Back in the day my dad made $20 a week. Almost every payday he would treat us all to dinner handing over his hard earned cash to the teenage cashier at Arctic Circle. We would sit down in one of the vinyl covered squishy bench seats in a booth as we waited for our burgers and fries.
Murals of downtown Magna covered the four soffit walls in the middle of the room. The paintings were well done, colorful, and very interesting to look at. What always caught my attention in the pictures I had memorized was how new and shiny all the stores looked. It was almost the polar opposite of how I knew downtown Magna. In fact, as a senior in high school I helped organize a cleanup effort of Magna Main for the students. The community was impressed with all the hard work we had done in one day before our celebratory barbecue dinner and dance. I’m sure many small towns have similar stories of community pride slowly fading with the paint of the long forgotten businesses in the center of town.
Soon dinner arrived. A juicy ranch burger with special sauce (that’s actually the name of the sauce!) on a sesame seed bun. The fries were hot, salty, and slender. Usually I would fold them in half before immersing them in fry sauce – a Utah original. My root beer was cold and refreshing. The carbonation would always tickle my nose and burn my throat.
I remember well the day my dad thought I was too old for a kids meal and encouraged me to order a regular sized meal. It was delicious but I couldn’t finish most of it. My brother helped me polish it off. I don’t remember if my parents subscribed to the “clean your plate club” but I do remember trying so hard to eat more and feeling like I might burst. My dad had asked my brother to finish my fries when I could not force another bite down without risking much more coming back up.
The toys from the kids meals were the kind of toys I toss in the garbage as soon as my kids aren’t looking. But I do remember playing with them. I remember most the small plastic puzzles. There was always a G shaped rubber stopper in the bottom right hand corner. Each individual plastic tile was numbered and the puzzle came with them out of order. I was always eager to slide the tiles around until they were all in order. I probably trashed the toy as soon as I was done since it was complete and the suspense was gone.
The best part of the kids meals were the punch outs for a free kiddie cone. We must have gone to Arctic Circle a lot because I remember every summer there was always a huge stack of free kiddie cone coupons in the cupboard. On the days when both parents were at work, which was pretty often, we would grab three coupons and walk the mile to the shopping center. We walked to the back to the library and browsed for a while eventually settling on the perfect books for us. Then we would walk toward the front of the shopping complex and get our free kiddie cones to enjoy on our walk home. Sometimes we would look through Six Star, the dollar store that replaced Thrifty’s. Ah, Thrifty’s . . . I don’t remember the inside of the store but I do remember all the dingy colored circles of stepped on gum on the sidewalk in front.
The other day I had asked Heath if he remembered eating at Arctic Circle when he lived in Utah. He said no and then told me it was probably a special thing for my family. I didn’t think it was until the memories started flooding back. When my mom was working and my dad didn’t want to make dinner we would go to Arctic Circle. The neighbor girl worked there for a while. One time she sat at our booth for a minute talking to us. My dad told her he didn’t know how to cook for four so we went out! That sounded funny to me as a child since my dad knew how to cook and usually only cooked on the nights my mom was working.
Even after my parents divorced and we moved, Arctic Circle was still a family tradition. Every Halloween my mom would pick up dinner from Arctic Circle and we would scarf down quick delicious bites in between giving candy out to trick or treaters. Arctic Circle was always my favorite place to meet with other moms. Gavin would play on the playground while I talked with my friends. Parker played too but I didn’t go very often with him before we moved.
Sometimes I miss Arctic Circle. I definitely miss the fry sauce! Carl’s Jr. is a close substitute for the memories I have of my first fast food burger joint. My family also ate at Hardee’s which is the same company as Carl’s Jr. but with a different name. My memories of Hardee’s are dim though compared to Arctic Circle.
By the way, my dad didn’t make just $20 a week. My brother thought that for years since we usually went out to eat on payday and my dad would hand over a $20 bill to pay for the five of us to eat!