Drive Inn El Flamingo / Jacinta Escudos

Drive Inn El Flamingo

In San Salvador, very close to the Salvador del Mundo monument, where today there’s a little mall whose most prominent locale is a fast food restaurant (I can’t remember if it’s hamburgers or pizzas), there used to be a place in the late 60s called Drive Inn El Flamingo.

The parking lot was huge and in the center of the lot stood the establishment with many giant windows. There were a few trees and very tall palms and a large sign with a flamingo made out of pink neon tubes. Back then, the schedule for classes at school (which was a few blocks away) ran almost the entire day. Classes started at 7 in the morning and finished at 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon. I was on the half boarding plan, in other words, I had lunch at school because it was too hard for my parents to take me there and pick me up at noon.

Being a half boarder turned me into a “strange creature” of sorts, because almost none of my classmates stayed that long. And I would eat lunch with the boarders, those who slept at school all week and went home on Friday afternoons, returning on Monday mornings. Almost all the boarders were in high school.

Sometimes, for reasons I can’t remember now, afternoon classes were canceled. When that happened I had to borrow the phone and call my father at his office. The number, I still remember it, was 21-4827 and the office was in Pasaje Montalvo, right in the center of the city. It was much easier to call my father on the phone than my mother, because in order to call Los Planes de Rendero in those years you had to dial a central office from where they gave you an extension. But there were few lines, and Los Planes was basically “wilderness,” getting through wasn’t always simple or quick. So the best bet was to call my father.

Then he would arrive to pick me up at school. He’d get there a bit late, at about one, when he was finished with his work and school was already empty and silent. I waited in the front office, with my book bag and one or two other girls who had also been left behind. The buzzer rang from the street, a nun would go open the door and, well, they already knew my dad and I was so happy to be out of there.

He was never effusive, never smiled, never made jokes. He was always a profoundly reserved man and he usually walked with the same expression on his face. Whoever didn’t know him well could have thought he was angry or bitter, because the expression lines (that phrase was never more accurate) had marked his face with deep furrows, the result of ancient sufferings whose cause I would learn about years later. We’d get into the car in silence and then he would ask me if I’d had lunch already. But no, I hadn’t gone up to the cafeteria because I’d been waiting for him. Since he hadn’t eaten either, he’d ask if I wanted a hamburger and I answered, “Yes!” enthusiastically, because that was the “secret password” that would take us to the Flamingo.

Those were the days when absolutely no one worried about cholesterol, junk food, French fries and those things. People cooked and ate with pleasure and eating was an enjoyable act, without anguish, so that any food happily wolfed down was healthy food, even if it was made with lard (as tended to happen at my house), or if we ate at the open market (which was another one of our favorite places to eat), or stuffed ourselves with a good hamburger, one of those they used to make back then.

Even though it was a drive-in, we preferred to sit at the tables inside. And we went through the ritual of the menu even though we always ordered the same thing: a hamburger and a refresco de ensalada, because they made the best ones in the country. They served them in these huge glass cups, with a straw and spoon, with a whole bunch of mamey, pineapple, melon and cashew. The spoon was for eating the fruit that was abundantly served. And then it was time for that majestic hamburger, the best ones I’ve had in my life. As ever, my father and I would eat in complete silence. He wasn’t much of a talker, as I’ve said, but we didn’t have much room for conversation because the food was so good that we’d concentrate on eating.

He’d finish first and say, “ I was hungry.” And he would remain absorbed in his thoughts while I ate everything very slowly, to my father’s disbelief, thinking I’d never finish it all. It was really a lot of food for me, but the flavor imposed itself and I’d leave there with a big belly.

Afterwards he would take me to his office and I’d spend the afternoon there, playing imaginary races with the rolling office chairs, “writing” on a typewriter (I didn’t know how to write too well so I would just type out jumbled letters) and jumping all over my beloved uncle Ricardo, my father’s brother.

I don’t remember what year they closed the Drive Inn, but it was sometime in the 70s. And I can’t express how much it hurt when I saw them begin to knock down that solitary building, to cut the trees and giant palms and build that mall with zero architectural taste, where the hamburgers were McDonald’s and you could no longer find a refresco de ensalada, not even at gunpoint.

And that’s what they call “progress”…

{ Jacinta Escudos, Jacintario, 15 April 2008 }

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