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Doughnuts notwithstanding, our trek through Clare was making us hungry.  We'd passed a couple-three places to eat, including a place called the White House, a hole-in-the-wall hamburger joint that, according to a plaque by the door, had been in continuous business since 1934.

"Let's eat there," Darwin said, and so we did.

The White House is teeny-tiny.  The diner itself is maybe as long as a boxcar and barely twice as wide.  It has a few teensy booths covered in 1970s dark "wood" contact paper squeezed in there, and a small lot next to it with a handful of outdoor picnice tables.  Want to use the bathroom?  Go outside and around back.  The bathroom itself is the size of a phone booth, with a sink that would look at home in a doll's house.  Everything is tiny.

Except the food.  But we'll get to that.

The White House, said the back of the menu, opened in the mid-30s under the ownership of two brothers who were in their mid-20s at the time.  They sold burgers and fries.  The place had a counter and three tables, and apparently did a brisk business.

I speculated to Darwin that a great deal of their business came from takeaway orders, people who showed up at lunch, grabbed a sack of burgers, and left.  I was also willing to bet they made a decent amount of money from the trains.  In those days, trains often stopped for several minutes in small towns to take on coal, water, and new passengers, which allowed the other passengers to get off and stretch their legs.  Local restaurants and hotels usually made a tidy profit selling food to such passengers, and the White House brothers would have been fools not to take advantage.  They must have known when the trains arrived, and it would have been simplicity itself to have a pile of extra burgers ready.

"You pay a kid fifty cents to stand down there with a sign advertising your burger place when the train arrives," I said.  "Hot lunch!  Five cents!  No waiting!"

"Even better," Darwin said. "Send a kid down there with a wagonful of burgers and sell them on the platform."

We don't know if they did this, but I hope they did.

At any rate, the White House has changed hands over the decades, but has always been open, always tiny, always there.

They had a surprisingly extensive menu, including a breakfast selection.  Darwin ordered a large breakfast of eggs, hash browns, toast, ham, sausage, and bacon.  My stomach was still working on that doughnut, so I just ordered what they called a "peppery burger with baby swiss."  No fries.

Oh my god!  That was one of the best burgers I ever had.  It was a double hamburger with baby swiss, as advertised, with five lightly-sauteed small red peppers on it that were so fresh, they must have come from a farmer's market that morning.  They were both piquant and a tiny bit sweet.  I finished it and would have gladly eaten another if it wouldn't have exploded my stomach.

Darwin, meanwhile, found himself looking down at a huge amount of breakfast food.  A pile of hash browns, two perfect eggs, two pieces of toast with home-made strawberry jam, home-made sausage, a thick slice of ham, and two thick slices of bacon.

He ate it all.

The waitress, who was new but able, whisked herself up and down the teensy aisle between the tables.  The grill was visible behind the waist-high divider between the booths and the cooking area, but no one minded.  The owner was also there, and she greeted several customers by name.

By now the weather was turning.  Thunderheads were bearing down and flickers of lightning jumped around the sky.  We paid the bill, praised the cooking, and bustled out the door, arriving back at the apartment just in time to beat the storm.

Conclusion?  I've know about Clare all my life and driven through it a dozen-odd times, but never stopped there.  My impression was always that it was just another small, uninteresting little town in middle-northern Michigan.  When we made plans to stay here, I thought that on the first night when we had nothing planned, we'd be bored and maybe pop over to nearby Mount Pleasant, home of my alma mater Central Michigan University.  But right from the beginning, Clare suprised and delighted us.
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