Chili burgers from Tommy's were a much-lusted-after commodity on campus at Caltech during the 1970s. (see CollegeCollage3, 29 Sep 2001) In the early '90s I encountered them once more. A colleague, JB, and I had wangled a West Coast junket (oops, make that a fact-finding expedition) to visit a number of research centers and learn more about computational fluid dynamics.

The journey was productive, but also great fun. I remember how after we landed in the San Francisco area JB, who is no small fellow, had to twist his head sideways and fold his body like a contortionist in order to squeeze into the sub-sub-compact car that the rental company foisted upon a pair of naïve travelers. The model name of that vehicle --- Probe --- instantly turned into a running joke between us. Say the word and JB gets a cramp in his neck, over a decade later.

After our meetings in SF finished we flew to Los Angeles and arrived in the early afternoon with a few hours to spare. Our rental car was bigger this time. We visited my alma mater-in-law in Watts (where my wife grew up, and where her mother still lives) and my alma mater in Pasadena (where Paulette and I met). At some point I began reminiscing about the glorious cuisine served at a noble establishment in Eagle Rock, a nearby suburb in the LA basin.

JB called my bluff. We navigated to Tommy's (getting lost only once), and there it stood, unchanged by the passage of years: a tiny A-frame hut on a busy streetcorner. We waited in line, got to the window, ordered our meals, and watched as they were assembled. A few seconds later, and we found ourselves seated on a bench at one of the picnic tables by the parking lot outside, facing a couple of the infamous Tommy Burgers plus side orders of fries, jalapeños and other deadly delights.

The food was wonderful: fast, cheap, and hot, both picante and caliente. JB and I went back and ordered second courses. (I wasn't a vegetarian then.) When we finished eating we drove to our hotel, checked in, and went up to our respective rooms. I slept soundly. JB did not. As he told me the next morning, he woke at midnight in the worst pain he had ever experienced in this lifetime. He feared he was having a heart attack and almost dialed "911" for help ... but then located the source of the agony a bit lower and to one side.

As it turned out, some years later JB discovered that he had gallstones. In retrospect, therefore, perhaps the chili burgers and their accoutrements were only the catalysts for his suffering, not the primary cause. Nevertheless, no more Tommy Burgers for either of us!

TopicHumor - TopicPersonalHistory - 2002-03-13

(correlates: GoodFailure, RunningBlogs, ToastyOvaries, ...)