Talking with a couple of longtime locals from Oahu the other night, I was surprised to learn that Byron's Drive-In is closing for good, after 47 years. While some might suggest that closing the notorious greasy spoon is indeed for the good of all, these two were lamenting the loss of the Nimitz Highway landmark. No more shrimp burgers or deep-fried peanut butter-jelly-banana sandwiches or - say it ain't so! - Green River soda.
I haven't had a Green River in many years and that's probably for the better, too. From what I've read online, the current version bears little resemblance to the original, which was created in 1919 by the Schoenhofen Edelweiss Brewing Co. of Chicago. Sold in beer bottles, the lime-flavored soft drink got the brewery through the Prohibition era and was, in its heyday, second only to Coke in the Midwest. Today it's marketed as a specialty nostalgia beverage, like Bubble Up and RC Cola.
I don't recall ever seeing Green River in bottles, nor do I remember it as a bubbly citrus soda. It was a syrupy-sweet special treat, found only at soda fountains like Iwaishi Store in Makawao or Paia's Machida Store, where it flowed from its own special dispenser - a transparent box, so the bright green potion fairly screamed for your attention. The dispenser carried an official Green River label, a stylized sketch of a river beneath a full moon. To this day, even though Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Green River" is one of my all-time favorite songs, I hear "Moon River" in my mind when I think of Green River the Beverage.
My Auntie Sachan used to take me along on her Saturday errands, which always included a stop at one soda fountain or another. She introduced me to chocolate Cokes at Iwaishi's, Orange Freezes at Toda's, Shirley Temples at Hale Lava. When Ed & Don's opened Maui's first premium ice cream shop in Lahaina, Auntie and I got hooked on their frosted root beers. And their mint chocolate chip ice cream. I was 7 or 8 years old and this was my first taste of decadence. I remember feeling a little guilty but oh, so lucky, to be chauffeured all the way to Lahaina for an ice cream cone that cost a whopping 75 cents. I think the frosted root beer was $1.50.
And speaking of root beer, was it my imagination or did we really have an A&W Drive In on Maui in the early '60s, where Cupie's now stands? I remember having hot dogs and root beer floats served to us in our car there. Around the corner, Treats and Sweets was Dairy Queen then, and Barefoot Boy Drive In was a little farther down Lono Avenue. Every so often, my dad would get an urge, and we'd have a late-night snack at Barefoot Boy before stocking up on Dilly Bars and DQ Sandwiches.
When the island's first McDonald's opened on Puunene Avenue, we were as excited as if Disneyland had moved to Maui, never dreaming that in a couple of decades, all of the fast food giants would be here. Now, while I appreciate the convenience of the chains, I miss the comfort food and charm of the mom-and-pop shops long gone: soda fountains and ice cream parlors, drive-ins and diners. Hamburgers at Wimpy's Corner, lemon meringue pie at Kurasaki's Cafe. Kawaharada's saimin. And peach pie. Lucy Goo's juicy cheeseburgers. Harold's Inn French fries. Portuguese bean soup and ribeye steak at Club Rodeo, abalone soup and crispy gau gee min at Golden Jade. I know, the last two were too big to be called diners, but they were old-fashioned family restaurants in every sense of the term.
The Oahu boys were saying that, after 10 p.m. tomorrow, when Byron's slides shut its window for the last time, all they'll have left is Rainbow Drive-In in Kapahulu. "What about Maui? Do you guys still have that little noodle shop that makes its own manju?"
Yes, thank goodness, Sam Sato's is still serving up saimin and teri sticks and its own manju. At Tasty Crust, you can have the same world-famous hot cakes at the same counter that's been there for more than 50 years, though the stools seem a lot shorter to me now. Relative newcomer Sheik's (40-plus years) still has great beef tomato and chop steak. The Millyard Hamburger Steak House, while even younger and much smaller, is keeping the mom-and-pop spirit alive. It's actually just a pop shop, a one-man operation. With great hamburger steak and even better fried akule. And I'm looking forward to finding out whether the red hot dogs at the reopened Maalaea General Store are, as I've heard, as onolicious as the originals. Maybe they'll have Green River on tap.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.