I am who I am because of a hamburger. And I'm not referring to my shape. (Though I can distinctly point to several cheeseburger lumps around the middle) It was a late summer evening, just around sunset, you know, when the light briefly hangs just on the western horizon painting everything it touches with a golden hue. I was nine years old and the family was going out for dinner. Dad parked the old Buick in the tree covered stalls behind Hackney's low brown building. We all clambered out and started our stroll towards the front door of the restaurant. The folks were occupied with my brother and his choice for college and had been since we left the house. So, as a typical nine-year old boy, I was off in my own world until a light breeze grabbed my attention. On it were the very tangible flavors and smells of searing beef, frying potatoes and the sweet low scent of barbecue sauce caramelizing over an open flame. I knew these familiar odors. I was already anticipating the juicy burger on dark rye layered with a crisp raw onion waiting for me inside. This was not my first time at Hackney's, but this time the smells hit me anew as if I had never smelled them before. I was intoxicated by them. They were beckoning to me like a wispy cartoon finger to come closer.
I slowed as the family moved passed the back door. I let them bicker on ahead as my eyes and ears were caught by the activity in the kitchen seen through the back door. I got closer and heard dishes clanking together as they were being stacked from the dishwasher. Then intermingled in this rhythmic clatter were the slightly audible yet higher pitched voices of unseen waitresses as they yelled their orders. Now with my face nearly pressed to the dirty screen, I was able to see through an opening in the wire shelving to the white hatted cooks as they moved back and forth in what seemed to be a choreographed ballet at their stoves. Their twists and turns punctuated by bursts of flame from some unknown furnace below. I was transfixed by this symphony of sights, sounds and smells. I was drawn like a moth to the excitement within. I was encountering my future.
I've spent a lifetime in kitchens since and I still can't help myself from peering in the back doors of restaurants whenever I can. Every new kitchen I enter, still fills me with the same level of excitement I felt that night. Each time my imagination is heightened with the endless possibilities produced in these sometimes-cramped spaces of stainless steel, black iron and gleaming tile. That Hackney's of my childhood was really nothing more than a burger joint. But it is now and will forever be in my mind, one of the greatest hamburgers ever served.