More than just your typicalMay 28 Hawaii Inc. article
fast-food stop, the drive-in that
closed Saturday stood for a
way of life that's slowly
Today's Island Images
By Burl Burlingame
ANDY'S Drive-Inn owner Ben Lum has just parked in the narrow accessway behind the Kailua drive-in restaurant. He looks spiffed out in purple leis and neatly pressed clothes. He also looks distracted. He's pacing. He's waffling. He has the air of a man who knows the party in the next room requires his presence, and he's too polite to say no.
Lum looks like he'd rather be elsewhere.
On the other side of Andy's, Saturday night's party is in full swing. Several hundred people stand about and admire the collector cars that occupy the parking lot, or they're standing in line for a last chance at a shrimp burger. After 42 years, Andy's is calling it a night.
"Close up at nine o'clock, as usual," said Lum. "But we might sell out before then."
He shook his head. "It's unreal, the reaction from people," Lum said. "I wanted a quiet ending. We weren't driven out of business. Business was good. It's just old age. We're dilapidated. Time to retire, that's all."
The Andy's regulars in the big parking lot are a humming hive of car-crazies, moving in swarms, eyeing the cherry finishes on souped-up Model As and Vettes like art critics. There are candy-apple hues on some of these vehicles that will never be duplicated in nature. Occasionally, there will be thunder as an eight-cylinder fires up, and like flowers that follow the sun, the crowd shifts attention to the roar of glass-packed mufflers.
"This is usual; like this three, four nights a year for the car guys," explains Lum. "The crowd isn't even that big. On the day we opened, the lines were six-deep to Oneawa Street. The first day, we sold 3,600 burgers at 17 cents apiece ..." -- he does the math in his head -- "... aw, that's only about $600. But that was good money for 1957."
Lum and partner and brother-in-law Andy Wong struck while the griddle was hot. The drive-in restaurant craze swept the country in the 1950s, the first time in history that teen-agers -- any teen-agers -- had access to both pocket money and transportation. Driving and drive-ins go hand-in-hand. Drive-ins are still a peculiar and solely American phenomenon.
The eating habits of the country were also in flux. Mom was less likely to create meals. Kids stayed out late. Industrialization demanded standardization, and the basic hamburger became the standard-issue meal. The classic neighborhood restaurant became, essentially, a food boutique, too slow and too sit-down for a nation on the go. The drive-in was the meal equivalent of ready-to-wear blue jeans, off-the-rack clothing, homogenized milk; safe, fast and efficient.
The drive-in also became a place to converge, a peer rendezvous, a hang-out that had most of the comforts of home, with the added plus of wall-to-wall buddies, and the even bigger plus of no parental control. No wonder the drive-in became a home away from home, a place remembered fondly, a substitute family. The most vividly remembered years of many people's lives took place within the arena of the drive-in.
And let's not forget that sharing a meal is the second-most intimate act a couple can indulge in.
No wonder a place like Andy's sparks fond memories for so many.
The niche that Andy's filled in Kailua -- a classic modern "suburb," an artificial community with the sole purpose of housing families that drive away each day to someplace else -- was the harbinger of the next evolution in dining, the chain restaurant. Not only was the type of meal standardized, the preparation and presentation was as well, all for sake of efficiency and margin. Dining became a process similar to refueling.
The drive-in became the drive-through. Society continued to fractionalize as people spent more time in their cars, their rolling cocoons. Fast-food restaurants sprouted on every corner, until, by the mid-'80s, all the corners were filled, and the restaurants had no market frontiers left. They turned on each other, competing by price-slashing and merchandising come-ons.
Through it all, Andy's plugged away, the biggest change coming when McDonald's opened nearby, and Lum shifted the menu by adding plate lunches.
"We're right here on the edge of Kailua, that last business before housing, and that's been a kind of blessing," said Lum. "I don't know what the truckers are going to do. We have a big parking lot, big enough for trucks, and none of the other places on the windward side do. No others. We did great by the truck trade."
He spread out his arms, indicating the size of the lot Andy's sits on. We could hear the growl of a '50s cover band in the parking lot, the muted rumble of a couple of hundred people milling about, trying to recapture a bit of what Andy's meant to them.
The feeling was elusive. It has nothing to do with the recipe for yellow sauce, the flavor of a chocolate malt. It has to do with being nourished, with growing up, with stability and a sense of continuity in unsettled times.
Andy's was just a restaurant. Its loss isn't something seismic. But its loss means a tangible diminishment in the heart of Kailua's fragile sense of community.
"But this property is so big!" said Lum. "They want to put an auto-parts store here, but even then, too big. They'll have to put in a warehouse.
"If I was younger, if I was a young man, I'd turn it into a mini mall. That would have really been something," said Lum dreamily.
He then squared his shoulders and joined the party, looking resigned to it all. Within a couple of hours, the windows would shut, the grease would be folded up and put away, the signs flicker into darkness, the door locked, the burgers cease to sizzle on the griddle.
Until then, however, Lum had a business to run.
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