Lunch in Waco, Elvis Presley style

July 8, 2011

So I found myself in Waco, Texas, after noon and hungry.  Where to eat?

Fortunately, I’d read about the burger emporium favored by none other than Elvis Presley, Health Camp.

Health Camp Drive In, Waco Texas, Photo by Ed Darrell

Even after the lunch rush cars and pickups crowd the door at Health Camp.

Who names a burger joint “Health Camp?”

Established in 1949, it’s still dispensing “100% Angus ground chuck” burgers.  While it’s not a competitor for the title of World’s Best, to me, it’s a good burger, and the fries were pretty good, too.  The place specializes in milkshakes in a wide variety of flavors, including banana, butterscotch and peanut butter.  I did not ask if the peach flavor comes from fresh, or real peaches.

Here’s a photo from a few years back:

Health Camp burger stand in Waco, Texas

Health Camp burger stand in Waco, Texas - TexasBurgerGuy

It looks much the same.  If you’re passing through on Interstate 35, it’s not really that hard to find it at 2601 Circle Road.  Circle Road terminates literally in a circle — a “circus” in British terminology — less than 100 yards off of I-35.  Take Exit 333A going either north or south, aim for South Valley Mills Road on the east side of the freeway.  The next intersection is the Circle off of Circle Road.  Other roads going into the Circle include LaSalle Avenue, Robinson Road.  Elite Circle Grill has a larger, easier to find sign — and the two essentially share a parking lot.   If you’re at the Elite Circle Grill, you’re close enough to Health Camp to walk.

Health Camp in Waco, Evlis's local favorite, photo by Ed Darrell

More parking than needed, Health Camp shares parking lot with the Elite Circle Grill; daytime shots suffer from not showing the neon on the flying-V sign. Photo by Ed Darrell, use encouraged, with attribution.

The business here is drive-in food, especially burgers and milkshakes.  Someone did a photo essay on drive-ins in Texas, and a dozen or so framed pictures of famous greasers lines the small dine-in room.  It’s formica and vinyl, and signs with plastic red letters on white — some of which have not been changed in months, perhaps in years.

It’s a classic place.  Not classy, but classic.

Interior of Health Camp Drive-in in Waco, Texas,   photo by Ed Darrell

Atmosphere? You came here for the burgers and the milkshakes. The seats work, the tables are clean, the ketchup isn't watered down. You want decor? Go to McDonalds.

They know what they’ve got.  A combo meal — burger, fries or tots or rings, and drink, will be north of $6.00; add a shake, you’re up to $8.00  Change back from your $10 or $20.

I got a cheeseburger, mayo, “all the way.”  Very good beef, satisfying, fresh and sweet onions.  Fries could have been cut in the place, but I’ll wager they were frozen — not highly processed beyond that.  Fried to a good crisp, they screamed for ketchup.

A stop here beats a stop at any of the big chains, but will cost you a bit more.  True burger aficionados may complain.  Let ’em.

I’ll stop there again with pleasure, unless I think I have time to try the Elite Circle Grill for a comparison.  I thought fondly of the Owl Burger at the Owl Cafe in Albuquerque, and the Big H from Hires Drive-In in Salt Lake City, both superior to the Health Camp product.  But they are related closely enough for horseshoes.

Health Camp cheeseburger and fries - photo by Ed Darrell

The Health Camp cheeseburger comes wrapped unassumingly in paper, served on a plastic tray. Clearly the management puts its effort into ingredients and preparation.

Ben Stein in a nutshell (appropriately)

July 8, 2011

Ben Stein is too easy to kick around anymore.  His views on politics, science, and general public policy have inflated so much above the troposphere that he really cannot speak about life on the ground at all.  The movie mockumentary “Expelled!” provided the early signs of pundit dementia.

Graphic for Ben Stein's American Spectator column

Graphic for Ben Stein's American Spectator column: Even in the art, Stein's out of it; his column is titled, "Nation's Pulse," but the graphic shows Uncle Sam hooked up to a machine measuring everything but his pulse. Even Sam's genitals get wired, but the nurse isn't counting heartbeats, nor does it appear any other monitor is.

At the same time, he’s a friend of dogs.  One of his tributes to his old dog literally brought tears to my eyes, and reminded me much of the old saying that heaven has no room for those who don’t like dogs.  That also raised the horrible vision of spending eternity in a heaven with dog-lovers who also happen to be political idiots.

Stein won’t kick dogs, but he’ll kick scientists, and poor people, and anyone in the middle class.  Maybe heavens don’t take people solely on the basis of their affection for dogs.

I digress.

At the remains of the American Spectator — a once-great, nearly revolutionary and smart journal of conservatism slipped on the slime to twitchy, bumper-sticker politics — Stein’s every-issue column turned to his vacation in an exclusive and expensive home in Sandpoint, Idaho, his distaste for undeveloped land and and outright fear of wilderness, friends, and the birth of his granddaughter, nicknamed Coco:

I feel so worried about Coco, She is only a tiny infant with eyes barely open. What do I want Coco to know? To do her best. To love her parents. To forgive. To be a lot more prudent about money than I am. To be grateful for this, our America, the best place in the universe. To turn her will and her life over to God and turn to Him for help in every situation.

But I wish my parents and Alex’s parents were here to help. And I wish my sister lived closer so she could help. And that Mr Nixon were still alive to give the leaders of this nation some clue about how to lead a nation. I am excited about Coco, but I am scared.

Right emotions, wrong thoughts.  We need Lyndon Johnson, with a concern for eliminating poverty among the aged (something he did!), not Richard Nixon.  With the possible exception of his trip to China, nothing Nixon did couldn’t have been done better by Johnson with another four years, or Humphrey, had we had the sense.

But that’s Stein.  He’s human on the family front, full of emotion, loving dogs, getting a cold treat for his ill wife, worrying about the future his granddaughter faces, especially from his privileged palace in Sandpoint, a nice nearly-wild area unfortunately become home of right-wing militias, Aryan-loving neo-Nazis and Keystone Kops-style militias — then switching to his brain-driven mode from emotion-driven, and doing everything he can to make sure anyone who lacks a few million dollars in the bank courtesy of the Old Man will be unable to rise above the fears.  Stein luckily led a charmed life, dependent on the kindness of family, friends and strangers, and he cannot understand why others don’t do the same.  Stein’s solutions stand magnificently out of reason:  Out of work?  Take a tax cut.  Need money to go to college?  Your father needs a tax cut, if he’s rich.  Health care tough to find because you can’t pay for it?  Tax cuts for the owner of the company you wish to work for.  And stop your arguing for more practical or workable solutions whining.

Stein stands in such sharp contrast to the Nepali prince Siddhartha, whose views of real life led him to forsake his princely heritage and seek spiritual enlightenment.  One hopes for a Stein-like character with the conscience of Siddhartha, but the practicality of Ross Perot who once noted that what America really needs is a political leader who will fill some potholes, and then, instead of holding a press conference about it, fill some more potholes.

Ben Stein’s road of life has been stripped of most potholes.  It’s so smooth, he can’t understand why everyone doesn’t drive that way, going to fancy school’s on Dad’s big money, hobnobbing with Republicans at the country club and occasionally taking the opportunities they toss your way.  Wouldn’t such a life be divine?

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