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Tucson Through a Straw 

The search for the best milkshake in the central part of town.

My jaw is broken, and my mouth is wired shut. I've run through the accident in my mind a thousand times. All you Weekly readers need to know is: It was a freak combing accident. I won't bother you with details.

As you may know, one cannot eat with a wired jaw. For five weeks, my only nourishment will come in liquid form. You get used to it. In fact, I am having such a great time I may never go back to solid food. Imagine, actually biting and chewing, ick!

In search of calories and anything that is not soup, one of my daily meals has become the milkshake. I've made it my duty to try as many ice cream shops in Tucson as I can until I find the best milkshake experience. Please join me on the arduous journey toward lacto-enlightenment and greater mucus production.

I started my quest close to home: Cold Stone Creamery at 1927 E. Speedway Blvd. Every time I went, it was packed with college kids in flip-flops, and all that flopping and flipping can get loud. This was a problem; I couldn't open my mouth, and every sound I made had to travel through my teeth. I strained to make myself understandable to the ice cream stylists.

I ordered vanilla. I will always order vanilla; I can never be sure the other flavors will be lump free and won't clog up my straw. Chocolate is usually safe, but I can't eat that much chocolate. I'm like a dog. Plus, the quality of a shop's vanilla shake is a good way to judge them. If I were a scientist, I'd write something smart right now about experimental integrity.

Anyway, the vanilla shake was good here, but bland. It tasted more like frozen milk than ice cream. I couldn't taste the vanilla flavor, and it wasn't sweet enough. However, to be fair, this establishment caters to those with full jaw mobility. The reason one goes there is to have straw-clogging items added to the bland ice cream. I made a promise to come back fully functioning.

Baskin Robbins at 2648 E. Speedway Blvd. was my next shop. There's rarely a line there, and this might be the reason they sometimes seem to lock the door a bit before their posted closing time. The first sip of my vanilla shake was pretty good. The shake seemed full of flavor, artificial ingredients and corn syrup. But as I continued to drink, I ran into a couple of unforgivable problems. First, because the shake was rather thin, it began to melt immediately and then tasted like thick, milky sugar. Second, the last inch or two was mainly creamy ice. It was like taking the last sip of a Budweiser in July: The shake had shwill.

Next stop, Double Dip at 330 N. Fourth Ave. The guy behind the counter had no problem understanding me. The television was on, but the sound wasn't, just the breathtaking ballet of The Simpsons. Though the ice cream they serve here isn't unique, the flavor was pretty good and not sickeningly sweet like Baskin Robbins. It was a little too thick for my straw, but after melting a bit, there was no problem. Good, but not quest-ending.

I tried Marble Slab at 4811 E. Grant Road next. This is the same style shop as Cold Stone, so I had my misgivings about the vanilla upon entering. I ordered vanilla anyway, though by now, I had it up to here with vanilla. I would have rather had Gummi Bear-pineapple-melon ball or Heath Bar-Peppermint Patty-Gummi Bear. "Keep cool," I told myself; there's no way I could squeeze a Gummi Bear between my teeth, and even if I did, I'd have to swallow it whole. The shake was good, though bland in the same way Cold Stone's was--but there was no flipping and flopping. (Grant is too far from the university; anyone walking here in flip-flops would risk flip-flop disintegration.) The ice creamers understood me, but Marble Slab wants customers who bite.

My next experience was Austin's at 2920 E. Broadway Blvd. I arrived around 9 p.m., because I've learned the later you go to Austin's, the weaker the scent of cleanser is. I took a seat at the counter. The wall lists some pretty amazing flavors; I was jealous as I watched the servers handle some of the most brilliantly hued scoops of ice cream--eye-piercing green, radioactive pink--but I succumbed to consistency.

My prepubescent waitress arrived with the milkshake. It was delicious. The vanilla was flavorful and the thickness was just right. It was also the best milkshake for the money, with practically another whole one remaining in the metal container. It was certainly one of the best, but I had the feeling there was something else out there.

Santa Barbara Creamery at 2502 N. Campbell Ave. is another establishment with a range of unique flavors. If I could have, I would've bit my lips to keep from ordering vanilla. The young man behind the counter smiled and quickly supplied me with my shake. The first thing I noticed was the amazing bright red straw sticking high out of the shake. It was one of the most beautiful cylinders of plastic I'd ever seen. At the first sip, I knew this was the shake to end my search. It was perfect in every way. It tasted like what vanilla is supposed to taste like: a light flavor, just a bit earthy to cut the sweetness. What perfect viscosity! I didn't need to wait for any of it to melt. I drank until it was over, then cried with joy, exclaiming, "Who needs teeth, tell me, who?"

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