Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Atlanta Varsity and Flossie Mae

Atlanta Varsity and Flossie Mae

In 1928, the Roaring Twenties were about to come to an end due to the stock market crash that loomed around the corner.  But before the crash, other events were weaving the tapestry of the future. 
The first scanning disk set using a shortwave receiver (I will call it the first TV) hit the market, and cost about $80; Charles Lindbergh received the Medal of Honor for the first trans-Atlantic flight and Aviator Amelia Earhart became the first woman to pilot across the Atlantic Ocean. The first Academy Awards ceremony took place  - "Wings" won for Most Outstanding Production (there was no Best Picture) and talking pictures like "The Lights of New York" hit the silver screen.

"I wanna Be Loved By You", "Sonny Boy", and "Sweet Sue, Just You" were among the hit songs, and Amos and Andy premiered on the radio. And let us not forget that Mickey Mouse made his first appearance as Steamboat Willie.

In Atlanta, near Georgia Tech, a top college founded in 1885, Frank Gordy was about to put his needle to history's tapestry. He opened a drive-in restaurant, one of the first in the country. Not only did it survive the Depression, it became one of the most famous restaurants in America and remains so to this day. It didn’t get that way serving fancy foods. Chili Dogs, Glorified Steaks (a hamburger with mayo and trimmings), fresh cut French fries and onion rings, fried pies, and its famous Frosted Orange Crush, are a few of the items that top the menu.

The standard of quality control at the Varsity is superb, food is made fresh to order 24-7,  which may account for the fact that over 15,000 people eat there every day; double that on Georgia Tech game days.  By 24-7, I mean that the Varsity has only closed once since it opened, and that was when Gordy was buried in 1983. I remember that day.  

Yes, the food is good, but 15,000 people don't frequent a restaurant just for the food. The place is a legend; a happening. Famous people from all over the world make a point to eat at the Varsity.  

Among those who have eaten at the Varsity over the years: Tennessee Ernie Ford, President Jimmy Carter, President George H. Bush, and President Bill Clinton. Executives from Coca-Cola treated Warren Buffett to a meal at the Varsity when he became their largest shareholder. Limousines are a common site at the Varsity, and you never know who you will run into.

Oh, and Clark Gable ate at the Varsity, along with other actors during the filming of Gone With The Wind. And that brings me to the below photos of John W. Raiford who personally served Clark Gable - and me (not at the same time, of course). But forget the "Raiford" name. Everyone knew him, and fondly remembers him, as Flossy Mae. 


When I was a little girl it was a real treat to sit in the back seat on warm summer nights, taking in the  smells emitting from the kitchen, the hot Georgia nights intensifying the aromatics of dogs and burgers. But the real treat was listening to Flossy Mae sing the menu - the entire menu. He was famous for that.  When I got my driver’s license it was still a treat to have Flossy Mae as my car-hop, though I was a little more interested in those Georgia Tech boys. 

After I had my son (I never caught a Georgia Tech boy), he was listening to Flossy Mae singing the Varsity menu before he could eat solid foods. 

Flossy Mae was all about tradition. In the early days every parent in Georgia wanted to introduce their kids to the legend they had grown up with. Flossy was like Santa Claus and his name spread across state lines like a virus.  Everyone wanted to be in the company of this sweet, kind man who had a smile for everyone.

Flossy Mae began working at the Varsity in 1937. Besides his singing of the entire menu (did I mention that?), he was known for his whimsical, self-made hats, decorated with a variety of items. Flossy Mae worked at the Varsity until 1993, when he retired at the age of 86. I captured him for an assignment a few years before his retirement. The accompanying photos are scanned negatives. Flossy Mae died four years after his retirement. He is still missed by those who grew up with him.

And here is the menu he sang. Did I mention it was the entire menu? Too bad we did not have video phones in those days. Reading his version of the menu is not near as cool as hearing him sing the words.

"Hot Dog a hot dog with chili and mustard

Chili Dog same as a hot dog

Naked Dog a plain hot dog in a bun

M.K. Dog a naked dog with mustard and ketchup

Regular C Dog a chili dog with ketchup only

Red Dog a naked dog with ketchup only

Yellow Dog a naked dog with mustard only

Yankee Dog same as a yellow dog

Heavy Dog a hot dog with extra chili

Walk a Dog (or Steak) a hot dog (or hamburger) to go

Steak a hamburger with mustard, ketchup, and pickle

Chili Steak a hamburger with chili

Glorified Steak a hamburger with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato

Mary Brown Steak (or Dog) a plain hamburger (or hot dog) without a bun

Naked Steak a plain steak

Sally Rand a naked steak

Sally Rand Through the Garden a naked steak with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise

N.I. Orange a Varsity Orange without ice

F.O. a frosted orange shake

Joe-ree coffee with cream

P.C. plain chocolate milk (always served with ice)

N.I.P.C. a P.C. without ice

All The Way with onions (on a hot dog, hamburger, etc.)

Bag of Rags a bag of chips

Ring One order of onion rings

Strings french fries

Sideways onions on the side

The Jared Blackwood A double bacon cheeseburger with fries and a Coke Float

V.O. Varsity Orange, the original carbonated orange soda drink

L.G. Lazy Gordy, a Naked Dog and a Sprite." 

Flossy Mae sang it his way, and he never missed a beat.

If you are one of the few people who have never been to the Varsity, put it on your "Bucket list." Oh, be sure to listen for a faint singing, especially on those hot Georgia nights. I have a feeling Flossy Mae is never far from the Varsity.

"Whaddayahave, Whaddayave?"

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