Archives for posts with tag: Pennington’s

I’m supervising one of my 16-year old grandsons this weekend (I have two, almost three, that age right now), watching him with his friends going out in their cars. Supervising means watching with the eye of someone who remembers being 16, remembers the exhilaration of being out of the house in a car without your parents. I remember all the silliness, the stupidity, the fun of being 16.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the early ’60s when I was a teen, we cruised. Most of us didn’t have our own, so we borrowed our parents’ cars. I remember wishing they didn’t have such nice cars so it would look like they were actually mine. I don’t think I ever ran an errand for my mother without stopping to pick up a friend and racing to the drive-in. I bet a 15-minute run to the grocery store took me over an hour…I appreciate my mother’s patience and understanding now.

My life was the Tulsa version of “American Graffiti.” That movie truly was our story, our music, our lives. We were college bound, smart, good kids, doing teenage things. If you lived in our part of town, you cruised Peoria, Brookside. Other parts of town had their own strip. Peoria was so popular it got the nickname the “Restless Ribbon” for all the teens cruising up and down. We drove down the street over and over from 31st to 51st, watching for friends, cute guys. When you saw someone you knew, you honked your school or club honk. Our radios were blaring with rock ‘n roll from KAKC. We were noisy in those days before someone decided it was noise pollution. Probably someone who forgot what it was to be young.

When we stopped at an intersection, you sometimes revved your engine. You flirted with whoever was in the next car. You raced up and down the street. You sometimes jumped at the light, racing a short distance. A game was to see if you could jump out of the car, run around it and get back in before the light changed. I didn’t say we were street smart, just school smart. We didn’t have seat belts and piled as many kids in a car as we could. I once piled in a car with about 10 guys to go to a football game. They teased me and I loved it.

The hub of our world was Pennington’s Drive-In. We cruised through the rows, looking for a prime place to stop on “Soc (pronounced Sosh) Row,” the middle row. Pole Position was right at the front where you saw everyone and everyone saw you. Sherry was the cute carhop and Jake was the security cop. Arch and Lola Pennington were inside, taking orders, making the onion rings, dinner rolls, hamburgers, chicken and shrimp baskets and black bottom pie I long for right now. You pulled in and ordered your vanilla or cherry or cherry vanilla Dr. Pepper and waited for the car hop to attach the tray to your window while you watched to see who else was there and then either greeted them or pretended you didn’t know that carload of guys was watching your carload of girls.

We went to Pennington’s for lunch, a quick 30 minute race between the school and the drive-in that seems impossible with today’s traffic. We did it, though, sliding into our desks just as the bell rang. We went after school, after club meetings, after football games, after movies, on dates before you “parked.” I won’t elaborate…you know what I mean. There was nothing like being with someone you liked, knowing everyone saw you together. When you went home and called your friends on the actual phone with a cord, you talked about who you saw cruising, who was at Pennington’s.

There were other places on the Restless Ribbon. Mr. T’s was at 36th & Peoria, although that was more of a hangout for the guys. When I was a senior, someone opened a private club for teens, the Ship’s Wheel, at 41st & Peoria. My boyfriend joined and we went there to sit and talk and to dance to live bands. I don’t think it lasted long…I only remember it my senior year. Mostly, we just cruised. It was what we did, cruised and talked and laughed and listened to music and looked for our friends and suffered awkward silences with new dates and sweet moments with special ones.

Last Friday night, I cruised Peoria again, as I have done for most of my life. This particular time I was with my 4-year old granddaughter and we headed to the drive-in, the drive-in pharmacy this time, and then down the street to the frozen yogurt shop. I passed the place where Pennington’s was, a Kentucky Fried Chicken now, and had a memory of what once was. Usually I go by without a thought, but that night it all flooded back. I was on the same street I’d cruised so many times. It was crowded and busy with shops and restaurants, still a hub of town, of the neighborhood. It was only 7:30, the Restless Ribbon was getting busier with nightfall, just as it always has. I don’t know where my grandsons and their friends go because I know that they aren’t allowed to cruise like we did or stop and congregate without suspicious neighbors and the police watching and gas is more expensive and their parents (or grandparents) are checking on them with GPS and cell phones. Too bad.

I have a ribbon that runs through my mind of sweet memories…cruising with my friends.


On my list of things to have with me on a desert island are hamburgers – not the most practical or healthy choice.  Hamburgers are comfort food, loaded with memories.

When my grandmother would stay with us, she would cook hamburgers and make french fries.  We would get little cups of ketchup, just like going out.

The first hamburger place I really remember was Van’s.  They had more than one location eventually, but the one I loved was on 15th Street, east of Lewis.


On special Saturday nights, I could go to Van’s with my Daddy.  We stood in line, waiting for our order, listening to the waitress with her droning question, “do you want onions on that?” The guy who cooked the hamburgers was an artist with his spatula.  He had long dark hair, combed back under his hat.  Watching him take a ball of ground beef and throw it on the well used griddle, where he proceeded to flatten it, shape it and turn it, was an endless fascination.  He worked like lightning with skills that I still admire.  When they were done, the burgers were wrapped in wax paper and the fries were placed in the little paper envelope.  Riding home with that greasy brown bag of burgers makes me drool even now.

But Pennington’s was the place where memories of the food mingle with all kinds of rites of growing up.  Pennington’s Drive-In Restaurant was on Peoria and was the heart of my life for many years.


I started going there with my parents, but caught on easily that this was a cool place to be.  We would order our hamburger in a basket with either onion rings (Pennington’s were uniquely thin and delicious) or fries.  Whoever invented the basket for hamburgers deserves a place in museums of industrial design.  Those colorful plastic baskets have never been improved on for ease while eating in the car.  Our order would come with a stack of baskets of chicken, burgers, shrimp or any of Pennington’s favorites.  Early on, the carhops were on roller skates, when that was the newest thing.

As I grew into junior high, Pennington’s became the hangout for Tulsa’s teens.  When you’re not quite teen-aged, it was embarrassing to be there with your parents.  Soc Row was the middle row, with pole position being the spot at the end near the restaurant.  Here you could wave and honk at your friends as they cruised through, looking for a parking place and everyone could see that you were there.  I confess that Daddy thought this was hilarious and I can remember him parking in the prime place, yelling “Whee” as the teenaged girls giggled by.  I, of course, was sitting on the floor of the car, mortified and sure that my future life was ruined.  Daddy, Daddy.  Silly Daddy.

This was my home away from home all the way through high school.  We raced to get there and back on our 30 minute lunch hour.  If I ran an errand for my mother after school, it involved picking up a friend and stopping at Pennington’s.  We went on dates that began or ended there, we piled in cars after football games to drive through, honking our school honk.  We decorated our parents’ cars with our social club colors and drove through during our annual rush of new pledges.  In the summer, we cruised Peoria in the evenings, looping through Pennington’s as we searched for our other cruising friends.  It was where you could see who was with who and you could be seen.  Reputations were made there!

We knew the Penningtons, Arch and Lola, and could see them inside behind the counter.  Sherry was everyone’s favorite carhop and I’m sure she got more than her share of cocky teenaged boys trying to show her how grown up they were.  We weren’t allowed to get out of our cars, for fear of being approached by Jake, the security guard.  It was a time when we listened to the rules, although some tried to push him to his limits.

Pennington’s had great food, but my hamburgers, dinner rolls, vanilla Dr. Peppers, black bottom pie and onion rings are interwoven with the memories of first dates, special dates, cruising through with cars full of friends just to see who was there or who could see us, and, even the times with my parents.  I miss the old places…