Six months removed from the Y2K apocalypse that never was, Nelly burst onto the scene with 'Country Grammar,' a smash hit with a catchy hook that was easily the song of the summer. On Thursday mornings I would scrape together money to get something to eat after summer camp was through for the day and when 3 p.m. hit, I'd walk with my sister from Northwood Elementary School to Northwood Plaza, a crisp $5 bill, three balled-up singles, four quarters, five dimes, and ten rustic nickels in my pocket. It was hot, but I always knew the beads of sweat racing down my forehead were worth the trip to Sunny's Subs, a carry-out that has been known for years for its chicken, and more specifically its honey wings. These were my first experiences with chicken boxes, the Baldamore delicacy that shaped my palate and quickly became a staple of my piss-poor diet.
For years after, I walked past the yellow old-timey chairs and yellow arches on the walls with photos of various Morgan State athletic teams, knowing that for $8.60, I was going to get four golden brown wings with enough western fries to solicit two strips of masking tape to seal the soggy box as the steam filled the bag. Each time I waited for my food, I would scan the team photos and plaques of local youth sports programs they sponsored, and I knew the jumbo half-and-half was going to be on point. I also knew I'd never use the word "jumbo" outside of a carry-out, ordering a chicken box. And I knew Proverbs 16:24 ("pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones") because it was printed at the top of the receipt.
Sunny's became attached to each phase of my life. It was one of the first places I would walk to by myself. As a high school underclassman, I'd go play basketball then walk there with my friend Jeff and talk about ways I could improve finishing layups through contact. Once I left Baldamore for college in Virginia, a chicken box became "chicken wings with fries," a "chicken wing platter," or a "chicken wings combo," or something that the Baldamore in me would not allow me to say. A jumbo half-and-half became a "large Arnold Palmer" or "large sweet tea mixed with lemonade." The inability to eat a solid chicken box was a small part of my homesickness, and Sunny's was one of the first stops each time I returned home.
Over the course of just a few years, more and more changes would come to Northwood Plaza. A new store closing accompanied each return to Baldamore. I realized that Asiatic Cutz, the first place I ever got a bald fade, was gone. When I was growing up, Northwood Plaza seemed to be thriving, but now old men park next to one another and talk all day, the liquor store is one of the few hang-out spots, and people trickle into Sunny's. Stop Shop and Save is holding on, the nail salon there is holding on, too, the liquor store's doing OK because it's a liquor store, and Sunny's is holding on by a wing. Its presence keeps Northwood Plaza from seeming completely desolate. There's talk of adding this or that to Northwood Plaza, sprucing it up. In the coming years, it may be bulldozed and repurposed as a new state-of-the-art parking lot.
Until then, I'll head over to Sunny's as much as I can, spending my $8.60 or so, Nelly's classic in my head, staving off the hard-fried reality that things change, often at the expense of a few memories.