Anything for root beer
Root beer is hard to come by in France. When a case of it arrived at a nearby shop, it was a must-have.
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Meanwhile, back in the back at Best of British, Graham was trying to tempt me further – Tootsie Rolls? Heinz Ketchup? Aunt Jemima Pancake and Waffle Mix? Hershey bars? But I only had eyes for root beer. He carried it to the register for me.Skip to next paragraph
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There I was, boring Nicci with tales of childhood car trips "up north" and stops at the A&W drive-in, when she smiled sweetly and gave me my total: 20 euros, plus tax. I was so stunned at the price that I just kept on talking: Oh, the splendid greasy crispness of the onion rings! The chilly frost on the heavy glass mugs! That wonderful sandy feeling you have after a long day at the lake!
Proust with his madeleines had nothing on me. The way I was carrying on, you'd never know that every grocery store and most gas stations in America sold A&W, often on a two-for-one special. My mother bought it by the case whenever I came home for a visit – and I was heading for Wisconsin in just two weeks.
But after making such a fuss, I could hardly say "no thanks" to Nicci, especially when she had politely let me drone on about the charms of the A&W drive-in: the tray that clipped onto the driver's window; the mugs, one of which I still have.
I can only imagine how bored Nicci gets listening to all her customers' "when I was a kid" anecdotes about this or that favorite food.
As she handed me my change, she and I beamed at each other as though she were presenting me with a wondrous gift, instead of a product I could easily live without at a markup of something like 700 percent.
I tucked the little box under my arm and left. C'est la vie, I thought. I decided that the root beer was a Christmas gift to myself, took it home, put it in the pantry, and forgot about it.
And then summer hit, and I remembered the booty. I pulled it out, popped open a can and settled into the garden to savor it. And that's when I saw things more clearly.
Cost of 12 cans, with the unfavorable exchange rate? $28.89.
The realization that a motherly British shopkeeper in a small French town had sold, to a nostalgic American, an overpriced product packaged in New Jersey for a Texas-based soft-drink company that's now owned by an enormous British conglomerate – because it reminded her of long-ago Wisconsin summers? Priceless.
Root Beer Float
2 cans or bottles root beer, chilled
1 pint vanilla ice cream
Whipped cream (optional)
4 maraschino cherries (optional)
Pour 1/2 cup root beer into a large chilled glass. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Slowly and carefully pour 1/3 cup root beer over ice cream. Add another scoop of ice cream. Fill glass carefully to top with root beer and serve. Or leave space for a dollop of whipped cream topped by a maraschino cherry. Repeat three times. Makes 4 servings.
Note: Putting together a root beer float is a messy business! Do it on a kitchen counter where any overflow can be wiped up.