Just Above Sunset
April 17, 2005 - Mickey D's and Twinkies, and Taxes

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Last Friday, April 15, was not just Tax Day.


Consider other April 15 events. 

  • In 1862, a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia became law. 
  • In 1865, Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater.
  • In 1912, Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.
  • In 1917, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin returned to Russia after years of exile.
  • In 1935, the radio comedy program "Fibber McGee and Molly" premiered on the NBC Blue Network.
  • In 1945, British troops liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
  • In 1962, Walter Cronkite succeeded Douglas Edwards as anchorman of "The CBS Evening News."

Birthdays?  Edie Adams and Bobby Vinton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


But the big one?  On April 15, 1955 Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois.  Fifty years of those hamburgers.


Note this -


McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner will lead the celebration of 50 years of opportunity at McDonald's around the world with the grand opening of a spectacular new restaurant in downtown Chicago on Friday, April 15 at 10 a.m.


The two-story restaurant features 60-foot-high Golden Arches, a double-lane drive-thru, seating for 300, historical displays and stunning views of Chicago's skyline.


Your editor was in Manhattan last week and on the 8th had lunch at the wood-paneled and mirrored fancy McDonalds on lower Broadway near Wall Street, the only McDonalds with a fellow in tails playing show tunes on a grand piano on a balcony suspended above the fries and such.  Very odd. 


Things have changed in those fifty years.


And seventy-five years ago?


See this press release – Twinkies, a sort of snack food, was visited upon us on April 15 long ago.


Calling Twinkies the "best darn tootin" idea he ever had, James A. Dewar created the beloved treat in 1930, while working as a Hostess bakery manager in Chicago. Looking to make better use of shortcake pans that sat idle except for a short strawberry season, Dewar decided to inject the little golden cakes with a smooth creme filling (first banana and later vanilla following a banana shortage during World War II). A St. Louis billboard advertising "Twinkle Toe" shoes inspired the name for the two-for-a-nickel treat and an American icon was born.


More than just a top selling snack cake, the Twinkie has emerged as a social phenomenon with a treasure trove of amazing tales that underscore its astonishing impact on our culture.


The astonishing impact?


Twinkiegate: A grand jury indicted a Minneapolis city council candidate for serving coffee, Kool-Aid, Twinkies and other sweets to two senior citizens groups. The act led to the passage of the Minnesota Campaign Act, widely known as the Twinkie law. The 71-year-old candidate, George Belair, lost the election but the charges against him were dropped. The case was dubbed "Twinkiegate."


Twinkie Hall of Fame: 89-year-old Lewis Browning of Shelbyville, Indiana, has been eating at least one Twinkie every day since 1941, consuming more than 20,000 Twinkies. James Dewar, who died at 88, is said to have consumed more than 40,000 Twinkies in his lifetime. Chicago consumes more Twinkies per capita than any other city in the United States.


Twinkiejackings: In the late 1970s, reports of Twinkie hijackings began surfacing. In 1975, a Kennett Square, PA house twice was broken into and robbed of its Twinkies. That same year, AWOL marines from a California base were stopped on a freeway driving a truck full of "hot" Twinkies. In 1976, someone stole a bakery truck containing 1800 Twinkies. The truck was found; the Twinkies were not. In 1978, two Albuquerque men held up a delivery truck and made off with two large boxes of Twinkies, which at the time were valued at $16. Nothing else was taken and no one was injured.


Twinkies to the Rescue: An elephant living in Sarasota, FL refused food for days after undergoing surgery; Twinkies reportedly were used to end the hunger strike. When fifty baboons escaped from a wildlife reserve in an Ohio amusement park, Twinkies reportedly were among the treats used to try to lure the AWOL creatures back.


The Twinkie Defense: After former San Francisco supervisor Dan White killed the city's mayor and another supervisor, he argued diminished capacity as a result of excessive junk food consumption. The strategy was dubbed the "Twinkie Defense."


Twinkies Roll On, Fly High: In 1976, a Bloomington, IL radio station held a Twinkie Roll contest. Contestants reportedly were required to roll a Twinkie around a local courthouse using only their noses. The winner received $50 and a five-pound Twinkie. Organizers originally had planned for finalists to push the Twinkies up the courthouse steps but, fearing skinned noses, moved the event to grass. That same year, students at Rochester Community College participated in a three-day "First Annual International Twinkie Festival." Among the festivities, students used 300 helium balloons to launch a Twinkie into the stratosphere for the first time. The Twinkie returned to earth some 120 miles away.


Your editor was living in Rochester, New York that very year and remembers the RCC "First Annual International Twinkie Festival" and the Twinkie flight.


Oh yeah!


What a country!


Your editor’s own Twinkie story?


The year was 1983 and I was living at the time in Manhattan Beach, just south of the Los Angeles Airport (LAX), just steps from the sand.  The hot happy-hour place for all of us working in aerospace at Hughes was a Manhattan Beach restaurant called Orville and Wilber’s, with a big glass bar – a giant room – with views from Malibu to Catalina.  Many nights they had this fellow on the small stage playing guitar and singing – a Kenny Loggins wannabe.  But he was good.  One of his specialties was that, as they sun set over the Pacific, patrons could shout out phrases to him and he would choose one, then, on the spot, create a song based on the suggested phrase.


One evening I was there with a sweet young thing, Leslie McC, who later introduced me to my second wife.  Leslie was a tall, willowy blond from the office, with big blue eyes – and very prim and proper, as her father was the full-bird colonel who ran the Air Force Space Command office down the street from Hughes.


So this guitarist, as the sun hit the horizon far out beyond the windows, did his usual thing and asked for possible song titles.  Lot of folks shouted out lots of things.  On a whim I shouted out – “My Nephews Like Their Twinkies Frozen.”  And the guitarist grinned and built a clever little tune based to that idea.  And it was not salacious at all.  It was about food.  Really.  But there was, of course, a subtext.


Leslie just about crawled under the table.  All I could say to her was that it was true, honest - my nephews DID like their Twinkies frozen.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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