So I have this plastic "Nickel Coffee" cup from the Texas-based Whataburger fast-food chain. I think it is probably from the '80s, but I can't be sure. The mug design is based on the original cast ceramic mugs that the chain used in the 1950s, I believe. Apparently this iteration of the mug was issued with a snap-on travel lid, which is sadly missing from mine. According to rumor, this and a nickel will in fact still get you a cup of coffee at any of Whataburger's fine establishments all over the Southwest of our great nation.
I think the reason that I enjoy this item as much as I do stems from the mental image of a mustachioed Texan retiree, medicine-ball-sized belly slung over a belt buckle branded with the logo of a long-defunct oilfield tool company, straining the snaps of his Western-style shirt. He is stepping down from an aggressively new Ford F-150 with a gleaming steel toolbox in the bed. Under one arm is tucked a newspaper, perhaps the Houston Chronicle, or in this sadly postliterate age that we live in, more likely USA Today. A pocket protector contains a clutch of retractable ball-point pens, all of them trophies of a life spent working in the petroleum industry. A mesh-backed gimme cap perches high on his head.
The Whataburger is one of the older A-frame models, brown brick walls and glass windows surmounted by a dramatic orange and white striped roof, charging upwards into the unforgiving blue of a South Texas summer sky. The nickel coffee mug dangles from his first finger, bobbing gently as he strides across the heat-shimmering blacktop. He knows the name of the lady behind the counter who will pour his coffee. There is no question of him being hassled about ordering breakfast, or for taking up a table for the two or three hours that he will sit over his paper. He'll have one more cup on his way out, which will snug in his crotch as he drives across town to weld something, or take an engine apart, or run electrical conduit in a neighbor's poolhouse, or some other gentle, restful task of the sort that Texan retirees tend to spend their golden years relaxing with.