Hanging out at Tom's

Ed Rood

There was a time when I thought drinking cherry Cokes was the cool thing to do. Back in the day it was part of a well-balanced three course meal. Let’s see ... Coke, french fries and ketchup. 

In 1957, it seemed that anyone who was anyone would eventually end up at Tom’s Grill in Ames to occupy a booth and get in on all the latest happenings. The lineup of wheels in front of the cafe back then was enough to cause car collectors of today to fall in love a dozen times.

A typical evening would find the place loaded with some of the coolest people you’d ever hope to see. Ducktails, flat tops and slicked-back hair were all as much of the scene as pony tails and bobby socks. Black leather jackets, T-shirts, chopped Levis and Wellington boots were the official uniform for the guys while the chicks wore pastel sweaters, fluffy skirts and saddle shoes.

Ed Rood

Those from the “north” (Gilbert, Story City, Roland, McCallsburg and Milford) occupied the southeast section of tables while we southerners (Huxley, Kelley, Alleman, Sheldahl, Slater and Cambridge) would claim the northwest booths. This wasn’t law, but the accepted way of the world.

Typical orders would include plenty of french fries, tenderloins and several special flavored soft drinks. Although cherry Coke was probably the most popular beverage, there were also concoctions such as Green Rivers and vanilla Cokes.

These drinks didn’t come factory-mixed – not by a long shot. This was in the days of the soda fountain, so you ordered what you wanted and a soda jerk would mix it for you. I can also remember lime Cokes and chocolate Cokes. (Not nearly as cool sounding today as they were back then.) 

This was also long before the days of fast food. Part of the fun of going to Tom’s was killing time waiting for your meals to be served. First order of business was to put a quarter in the jukebox and select six tunes. While listening to the gentle lyrics of “Hound Dog” the odds are a discussion over who has the hottest car would transpire. 

Those debates had some merit because, back then, a car was a car, not a piece of molded plastic with a mousey-sounding motor. If your ride didn’t have twin pipes, lowering blocks, spotlights and flared fender skirts, you just weren’t with it. 

About this time, one of the southerners would usually toss a water-soaked waded-up napkin over into the northerners. They would immediately respond with a volley of wet napkins. Usually this would bring about some heated conversations which would be best summed up as R-rated. 

This ticklish situation would most often be remedied by the waitress as she delivered the food. With three or four people eating out of the same bunch of french fries, it was a game of survival. He with the quickest hands (and mouth) had a distinct advantage and enjoyed the most fries, so that left little time for arguing.

Instead of leaving a tip after the meals were consumed, we would normally leave some little token of our appreciation. One of our favorites was placing a napkin over a glass of water then quickly turn it upside down on the table. The napkin was then pulled out leaving the water in the glass but no way to pick it up without dumping all the water. The waitresses really loved that little trick. 

That was long, long ago. I’m sure the young folks of today have better ways of spending their free time. At least I hope they do for the waitresses of today’s sake.