Friday, June 24, 2011

Mac's Drive In: A Testament to Clemson Love

My father excited by the Mac's Drive In homecoming float
Clemson is not just a small town that hosts a wonderful college. Clemson is a feeling, a relationship, a lifestyle. Many will encounter the Clemson experience, but few will be able to fully indulge in the experience. Even some of the college students do not embrace all aspects of Clemson life, instead choosing to complain about the small town atmosphere. Few see beauty in the packed parking lots on a Clemson football game day. Few can talk about the sports teams as if the whole team is a member of the family. Few can find solace and peace on Bowman field with a frisbee in their hand.

Some students become so enamored with Clemson that they never leave. They are no longer a student, but they grow and fit another role in the unique balance of town and college that exists in Clemson. Harold McKeown, or "Mac," was one such student who graduated as an engineer, who could not give up his love of Clemson. Instead, he opened Mac's Drive In. When he opened his doors in 1956, he did not know that he was living Clemson history. When Mac passed away in December 2009, townies and out-of-state alumni mourned together. (To understand the essence of Mac's read the article from Anderson Independent done several years ago.)

To learn more about this wonderful place, watch this video

Driving past the brick shack, with an American flag at half-mast, my father recounted walking to Mac's on the weekends and how the milkshakes are still the best in town. Almost every alumni has a story of sitting at the worn stools and looking at all the hodgepodge of Clemson memorabilia. Time lines collided as faded photos of athletes and coaches long gone gather next to glossy new photos of names such as Dabo and Spiller.

The menu has been prepared by the same skilled hands for years. Many of the ladies are past the age of retirement, but a love of the place, the costumers, and the memory of a man keeps them flipping burger after burger, a smile as each burger hits and sizzles on the flat top. Burgers are served on tiny plain paper plates and fries in the classic red-checkered paper containers. No fancy plates are found at Mac's. Instead, simple American food will be served in an honest manner: cooked on an old flat top with the buns steamed to perfection. Nothing fancy added: no relish or sauteed mushrooms. The fanciest Mac's gets is their grilled cheese burger, a unique marriage of a grilled cheese sandwich and burger patty. Milkshakes come in two flavors: vanilla and chocolate. Home-made sweet tea is served by the gallons. The menu has not changed in years, and the grease now holds the letters onto the old-timey marquee menu board.

When I went into Mac's, I was greeted loudly by Jimmy Howard, the son of the great coach Frank Howard. Jimmy is a regular, and before he gets out of his old Chevy truck, with more rust than paint, the ladies have already started on his order and his to-go order for his son, Lil' Frank. I had just driven into town from our new home, and I was waiting for my husband to meet me at Mac's. Seeing Jimmy sitting on a faded orange stool, leaning on the well-used counter top, made me realize that while I wasn't lucky enough to stay in the area, I was lucky enough to live the Clemson experience to its fullest. I had done the transition from student to townie. Once townie status is achieved, it can never be taken away. I won't even open a restaurant like Mac or stay in the area forever, but with Mac's at Clemson attracting all forms of Clemson lovers, I know that I can always come home again and have a burger.

1 comment:

Erin M. said...


Best milkshakes in town, hands-down, and even my dad has alumni tales about it; J says he always saw athletes there:)