Monday, December 3, 2018

Raxgiving



In America, fourth Friday in November is the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season. At big box stores and malls all over this land, folks line up outside the night before, sometimes setting up lawn chairs and tents, hoping to be early enough in the door in the morning to be one of the lucky few to get the pre-bait and switch “doorbuster” price on the season’s hottest new rooty-toot-toot or rummy-tum-tum. The event is an easy target for criticism by columnists, bloggers, and anyone seeking likes and shares on the socials, but the people that bemoan the frenzy of consumerism that marks the day after Thanksgiving seldom offer any alternatives to make the day pleasurable and memorable.

The consumer observances that follow the infamous Friday in late November all seem to have been created as a response to it. Small Business Saturday reminds us to support our local independent merchants. Cyber Monday is when online retailers seek to compete with brick and mortar stores by offering deep discounts on popular merchandise, and Giving Tuesday serves as a prompt to support our favorite charities. The broken chains, not technically small businesses, since they’re part of larger brands, and still decidedly for-profit, so not charity cases either, somehow get lost in the shuffle, and are not known for offering significant discounts following the Thanksgiving holiday. I aim to remedy that, by replacing Black Friday shopping with a new holiday that I like to call Raxgiving.

Rather than standing in bitter cold and enduring numerous aggressive shoppers in a crowded, chaotic store as fluorescent lighting, Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey assault your senses immediately after you’ve been roused from three hours of sleep on a too-small twin bed in your childhood bedroom, exhausted from having cooked and eaten a literal feast, all the while barely tolerating the various Cousin Eddie types that make up your extended family, I humbly suggest an alternative. Instead of abusing your body and mind by taking part in competitive shopping immediately following Thanksgiving, take a break. Get a full night’s sleep, and make an excuse to take a few hours to yourself. Use that time to visit a nearby (or not so nearby) outlet of a struggling, near defunct, or otherwise diminished chain, and buy yourself a nice meal, an ironic T shirt, or a few cans of marked down cranberry sauce, whatever they’re selling at the place where you end up. The business will appreciate your patronage more than the crowded big box store up the street, and in turn, you’ll have a  recharging experience in an atmosphere that is likely to be quiet, relaxed, and charmingly outdated.

To understand why the day is called Raxgiving, you should probably hear the story of how I celebrated the very first Raxgiving almost two weeks ago so you can share the story with your friends and well-wishers. It goes like this:
Even in the '80s when there were 500 Rax locations, this one would have been a contender for best view. 

I awoke in the spare bedroom of my parents’ house in Central Kentucky, having spent the past two days driving down from Michigan and preparing essentially the entire Thanksgiving meal, which incidentally, included pecan pie made with Stuckey’s pecans. After two solid days of family time and generally making Thanksgiving happen, I was ready for some alone time, so Friday morning, I pointed my car toward Harlan, Kentucky, home of the one operating Rax location I had not yet visited.



The Harlan Rax had been on my list to check out for months. Along with the Joliet, Illinois Rax, it’s one of only two Rax locations that has a functioning salad bar, and is the last operating Rax in the Bluegrass State. With its view of the Appalachian mountains out the solarium, it’s also a strong contender for the most scenic Rax location.



I arrived late in the morning, and after taking the time to appreciate the largely unmodified ‘80s vintage building and signs, walked in. Like the other Rax that retains its salad bar, the Harlan location has ‘90s vintage signage and menu boards. One panel of the latter advertises a hot food bar on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for $10 including a drink. Knowing I can get a BBC sandwich or barbecue cheddar potato at any of the four Rax locations in Ohio, that do not offer salad bars, I opted instead for the unique hot food bar, which also included access to the every day salad bar.



Just as in Joliet, a nicely stocked, tidy salad bar awaited me. Rather than the taco meat I encountered in Joliet, though, this Rax offered fried fish, on its hot food bar along with homemade soups, beans and cornbread, and fried potatoes, most of which I sampled. I suspect the hot food bar menu varies day to day. I’ll have to plan a trip here on a Saturday and/or Sunday to get the full hot food bar experience. The food was unimportant compared to my surroundings however. 

First course from the Endless Salad Bar; I went for variety

Second course; This soup was made from scratch

The third course tasted better than buffet fish had a right to. 

Replace that flatscreen with a fuzzy CRT, and this picture could be from 1985. 
Of the six surviving Rax locations, this one feels the most authentic. Like the Ironton and Lancaster, Ohio locations, it’s a purpose-built 1980’s era structure with the signature long, narrow windows running down the sides of the building and the classic Rax solarium in the front, but unlike its counterparts in Ohio, this location makes use of vintage signage and has a fully functional salad bar and buffet. The Joliet Rax has a salad bar and buffet as well, but is housed in an older building which was built in the era when Rax was known as Rix, and while it’s immensely interesting building, it’s had some interior upgrades and doesn’t feel as authentically Rax. The Harlan Rax on the other hand, retains most of its original fixtures and furniture, aside from some patina here and there, it’s largely as it was three decades ago. It’s a truly amazing working museum exhibit that exemplifies the Rax “Fast food with style” motto. 

I'd guess this sign has been on the wall for at least 20 years. 

Finding the Raxiest Rax, and completing my travels to every operating Rax location is cause for celebration, hence my suggestion of the yearly observance of Raxgiving. While Raxgiving can be spent at not just Rax, but a location of any broken chain, certain traditions should be observed. I’ve laid out a few suggestions of Raxgiving traditions below:

  • Whatever broken chain you visit on Raxgiving, be sure to spend money there. Your patronage keeps the broken chains in business for others to enjoy.
Support America's favorite sandwich place so all of America may enjoy it. 

  • Immerse yourself in your surroundings and revel in the uniquely anachronistic customer experience a broken chain provides.
    A drinking fountain in a fast food place? How crazy is that? 
  • Visiting a broken chain by yourself isn’t mandatory. If you have friends or family around for Thanksgiving that you’d like to spend some additional time with, invite them along to make a memory.

    For instance, I met up with my uncle at Rax. He happens to be an alligator.
  • Remember to take the time to honor the memory of any former locations you encounter along the way.
I spotted this Arby's in Corbin, Kentucky on my return trip. If you look closely, you can tell it began life as a Rax. I paid my respects by using their bathroom and buying a chocolate shake. 


So that’s my modest proposal for the next trendy new unofficial post-Thanksgiving holiday. If you plan on celebrating next year, start planning soon. As of the time I’m posting this, there are only 361 days left until next Raxgiving.




6 comments:

  1. Too funny. I think I'll spend next Raxgiving at one of the three or four Ponderosas in Ohio.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks!

      Ponderosa would be a great place to spend Raxgiving. You could hang out all day and just graze from the buffet if you wanted to.

      Delete
  2. That's too funny. We've messaged before. I live in Joliet. Guess where I ate on Black Friday?

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    Replies
    1. Would it have been Rax by any chance? Great minds think alike I guess.

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  3. Rax is on my ever expanding list of Broken Chains, and has been for quite some time.

    Also interesting that their menu board still has the Mr. Pibb logo as opposed to Pibb Xtra.

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  4. I think you should rent out the Harlan Rax next Black Friday/Raxsgiving and have a Broken Chains Fan Meet-Up.

    ReplyDelete