rudy umans
Patty’s Charcoal Drive-In
by Barbara Crooker

First job. In tight black shorts
and a white bowling shirt, red lipstick
and bouncing ponytail, I present
each overflowing tray as if it were a banquet.
I’m sixteen and college-bound;
this job’s temporary as the summer sun,
but right now, it’s the boundaries of my life.
After the first few nights of mixed orders
and missing cars, the work goes easily.
I take out the silver trays and hook them to the windows,
inhale the mingled smells of seared meat patties,
salty ketchup, rich sweet malteds.
The lure of grease drifts through the thick night air.
And it’s always summer at Patty’s Charcoal Drive-In–
carloads of blonde-and-tan girls
pull up next to red convertibles,
boys in black tee shirts and slick hair.
Everyone knows what they want.
And I wait on them, hoping for tips,
loose pieces of silver
flung carelessly as the stars.
Doo-wop music streams from the jukebox,
and each night repeats itself,
faithful as a steady date.
Towards 10 p.m., traffic dwindles.
We police the lot, pick up wrappers.
The dark pours down, sticky as Coke,
but the light from the kitchen
gleams like a beacon.
A breeze comes up, chasing papers
in the far corners of the darkened lot,
as if suddenly a cold wind had started to blow
straight at me from the future–
I read that in a Doris Lessing book–
but right now, purse fat with tips,
the moon sitting like a cheeseburger on a flat black grill,
this is enough.
Your order please.

SOURCE: From Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2015).

IMAGE: “Drive-in” by Rudy Umans. Prints available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem starts with the literal, my first job as a carhop at Patty’s Charcoal Drive-In, Wappingers Falls, New York, for 75 cents an hour, plus tips.  I was able to pay for two years of college with my summer jobs, including this one.  The line about “first few nights of mixed orders and missing cars” refers to just that—no one told us we should identify the cars specifically (say by license plate), not just “cute boy in convertible.”  The kitchen was also new and orders were far behind, so people left. There we were, 16 and clueless, wandering around a parking lot plaintively asking, “Who wants four burgers, two shakes and two Cokes?”

barbara crooker

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Barbara Crooker is the author of eight books of poetry, including Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017) and The Book of Kells (Cascade Books, 2019).  Radiance, her first book, won the 2005 Word Press First Book Award and was finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance, her second book, won the 2009 Paterson Award for Excellence in Literature. Her writing has received a number of awards, including the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Her work appears in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and The Bedford Introduction to Literature.  She has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts,  the Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France, and The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland. Garrison Keillor has read her poems on The Writer’s Almanac, and she has read her poetry all over the country, including The Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, The Austin International Poetry Festival, Poetry at Round top, The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival,  Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium, and the Library of Congress.