All American in Massapequa is a Long Island institution. The hamburger stand, right off Merrick Road, has been feeding residents of the south shore since 1963. The menu isn't expansive - less than a dozen burgers, hot dogs, shakes, fries and the like - and the food is mostly okay.
What makes All American an eternal aspect of life for Long Islanders is that it remains now, as it was then, cheap as hell.
THE Place to Eat on a Budget
For teenagers and college kids growing up on Long Island, All American is THE place to eat on a budget. For five bucks, you can get a real, heavy, greasy burger, fries and a Coke (or thick shake) that will keep you full for an entire Saturday afternoon of mall walking or beach going or movie watching or whatever, and leave you with money in your pocket.
My three best friends and I must have eaten there every weekend for years. In our geekiest moments, we would get All American, bring it back to someone's house and play Star Wars: The Role Playing Game (first edition), Magic: The Gathering or various video games all day. We lived a wild and crazy life.
Gio has been my best friend since we were in the second grade. We lived just blocks from each other, started out playing with G.I. Joes and Transformers and just kept going. Before we could drive, we would take our meager earnings from lawn mowing or chores and walk to 7-11 for Slurpees and Mad Magazines. Once we got cars, it was the movies and the mall and All American, among other unhealthy food options. And in college, with a little more cash in our pockets and desperately wanting to get out of our parents' houses as often as we could, we went to Islanders games.
The student discounts at the time had tickets for $12 (until a raise bumped them to $15 at some point). No matter where you sat, you could find lower, better seats by the end of the first period that the ushers would wave you into. Parking was split evenly. Gas was not an issue because Nassau Coliseum was so close by. Since the Islanders were most likely going to lose anyway, I tried to pick games against other bottom feeders to increase their odds. That meant a lot of games against expansion teams like Tampa Bay and Ottawa, forgotten teams from out west like Edmonton and our own east coast also-ran, the Hartford Whalers.
Fichaud's Injury a Perfect Time to Cash in at Hooter's
One story that sticks out: I have no idea who they were playing, but Eric Fichaud was in goal for the Islanders and went down after taking a shot off his mask. Gio and I were sitting in the 300's, high above the Islanders' end and part of the usual small crowd for the era. Fichaud laid hurt on the ice for a disconcerting length of time. Trainers came out, teammates huddled around and the place grew deadly silent. The "goalie of the future" looked to be in serious peril.
After what seems like forever, Fichaud finally got to his knees. The Coliseum PA guy came on to make an announcement (while the broadcast probably went to commercial) to the somewhat relieved but still concerned crowd. And to this day, we'll never forget what that booming voice said.
"Hooters, East Meadow! Fans showing their ticket stubs can get..."
The confusing and crass juxtaposition of seeing this mortally injured human while hearing an advertisement for a beer and boobs joint shook Gio and I from our shock and we begun laughing our asses off. "Hooters, East Meadow!" remains a running gag/silence breaker between us today.
(Fichaud was fine, by the way. I'm pretty sure he finished the game. And Hooters in East Meadow is closed now.)
One game Gio and I went to was the final road game in Whalers history, Spring 1997. Gio, who by his own admission is a very casual hockey fan, says he doesn't remember the game but I do. The Islanders won and gave away plastic travel mugs to fans before the game. As the Whalers filed off, mugs were thrown on the ice and one whizzed by Hartford captain Kevin Dineen's head. Either I've been having a very vivid hallucination for years, or it happened and I saw it.
After that game, things got very busy. "Real" jobs were found. Gio went to law school. We eventually moved out of our respective nests and into an apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. One of my first "adult" purchases was NHL Center Ice. I would flip from game to game on the TV and he would fall asleep. Girlfriends became wives, kids were had, I moved to New Jersey and time generally marched on. But no matter how long we go between visits, we always pick things up like we saw each other yesterday.
This was Gio's first trip to the Coliseum since 2007, when we took our wives to a blowout loss to the Sabres. He hasn't really kept up with the Islanders for years, outside of any updates he gets from me. He was unfamiliar with the Stadium Series jersey the team was wearing and, more importantly, most of the players who were wearing them.
At the start of the game, I told him some quick backgrounds on guys from both teams to get him up to speed. I soon felt I was nearing a point of information overload so I stopped and we did what we always do; talk about life. Topics included root canals, dream jobs, little league soccer, prison corruption, the price of real estate in Belize and All American.
What will (most likely) be our final Islanders game at Nassau Coliseum was against (technically speaking) one of the last teams we saw there, the Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, it also reminded us of that previous time in that the Islanders played very poorly. The under-talented Hurricanes, who had already begun selling off players before the trade deadline, ran the Islanders (who, in fairness, had played and won the night before) out of their own building, much to the demoralization of the crowd. The final score was 5-3 Hurricanes but it wasn't even that close.
The game may have been a bust, but we knew where to go next.
Even at 8:00 on a freezing February night, All American was packed to the gills. Half the people waiting in lines inside the small ordering area were dressed in Islanders gear like I was. No one talked about the game because there wasn't much to say. They lost, it sucked, lets get some grease.
Gio and I took the food back to his parents' house to eat on the same small basement kitchen table we did as kids. Each meal included our signature items: potato knish for him, vanilla thick shake for me.
Change is inevitable. Growth is good. But familiar food in a familiar place with a friend can be just as vital.
Correction: this post was updated to reflect actual dates, and to correct poor recall on my and Gio's part. Funny how wives remember everything. Thanks, Ali.