Long ago in a city no one’s ever heard of,
Ponderosa was the hot new restaurant in town.
Ponderosa had two main draws for the people of Rancho Cucamonga. Steak! And a fully-stocked unlimited-soft-serve station!
The people who knew—I was one of them—never ate sundaes out of sundae bowls.They used salad bowls, adhering to this time-honored engineering process:
- Establish seismically secure perimeter with swirl of chocolate soft serve.
- Fill center with chocolate syrup, sprinkles, whipped cream, and nuts.
- Carefully erect 8-inch chocolate/vanilla tower, then top with flourish of more chocolate syrup, sprinkles, whipped cream, and nuts.
- Cap tower with victory brownie or some ornamental bread pudding.
- Transfer to booth for consumption.
This became a weekly ritual.
Creating obscene soft serve sculptures.
Basking in discomfort.
Then one summer, all of Rancho Cucamonga stopped going to Ponderosa.
No one knew why. People just knew that people didn’t go to Ponderosa anymore.
My parents didn’t care whether people went to Ponderosa. Once they decided they went somewhere, they never stopped going. Eating in an empty restaurant at 7pm was a plus for them.
But it wasn’t the same.
I hated sitting in an empty restaurant with my parents, eating soft serve out of a salad bowl.
Whenever we went to Ponderosa, I would sink into deep melancholy. I’d still manage to create my own soft-serve sundaes. But they tasted like defeat.
It was embarrassing to be eating soft serve in this restaurant nobody even went to anymore, in a city no one had ever heard of.
I was 14.
Today, the building formerly known as Ponderosa Restaurant is called Ponderosa Dental Group.
The new owners kept the original lettering and simply added a “DENTAL GROUP” sign next to it.
Dentists in Rancho Cucamonga have always been in high demand. They’re everywhere.
My own dentists lived next-door until success allowed them to pay cash for a custom-built mansion in the hills. We were already in the hills, but moving 500 meters up the street provided an even more expansive view than the one they already had.
They succeeded not just because they were great dentists, but because they made you feel special. They’d ask you questions about yourself as your mouth was full of fluoride and drool, and when you answered, consonants overpowered by the blue slobber now running down your chin, they understood every word.
“So, how’s life?”
“OOUUUUU. AH AA AH AAAAAAAAH!”
“That’s such great news, Kelly! Where?”
“AHH UHHHH UHHHHH EEEEE.”
“Exciting! I guess you can eat free burgers whenever you want now.”
Where Ponderosa eventually foundered, my formerly-next-door dentists flourished.
My personal theory is that people never really wanted to stand in line to eat at a restaurant that served steak and unlimited soft serve.
They wanted to feel special. When the novelty of steak and soft serve wore off, they stopped going.
They kept going to the dentist, though. Because dentists get it.
Dentists were forced to figure out long ago that the thing isn’t the thing. If it was the thing, no one would go to the dentist for annual teeth cleanings. Do people really need annual teeth cleanings?
The most successful dentists make us feel loved.
They chat us up, ask probing questions about our work, understand us even when our mouths are full, and let us dig for toothbrushes and sugar-free lollipops in a giant treasure chest afterwards. They know what city we live in—they live here, too. They even love us enough to ask if we want nitrous oxide with that.
Feeling loved is a very big deal. It’s the reason why I never go to the dentist anymore. I just haven’t met anyone like my old dentists since I moved to San Francisco. In fairness, I’m afraid to keep looking. I’d rather take my chances with restaurants.
Soft serve comes and goes, but dentists are forever.