One of my earliest memories of food isn’t some crazy fancy restaurant or some other late-80s or early-90s insane-o hype chemical sugar product, it’s going to White Castle with my dad.
My parents moved to the Midwest from New Jersey not too long before I was born and I spent a lot of time traveling back to the Garden State when I was a kid to visit relatives. You could tell that my dad, born on Long Island and raised in Rahway, New Jersey, always maintained ties to his place of origin. Pretty much everything is different in rural Wisconsin, a lot of change and some of it radical.
My dad was an over-the-road truck driver. His weekly route generally started on a Monday or Tuesday and charted him across Interstates 94, 90, and 80 along with U.S. Highway 30 for a long stretch, and it would end up somewhere like Boston, New York City, Philadelphia or Delaware. He worked for a company based out of South Saint Paul, Minnesota that no longer exists. But I remember exactly where it was, just one block from a White Castle.
My dad would take me to that White Castle and I loved it. So did he. It was one of the few things in the Midwest that was also present from his time living in New Jersey. It was a type of comfort food and it didn’t need to be the best, it was good enough for us.
Just a few weeks ago, Supreme, the king of New York street wear, dropped a collaboration with skateboard footwear icon Vans and the infamous White Castle fast food chain. As soon as it was announced, I knew that I needed to grab something for my dad. He didn’t need it and he doesn’t really care about fashion or street wear, he is just an old fashioned, hard working Irish guy from Rahway. But there are memories that you make with family and I thought this would be a great way to demonstrate my appreciation for the memory and also give my dad a jolt of his wild youth.
The following in an excerpt of the conversation I had with him after I presented him with his new Vans x Supreme x White Castle slip-ons.
Is this your first pair of Vans?
Yes, this is my first pair of Vans.
I remember growing up, you had those really ugly yellow Converse Chuck Taylor’s so you are versed in your casual sneaker footwear.
You haven’t tried these on yet, but how you say, based on first look, having a white shoe with the White Castle logo on it compares with having the banana-yellow Chucks?
When I saw the white shoe I thought, “It’s gonna be nice.” And then there’s the concern about the white collection dust or getting dirt on it, but then I saw the White Castle and that was it. I just wanted them on right away and do something.
I saw those and I was like, “Man, this is gonna be great.” I was sitting on the Supreme app on my phone waiting for them to go on sale. When was the last time you ate at White Castle?
That’s been a couple of years ago. But now, I’ve got to go soon after getting these sneakers. I’m having White Castle experience flash backs, ‘cause when I grew up that was the place to go, before McDonald’s.
When was the first time you ate at White Castle?
Oh, I was probably like a teenager - 14 or 15 years old. Used to bicycle from where I lived at home over to the White Castle in Rahway, New Jersey.
And the Harley shop was right next to it.
So you traded in the bicycle eventually and rode the Harley down to White Castle?
What is your record for most sliders eaten in a single sitting?
Oh, I never really counted. 15-20?
I know a Crave Case is 30.
Yeah, we didn’t have that back then. We just had bags. So it’d be like two bags cause I thought they had like 10 in a bag.
What would you say is your best White Castle story?
Uhm, that, at real late in the evening, after midnight, all the street racing cars would come to White Castle. We would, uh, everybody that had a racing car, and then the other people would be watching us. And there was a fella, he had what we called limelock brakes. The front brakes on the car would come on and not release until he threw a switch on them, and the back ones he’d let the wheels burn. So he’d sit there in the parking lot burning and smoking the wheels in the White Castle. We would buy him bags of White Castles for doing it.
Was this when you were older or younger?
That would have been when I was 17, 18.
I remember from a real young age, we would hit up the White Castle in the Cities. Cause I remember that from being a kid, cause White Castle was always awesome. You were always excited when you would get it.
Well, we used to – I used to be a trucker – and we used to haul the buns out of New Jersey out to Detroit and to Chicago and to other major cities where they would then distribute them out.
It’s funny the story that you picked, that came to mind for you, because initially I asked that as a trick question because I remember a story from White Castle that I remember from when I was a kid. It was when you told that you guys had a buddy named Lurch.
I remember that White Castle story and that’s what instantly came to mind for me. That’s the first one that I always think of. I don’t know if you remember that one or if it was true.
(laughter) It was true. I remember Lurch. We had several with him so I don’t remember the specific one.
I remember you guys mentioned having an eating contest and tricked him on that.
We worked at a warehouse. At break time, lunch time, we’d all drive over to White Castle and, uh, Lurch would come over with us.
You told me that he was gonna meet you there, so you guys went and hit the dumpster and you grabbed all the empty cartons and then he showed up and thought he had to catch up with you guys and you just had a bunch of empty cartons.
(laughter) Oh, man. Yeah. (laughter)
So you got him to eat a whole bunch of sliders.
(laughter) That was it.
It’s kinda funny to that, I uh, I think, mostly for me as I start to get a little older, I think about movies and music. For me really music, you remember I was really into music as a kid, I still am. For me, a lot of memories of being kid, now that I kind of have that distance from being a kid, uhm, music is a big nostalgic thing for me. Reminds me of a time or place type thing, and food doesn’t really do that for me, not at this point in my life anyway, I don’t think. But White Castle, for all the people who don’t like it or whatever, I always liked it. I still do like it. And it’s, like, a great memory tied to that because it’s something that we went and did. And it was always something like we knew, that’s where we were going. And it was always really exciting, it’s like really funny some people can’t stand it but for me it’s a great childhood memory.
Yeah, and I loved taking you there. And the one was right down the street from the terminal office of the company I was leased to.
Same one that I still go to. Anytime that I’m up on the South Side, just swing up to Robert Street and hit it.
by Daniel Coughlin