The Pickle’s Place—Aya Ochiai

Just inside town limits of Arco, Idaho (pop. 995), there’s an electric green building that is emblazoned “Pickle’s Place, Home of the ‘Atomic Burger!’” It stands across the street from a sign declaring “Welcome to Arco, First City in the World Lighted by Atomic Power” and a silver sculpture of an atom–a nucleus and its orbiting electrons. The whole town seems to embrace the atomic title with businesses named Atomic Potato Chip Company and Atomic Lube (car wash).  

Inside, Pickle’s Place felt like a cross between a wild west bar and a 50s diner. Plastic green chairs with metal legs and lunch room style tables surrounded an L-shaped counter with silver and green vinyl bar stools. Exposed plywood interior sheathing was decorated with typical road stop diner trinkets and small town memorabilia–license places and speed limit signs, Coca-Cola and Corona logos, local newspaper clippings, and American flags.  

A man at the counter told me to sit at a table by the entrance. I was the only visibly non-white person there. He handed me a menu with an MS Paint style front cover that exclaimed “God Bless the USA” and advertised John’s Steak and Seasoning Spice (made in Arco), as well as the names of the four hosts–John, Angel, Zane, and Tyler. I sat next to a green gumball machine and ordered fried pickles and baked potato. One of John’s spice bottles on my table was called Zane’s Idaho Redneck Blend.  

I was hungry and the food was good. I paid the tab and left. Across the street stood the sail of the USS Hawkbill, a nuclear submarine, as well as an MK 14 torpedo, garishly painted orange and green. The submarine sail was a black steel structure, an oval cylinder with stubby wings, and the number 666 painted in white on the side. Why they didn’t skip that number, I don’t know.

  Outside on the hill next to town, there were white numbers painted on the rocky face. I had read that it was a tradition for high school seniors to paint their year when they graduated. The oldest one I could see was from 1928. It seemed to proclaim “hey, we’ve been here and we’re gonna keep being here.” It’s the kind of town where every graduating senior had their picture and name on individual banners, hanging from every lamp post. Running out of things to see in the town, I drove back to Idaho Falls through the nuclear testing site.