Friday, February 02, 2007

Happy Happy Joy Joy!

Today is Friday, 2 February 2007.

This is a happy column, for the Princess of the Far and Farm Realms.
Another time, another place.

I turned 18 in 1970, graduated high school, left home for college. For the previous ten years, as with many middle-class white American families in those days, my family took a two-week driving trip somewhere in the country nearly every summer, as my parents believed my sister and I should “get to know the country”. Experiences for which I remain profoundly grateful.

In those days, the “chainification” of America had not yet triumphed; mom-and-pop businesses were still often the rule, rather than the exception.

Burgers, for example. The country was still the domain of thousands of hole-in-the-wall burger joints, most mediocre, but many … one could taste a real difference, some idiosyncratic combination of spices worked into the ground beef, or an original technique for frying onions: you had it one place, one time, in a one-horse town, never encountered that exact taste again, but remembered it forever.

Sure, one can walk into a McDonald’s anywhere in the world, and know one receives reliably a 3.5 out of 10. I’d rather spin the cylinder, and take a chance on a 2.5 coming out of the barrel, knowing that sometimes I’ll feast on a 7, 8, or 9.

On those vacations, we frequently stayed in small towns near really cool natural features or historical places.

Motels were most often mom-and-pop operations of varying quality, so my father would always inspect the room before registration. No need if it was Howard Johnson’s, the nation’s first restaurant franchise operation.

Sadly, only a handful of Howard Johnson’s restaurants survive; one was on Times Square until it was replaced by an upscale specialty retailer in 2005 (46th and Broadway). When my wife and I lived in NYC, we loved to go there and snag the cramped two-person booth shoe-horned into a tiny space just to the left of the entry vestibule, with a marvelous view of the teeming life of the Square.

This being Times Square, this HoJo featured a full bar, so we could enjoy cocktails (bourbon-and-ginger for her, martini for me) before feasting on favourites (mac-and-cheese for her, fried clam strips for me), followed by dishes of the famous 28 flavours of ice cream.

Frozen versions of several HoJo products could once be found in some supermarkets. Word on the street is that, later this year, a new licensee of the name and original recipes will resume manufacture of these treats, and open new HoJo restaurants, a consummation devoutly to be wished.

On related notes:

New Amsterdam, later New York City, was incorporated on this day in 1653.

In 1943, the last German troops surrendered at Stalingrad. Some 850,000 Axis troops had been killed, wounded, or captured, as well as some 1,130,000 Soviet troops. The number of civilians killed or wounded is unknown. (Just had to sneak in something unhappy!)

And, in 2007, Shrub saw his shadow.


Anonymous Princess said...

Ahh, road trips and "eating local." I'm getting spring fevor already.

Speaking of eating local - "The Splendid Table" on NPR radio (I hear it on Saturday mornings) has Jane and Michael Stern, guest commentators, on most weeks describing local restaraunts, cafes, etc. from all across the country which have great eats and great atmosphere.

10:40 AM  

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