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Yes, I did indeed work inside the Squirrel Cage

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POSTED April 6, 2010 3:04 a.m.
Progress - or what sometimes passes for it - can hit you like a ton of bricks when you’ve been away from a place for a fair amount of time.

Growing up in a town where the only multi-story buildings were the Gladding, McBean & Co. factory, Walter Jansen & Feed’s grain silos, the co-op rice elevator, the old Civic Center, and a scattering of two-story homes it can be pretty unnerving to realize there is a four-story office building just two blocks from your old home.

I rarely get back to Lincoln these days which is fine by me. I can wrap my head around 7,000 homes at Del Webb at Sun Hills being on the old Hoffman cattle ranch. The fact there are wall-to-wall homes on a couple of old turkey ranches doesn’t faze me nor does the fact there is about a 10-story hotel tower at Thunder Valley casino with a commanding view of the Western Placer County Landfill. (And who said you needed ambiance to gamble and consume alcohol?)

What stopped me in my tracks Sunday, though, was a Mr. Pickles.

Or more precisely, it was Mr. Pickles at the frosty that my mom once owned and worked at seven days a week for a good eight-plus years and where I worked summers, weekends, and after school.

The frosty was one of those standard fares that used to dot Highway 99 East through the Northern Sacramento Valley that is now known as Highway 65. It was basically a box created from metal sheeting that was colder than hades winter and hotter than blazes in summer.

Mom ran it her way which meant the syrup flowed through the drink dispenser so it tasted like bottled Pepsi, the milkshakes and soft serve cones were extra thick, and if you ordered a cherry Pepsi  you got about twice the amount of syrup than any place else. It used to drive distributors up the wall who kept telling her she couldn’t make money that way. Rest assured as a widow she made enough money to raise four kids on her own plus help put two through college.

It explained how dozens of travelers made it a routine “must stop” when they ventured down the highway through Lincoln. What it doesn’t explain is why half the former customers aren’t in diabetic comas.

My mom named the place “The Squirrel Cage.” If you think that was by accident, guess again.

Everybody kept telling her she was nuts. She was nuts to try to raise four kids on her own and not to get remarried. She was nuts to go into business for herself. She was nuts because she essentially didn’t do what everyone else expected her to do.

And the great thing about it, my mom was “nuts.”

To explain what I mean, there was one particular slow August day when I was a freshman in high school that I had slipped some shaved ice down the back of her smock. She was always doing it to me so I figured I needed finally to return the favor.

Mom didn’t say anything although I admit I know I surprised her. I was kind of smug in thinking that I had finally gotten the best of her. After awhile mom said she was going outside to hose down the patio. This was back in the day before the water Nazis would come haul you away for using an open-ended hose to clean cement.

A few minutes later mom called for me to come outside. I did and was immediately hit with a stream of cold water. Like an idiot, I decided I couldn’t let her have the upper hand. So I got a big 35-cent cup of ice (today it would be the equivalent to a Super Big Gulp) and went outside, around the corner and found her as she was bending over turning the water off. The ice went down the back of her smock.

A few minutes later thinking I had trumped her, I was starting to change one of the CO2 tanks when mom opened the back door and turned the hose on me. Naturally not wanting to get drenched I ran. There weren’t too many places to run inside the Squirrel Cage. First it was up front by the order window thinking mom wouldn’t get the candy wet. I was wrong. Then I figured I go over by the grill and the deep fryers as she wouldn’t want that to get wet as it would make a mess that would take hours to clean up. Wrong again. By now I was soaked like a dog so I went into the one place I was sure she wouldn’t follow - the walk-in.

The reason was simple. We had just finished pressing 40 pounds of fresh ground beef into patties plus there were about seven dozen bags of French fries ready to dump in the deep fryer. That doesn’t mention all of the other stuff from lettuce to various other food items.

To make a long story short, mom opened the door, stuck the hose in, shut the door so there was just a crack left, braced a chair up against it and turned on the water full force.

Some $200 in damages in lost food and two hours later of cleaning we were ready for the dinner rush.

Now do you understand why she chose the name Squirrel Cage?



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