At Chick’s Drive In (founded 1950) we sat on the white painted cement benches and ate soft shell crab and onion rings in the sun, surprised at this new vantage point on New Haven harbor, observing the number of hugely fat people waddling out with trays of food. I wondered why it was taboo for bartenders to serve weaving patrons but not kosher for waiters or ice cream servers to turn away the fat (I suppose the big difference is that no one expects the obese to die, or kill another, from this sweating scoop of ice cream, this wheezing slab of steak. Their dying is slower, less legally traceable to any one restaurant). The face of the building was a grey crenellated concrete as seen in industrial parks and storage units. Was it possibly ever seen as modern and attractive? “The Best Customers in the World Walk Thru these Doors,” read a sign. We were happy.
Looking at the Marilyn Monroe photos and others of grinning white men, dead owners, I imagined this place, right across from the beach, as a racial flashpoint in the fifties and sixties, as “uppity” blacks tried pushing their way into white-T-shirted proletarian haunts such as this, semi-public for their proximity to beaches and parks. Just a guess, of course, a haunting from the woodwork of the place, lets say. Now it is mixed. I saw mixed race couples canoodling. Kitchen and counter staff of all major races goofed orders and ignored people. But it was all for the best in my case: two stuffed clams with melted butter would have cut days off my lifespan.
Afterward we drove along the shore to Savin Rock Park, a long public promenade. There, too, all races and ethnicities walked together, walking absurd poodles with neon pink leashes, bulldogs like mythical Chinese beasts, dachshunds in dresses; holding hands or skateboarding, crinkling their faces at the stink of the sea. I mentioned to Shane that I had not seen a similarly common space in New Haven. The green is a great space, but embraced by none. That’s because it is a racial border line, he said, between Yale and the city. York Square is the same. I walk into Popeye’s with Brendan and everyone’s staring!
But here, what joy: no fear, no loathing, no pretension (not beyond recommended daily dosages). Old folks sat on benches with the names of dead on them, and I felt like I was in China again as pop music boomed from speakers and people of all ages danced the Macarena. An old man with wispy white hair and batik shirt gyrated. Little girls were unafraid in front of dozens of watchers. It was a mundane utopia. Have I ever seen public dancing in this country? I don't think so. A Turkish or Caucasian girl wore a veil, walking with clipped stride. Post-Maya manga-eyed moppets played on the grass. Two black bikers, the Ryderz from their flamboyant jackets, helmets back off their foreheads, strutted their bikes in the parking lot. Massive restaurants covered with wood shingles – Jimmies, Turks – served food to acres of cars parked about them. The architecture was brutal and the asphalt cracked but for once in Connecticut I have found a place not segregated for the poor nor enclaved for the rich, between the extremes of Madison and New Haven.