The Last of the DoDos
by Jake Block
From the Looney Tunes Cartoon “The Last of the DoDos.”Porky Pig: “Are you really the last of the dodos?”
Dodo: “Yes, I’m really the last of the dodos.”
The dodo dances all over Porky Pig and then says, “Wooooooooooooooooo.”
One of my last civilian jobs was working at a place called the “DoDo Drive in” in Belleville, Illinois, and the owner had been a big fan of that Porky Pig cartoon. The “Big Mac” at the place was called the “DoDo Burger,” and every time one was ordered, you had to say, “Wooooooooooooo” into the microphone. People throughout the joint were laughing, and you felt about as close to being a dork as you ever would, and woe be unto you if you just decided not to do it. On my last day at the Do Do Drive In, I walked out the door after picking up my last check, just as some schmuck ordered the DoDo Burger, and the clerk did the “Wooooooooooooo” schtick. I muttered, “Woooooooooo my ass,” and I was gone.
The DoDo long ago went the way of its namesake, and now there is Sonic Burger on the site where it once stood. I would wager that the food is better now, but I wonder if echoes of dodos past can be heard woooooooing in the night, like some of the hokey “spirits” on one of the many TV programs dealing with “ghost hunting.” Probably not, but it illustrates a point that those who at one time frequented the DoDo are likely now customers of their local Sonic burger joint, as much out of habit as their dedication to the franchise store. People are creatures of habit and of tradition.
If you go to most places of veneration and tradition, you will find that they probably always were sites of religious or spiritual significance, although the object of veneration might have changed several times. Indeed, sometimes, people long ago forgot why a place was particularly important, yet they are still drawn to it, like salmon who must fight their way upstream to spawn in that one pool of warm water that every salmon in their lineage spawned for as far back as salmon spawned, to swim to the sea, eventually to return to spawn again.
Stonehenge is a prime example. Sitting on a mostly vacant area of the Salisbury plain, it’s been there for as long as anyone can remember. Many people attribute it to the Druids, although that’s a matter of speculation, and it’s almost certain that Stonehenge was already there in some form when the Druids came on the scene, as archeologists find that the latest construction on Stonehenge occurred sometime around 1200 BCE, predating the earliest Druids by approximately a thousand years. Indeed, radiocarbon dating of some of the 50 “sarsen stones” were in place from around 2000 BCE. The legend and lore of the site has it that Stonehenge was constructed by the legendary wizard Merlin, per writer Jeffery of Monmouth. Other guesses, for few real clues exist, are that Stonehenge was the handiwork of Saxons, Danes, Romans, Greeks or Egyptians. The Druidic connection is actually relatively new, having originated with the 17th century archaeologist John Aubrey. It’s one of those sites that humans are drawn to, just as the earliest inhabitants of the area have been for over 4,000 years.
All around the world there are places of veneration and tradition, much the same as Stonehenge, from the ancient monolithic temple complexes on the island of Malta, the erotic Kamasutra temple complex at Madhya Pradesh, India the vast temple complex at Ankor Wat, Cambodia. Before them all was the prehistoric temple site at Gobekli Tepe, Turkey, considered to be the oldest temple in the world, predating Stonehenge by an estimated 6000 years. It seems that people have always frequented spaces dedicated to the satisfaction of their religious, economic or survival needs.
How these places came to be is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they were originally stops along ancient trade routes. You can find places like this here in the Americas, where the great Native Indian “cities” thrived before the Spanish conquests and the encroachment of white men brought their eventual destruction. These trade routes spanned from South and Central America up into the midwest and southwest of modern day America. By pack animal and by simple boats, the indigenous groups traded furs and beads, food stuffs and seeds and information on their individual cultures as well. Also traveling with the native traders were ideas about religion. One such idea was that of “The Buzzard Cult,” which originated in the Yucatan Peninsula of what is now Mexico, but at that time was the home of the Maya Indians.
As times on the American plains got tough, the tribes began to hear of the Mayan concept of the Buzzard Cult, in which the ritual torture and killing of enemy troops was a way to placate the gods. Now that the crops began to fail, tribes from the Mississippi valley to the great southwest began, in their desperation, to take such desperate measures. Variously known as the Buzzard Cult and the Southern Death Cult, such practices spread from the southern tip of Florida, northeast to the Carolinas, into the Ohio Valley, north to what is now Wisconsin, including all of what would become Illinois and Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and the eastern third of Texas. The largest mounds of Kahokia, in Illinois, became a principle area of trade and worship. Recent archaeological digs in the area have found evidence of extensive trade amongst the tribes, with conch shells from Florida, copper from the Great lakes region as well as the Appalachians, lead from northern Illinois and Iowa, stone tools from Kansas and Texas. On the darker side, the mounds of Kahokia have also yielded evidence of human sacrifice on a large scale and human bones, split lengthwise and scraped with stone knives, indicating ritual cannibalism and the eating of human bone marrow.
These were places where ritual and magic and the availability of goods, food and drink brought people together for well over seven hundred years. They were multi-generational places of expectation and reward for the good people of the society, and where these good people could witness the death of their enemies and the knowledge that they were superior against the force that would rejoice, should they fall. The main complex habitats, according to John Muller of the Southern Illinois University built up from around 900 CE to 1150 CE. The cultish period of the culture began shortly after, circa 1250 – 1350 CE, and after about 100 years of trade and growth, the trade networks began to crumble due to overpopulation, crop failures and warfare, so that by 1450 CE, alliances and empires were replaced with localized regional culture, society and ritual. Beyond this time, with the encroachment of European cultures and the assimilation or elimination of indigenous tribal groupings, these cultural centers began to dissolve and scatter.
Still today, however, places like the Kahokia mounds, a short way from the bustling metropolis of St. Louis, Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio, Chaco Canyon, Chetro Ketl, in Nageezi, New Mexico, and other historic Native American sites are popular places to visit and learn about the tribal societies and the warrior chiefs of the plains.
People very much need to be attached to the past, to remain connected with what came before, so that they might have some idea of what is to come. If you are like me, you have a cable system with a bout 500 available channels, most of them duplicates of others up and down “the dial,” but within them will be a selection of “history” channels. There are channels for the military, for science, for sports, for ancient cultures and even for speculation on ancient aliens. These stations are popular, and people will watch their program offerings over and over. You can learn a lot from the past, because, as Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
I don’t think that my experiences as a “burger guy” at the long defunct DoDo Drive In will ever make it on a history channel as any kind of significant event. Burger joints are, for the most point, insignificant to most people. They’re simply a place to go, grab some fast food to quell their hunger, and then go about their day. But there are some “legendary” burger joints out there that make me wonder at times! When I think of iconic burgers and burger joints, one name jumps into my mind; McDonald’s. I remember when they started serving cheap bag-food out of small little places that were mostly just a kitchen and a drive-through window. Now they are everywhere, serving billions and billions of burgers to a world too busy to sit down for a good meal. They’ve been at the top of the heap since just after they opened their first store on April 15th, 1955. Sixty-five years and going strong! Millions of devoted customers.
There have been several cultural analysts that have suggested that McDonalds has many of the same characteristics as a religion to their customers. Could it be that sometime in the distant future, perhaps at their original site in San Bernardino, CA, the Golden Arches , complete with a red sign announcing “Trillions and Trillions Served” will be a place of pilgrimage and archaeological importance? Perhaps, between the golden arches, carefully preserved for the faithful, will be a colorful statue of that red-headed “god,” Ronald, surrounded by the hosts. Seated at that sacred table with swivel stools of red naugahyde, there will be Mayor McCheese, TheGrimace, Birdie the Early Bird, the Fry Kids, Officer McCheese, Hamburglar, The Professor, The Happy Meal Gang, Captain Crook and the McNugget buddies, under their individual spotlights, and there, in a lesser and darker area of the tableau will be “the arch fiend,” Burger King.
Yes, they will come by the millions to that lone paper-hatted server standing forever at the ancient “cash register.” (Cash? What is cash? “Well, my son, long before Bitcoin was made the universal currency of the Earth and all of the 16 planets…”) One by one, the faithful will approach, lean their heads back and stare at the sign on the wall and recite the sacred words, “Gimme a Big Mac, fries, a Coke and a hot apple pie.” Yes, and then the robotic server will raise his hand for the benediction and intone, “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun,” to which the pilgrim will respond, “Yeah, and super-size me!”
And somewhere in the distance, the Angels of Cholesterol will sing, “Wooooooooooooooooo.”