I don’t want to lose anything else on my watch.