Friday, November 20, 2009

Paying homage to OJ

Take a bite
Montreal, QC, October 2009 [Click all images to enlarge]
About these photos: We're sharing orange-themed pictures all week long as part of Thematic Photographic. And it doesn't get bigger than Montreal's OJ! Please click here to share your own orange vision.
On a busy street corner beside the trench of a highway known as the Decarie Expressway sits a giant building that's shaped like an orange. Officially, it's Gibeau Orange Julep. But no one calls it that. It's embedded itself into Montreal's culture simply as "OJ". Long ago, you'd drive in and hostesses on roller skates served you in your car. Those days are but distant memories now, but pulling in here for a quick bite on the way home is still something special.

The food - mostly hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and fries - isn't really worth writing home about. And I'm sure your cardiologist wouldn't approve of your being here in the first place. But there's something about sipping the flagship drink - best known as "OJ", I think it's orange juice mixed with a bit of egg, then mixed continuously into a frothy mess - while sitting in the car that reminds me of what life must have been like for my parents when they were young. Indeed, it's one of those rare cultural icons that ties my generation to theirs: It was as important a milestone of my teens and early twenties as it was of theirs.

So even though we don't live here anymore, we bring the kids because we want them to know what a truly unique experience this is - and we want them to experience it before the inevitable march of time claims this special place, too. More importantly, every time we drive by here, we find ourselves in need of some happy. That's because this place is barely three kilometers away from the hospital, and we always pass it on our way back home. This has become our comforting antidote to the often jarring visits to a place no child should have to witness except to be born.

In the silence in the car after we first come down from the hospital, I often wonder what they're thinking, how the just-completed experience has changed them. They've been here so many times already that they're old pros - they know when to wear masks, when to clean their hands, when to stay back from the patient's bed, how to behave, etc. Yet still I wonder if being so familiar with illness and endings has aged them somehow, has taken away their grasp of childhood innocence.

As OJ looms in the windshield, I like to suggest stopping there. Even if I'm not hungry, just immersing ourselves - and most notably, them - in the experience of this place helps escape the sadness for just a little while. Over the somewhat greasy fare, we recount the stories of mommy's and daddy's earliest dates here, we speculate over what might be inside the orange, and we muse about the person who concocted this place all those years ago. Their faces light up, if only briefly, as we all manage to forget reality for a few minutes.

I guess we find our balm wherever we can, even if it comes in the shape of a tattered old, iconic orange building. I wish I could take this place with us when we head back to London.

Your turn: Odd, memorable, iconic places. And why they mean as much as they mean. Please discuss.


Rinkly Rimes said...

When I lived in Africa I always found the round buildings known as rondavels difficult to furnish because of the shape. I wonder how your 'icon' got round this?

Mel Fraase said...

Cool shots! Much better OJ than the first O.J. that came to mind!!

We have a burger place downtown that is drive through only. They still have very home-style burgers and the best onion rings. I can't help but stop for the "comfort food" even if I don't need the comforting!

Anonymous said...

good article....................................................................................................

~j said...

nicely said, carmi! we were a nomadic military family...very few places ever visited more than once, but there was a park in Indiana that my mom took us to every stinkin' time were visited her folks. i never understood her fascination with it until i had kids. now i'm thankful that she shared it with us.

Anonymous said...

How dare you pay homage to a man who commited a double murder. What kind of blog is this?
Even though he was found not guilty, that was due to poor prosecut......what?
You are taliking about the fruit juice?
You didn't mean the killer football guy?
Never mind.

Miss Emily Latella
30 Rockefeller Plaza

Mojo said...

I don't know if they're still around or not, but I remember a chain of places with essentially the same "signature" drink around here when I was in high school. Only here they were called "Orange Julius" (the place and the drink). And I seem to remember having this discussion about a year ago when the same subject came up.

I guess if there's a place here that could be called "iconic", it would be Sadlack's. Sadlack's is an indie sandwich/sub shop on Hillsboro Street directly across from the NC State University Bell Tower and has been there as long as I can remember. It wasn't always called Sadlack's, but it's always been a sandwich/sub shop -- even when my dad was at State in the early 50's. And no matter how many franchised operations come and go on Hillsboro Street (and believe me, they do) Sadlack's and Two Guys will probably outlast them all.

But being practically NCSU dining halls, they're decked out in red, not orange. So for today's dose of one-rung-up-the-spectrographic-ladder, I return to Wake Forest and Thematic Photographic 76: "Orange" v.4.0 - Witching Hour

Hilary said...

You know, I lived in Montreal for just under thirty years, and I think I only actually went to the Orange Julep once or twice. To me, it was always just part of the landscape.