Visiting the Great Root Bear

oneinathousandlogoby E.O. Schaub


I’m not sure what it says about me that I asked for- and got- a rotating black plastic composter for Mother’s Day (Woo-hoo! Party at our house!) but it only seemed fair that when Father’s Day rolled around, my husband should get what he wanted: a family trip to the A&W.


This is just a little more complicated than it might at first sound, because the nearest, and frankly, the only A&W we know of is located in the summer tourist town of Lake George, a good forty-five minute drive away from our home in Vermont. As it happened, this was good, as it gave us the opportunity to have a lengthy conversation with our four-year-old as to whether a root beer float constituted a dessert or a beverage, what in fact root beer was, and whether she could have a lemonade too (no). This was followed by a conversation with our nine year old as to why it was okay to eat this fast food.


“I thought fast food was bad,” she said with that wonderful knack kids have for distilling everything you’ve ever told them in all it’s infinite subtleties down to a single blunt point.


“Well yes… it is…” I said, wondering for the four millionth time what I was going to say and whether my anticipated explanation would really make logical sense, or simply be fodder for the “my-parents-were-big-fat-hypocrites” therapy sessions some decades from now. “Well. The thing about fast food is that it is not good for you. And so we shouldn’t eat it all the time. But this is a special restaurant that is Daddy’s favorite. So this is a treat.”


And how. For a family that defines McDonald’s as “Convenient Public Restroom,” this was big stuff.


I have to admit I love the weird campiness of Lake George. It is the home of shop signs simultaneously advertising fudge, water shoes and leather moccasins; the home of motels with names like the Cozynook and the Do-Rest Court. You need a Goony Golf? A Waterslide World? A Mohican Motel? Stores with innovative names like “Shirts ‘n’ Stuff” and “Gifts 4U”? It’s all here- and don’t forget to visit the concrete tee-pee on your way out.


You could define Lake George as what happens when a tourist destination— a beautiful lakeside retreat at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains— becomes a tourist trap— complete with Putt-Putt, Pirate-themed restaurants, and nowhere to park. Now, I’m no fan of crass commercialization run amok, but what I love about Lake George is that it is, for the most part, a small-town, yesterday version of crass commercialization run amok. So instead of a Great Adventure Park, or some such awful thing, you have the adorable Magic Village with its creaky animatronics and the upside-down house you can walk through, and the horse which- after thirty minutes of fanfare- you can watch jump into a swimming pool.


And instead of McDonald’s, or some such awful thing, you can go to the A&W. Apparently, this particular franchise has been in operation some fifty years, and in that time I bet it hasn’t changed much. For one thing, there is no indoor seating. Instead, you have a choice between eating in the postage-stamp-sized parking lot in your car from a window tray- yes they have car-hops, sorry, no roller skates- or out back at a picnic table. A few of the tables are covered by a shed-like roof, and a few more huddle under a large awning, but the fact is that this is a restaurant that makes hay when the sun shines… or hamburgers as the case may be.


I’m always surprised at how fast the food arrives after we’ve ordered from our picnic table (I spend enough time in my car, thank you), but more than that I’m amazed by the root beer floats, which we always get. They’re awe-inspiring.


A mammoth glass (and this is the small, folks) is plunked expertly down by our waitress and first of all it’s just nice that it’s glass… but perched on the side and threatening to jump overboard at any moment is your fist-sized twirl of vanilla ice-cream, causing the root beer to roil and spit in protest beneath it. Fizzle fizzle fizzle.


Note: you will be given a straw AND a long-handled spoon. PROCEED WITH CAUTION. Straws carelessly inserted will make your float foam up and overflow all over the table in precisely the manner of a volcano diorama. Trust us.


But not to worry, because here come the burgers. (After all, it’s been, what?, a good seven or eight minutes since we ordered them, right? Did they even have time to cook them- or shall we be enjoying them raw from the freezer?) They are big and sloppy and wrapped in foil and before we know it we are all knee-deep in napkin territory- the waitress should just bring back a new wad every time she appears because we’re going to use them all. The girls’ kids meals come in paper bags- an unprecedented novelty- and out come their hotdogs and fries and onion rings- more novelty- not to mention, what else? A coupon for more ice cream. Oh good. (Save that for later honey.)


By the time I’m half-way through my burger I begin to recall why I was ever reticent to come to this amazing place at all- it never fails that afterward I feel just exactly as if I’ve eaten an anvil. Also, I feel full for at least two days afterward.


That’s okay- it’s totally worth it. Before we depart for the waterfront to ogle the poor, oily-looking ducks and the big paddleboat (the SS Minne-Ha-Ha, I’ll have you know) we must visit the bathroom, again, and take a moment to hug the five-foot chainsaw bear wearing a painted orange sweater and matching pom-pom beret who is the official mascot of the Lake George A&W. If we’ve remembered to bring a camera we’ll take a picture with the old guy. My kids like to come up with girly names for him, even though I tell them he has a perfectly good name: Root Bear, of course.


So that’s what we did for Father’s Day, and it was worth every calorie, every ounce of fat, every teaspoon of high fructose corn syrup. Because this is a special restaurant that is Daddy’s favorite. This is a treat.

1 thought on “Visiting the Great Root Bear

  1. Hi Eve
    I have just read several of your blogs and enjoyed them all. It was great seeing you all at Susan and John’s. You can be sure that I will be tuning in again for more Pawlet news.
    Best, Cynthia

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