Is this goodbye?

Is this goodbye?

Here’s my column in today’s Greenville News.  It isn’t posted online yet.

Jack, Jack, where have you gone?

I’ve been in a state of mourning lately. Friends come up to me, gently touch me on the arm, and say, ‘I’m sorry, I heard; are you OK?’ I nod, courageous, and tell them I’m making it through. But I can tell you, it hasn’t been easy.

When your favorite fast-food establishment closes, brother, it’s hard. You see, since it first opened, I was a fan of Jack-in-the-Box. The one in Seneca was, for a shift-work kind of doctor like me, a thing of sheer beauty.

It was open 24 hours from the beginning. At all hours of the day or night, you could have breakfast biscuits, tacos, egg-rolls, burgers, onion-rings or salads. (Yes, smarty pants, I ordered a salad now and then! That’s the thing with lettuce, right?)

The Coke machine was always mixed correctly, the tea always properly sweetened and the cups…oh delight! The large cups were 44 ounces of styrofoam joy! It all may seem odd, but for those of us who work at all hours of the day and night, the ability to grab a drink or snack, whenever we happen to work, is very comforting.

Many a morning I stopped in for my morning caffeine fix. You see, I never learned to love coffee, so tea and soda are the sources of caffeine for my little addiction. And many nights, going to work at 11PM, wiping the fog from my eyes, I did the same at the drive-through, sipping the first drops of carbonated, caffeinated diet Coke nectar, and feeling myself come alive, in preparation for the nights’ sickness, death and drama.

Fortunately, I can still find drinks and snacks elsewhere. But Jack-in-the-Box was home. My own drive-through version of Cheers, ‘where everybody knows your name!’ I always felt I should be on their marketing team. ‘What, you don’t go to Jack-in-the-Box? Why, sir, I’m surprised! Their milkshake is enormous! Delicious! Delicormous!’ I would have let them advertise on my prescription pad; or put a log on my stethoscope. Cheaper than NASCAR, I’ll guarantee!

I was also a kind of team doctor for the employees. I would come in and they would hold out an injured arm, a small burn, or tell me about their cough. It was what we in medicine call a ‘curbside consult.’ No money changing hands, nothing official, just medicine the fun way. I would give them advice and sometimes they would give me a discount.

The people there were like my family; some were like my big kids. I was excited when they told me about their plans, their hopes for school or better jobs. It was a perfect little symbiosis. I miss them; one day I was there, and we were chatting. The next day, closed permanently. Ouch.

Before you feel a need to remind me, I already know that we eat too much fast food. And I’m painfully aware that healthcare workers are often the most guilty of this little sin. (Of course, I remember my medical school days, when heart surgeons were also the most notorious smokers!) Sometimes bad habits are simply comforts in stress. And the circadian stresses of medicine, nursing and all the rest make us the perfect customers for high-calorie, high sugar, high fat, high caffeine, high comfort food at all hours. In other words, we can’t throw doughnuts at the cops!

But it’s really society wide, isn’t it? And I think it’s less that the fast-food world caused it, than that they recognized a niche, a need in a culture moving forward so fast it could barely sit to eat; much less sit around Norman Rockwell tables and digest slowly and properly.

If we would eat less fast food and use fewer drive-throughs, we would first need to be a little ‘less fast,’ and spend a little less time driving around. And frankly, sometimes even my family has more time to talk in a restaurant than we would at home, with the varied distractions of cooking and cleaning between school and home projects.

But enough analysis. I miss my little rest-stop on the way to work. I miss my culinary light-house. And I miss my people, with the ready smile and laughter, as I stopped for food or drink in the midst of my busy days.

And as I drive past boarded up windows and doors, I wish them all the best. I just wish I could order one more drink, for old time’s sake.

Jack, Jack, how could you do this to me?

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