Goodbye HoJo, I Thought You Had Already Died

“Little roadside restaurant we artfully complain, Rudy tells the waitress that his chicken died in vain” – Opening Lyrics of Jimmy Buffett’s Coast of Carolina

Earlier in the week I made note of the passing of the last, orange roofed, Howard Johnson’s restaurant. Once it boasted hundreds of restaurants along with motels. First the motels were sold off to Marriott, who later sold them themselves. The restaurants were closed until there was only one left standing in St. George, New York. I was surprised to learn that it still existed. I also noted that as a child I referred to it as Howard and Johnson’s. Stupid kid thoughts.

Yes, “Another baby-boomer icon has bitten the dust. The last remaining Howard Johnson’s restaurant, the orange-roofed baby-boomer favorite known for fried clams and twenty-eight flavors of ice cream including both peanut and pecan brittle, shut its doors, bringing down the curtain on a chain that once boasted 1,000 locations across the nation, the Times Union reported. The outlet, in Lake George, New York, closed this spring after almost 70 years.”

I am a baby-boomer, but I am not a gourmet of wine or food…I don’t speak French either. I do know what I like, and Howard Johnson’s was never what I liked…ice cream not included. I can’t remember any ice cream I didn’t like.

I ‘m certainly am not making a definitive epicurean review but when I hear the lyric, “Rudy tells the waitress that his chicken died in vain,” several restaurants come to mind, HoJo being one of them along with the cafeteria style S & S my father and brother and I frequented when we visited my mother in the State Hospital in Columbia.

My mother was part of a study of ALS, known as Lou Gerig’s Disease, at the state mental hospital, less than affectionally known as the crazy house. Our Sunday visit lunch choice was the S & S. I do not have fond memories of the S & S, but it is more about the death of my mother than their food offerings. Well, there was their green Jell-O salad.

Cafeteria style right down to the plastic plates and glasses. Good, cheap food…well cheap at least. With their different food choices and ambiance, I shouldn’t equate HoJo’s and S & S to each other, except their “facture de tarif” should have been accompanied by a gastric SOS. Facture de tarif is bill of fare, but I had to look it up.

Howard Johnson’s died due to the fast-food industry and the lifestyles we are forced to live. Most of us don’t have the means or the time to sit down for even a cafeteria style meal. There are other restaurants that died too, thanks to the fast-food hamburgers and fried chicken…along with some of their fans as ground beef patties fried in fat clogged their arteries.

The first hamburger chain in the States was White Castle opened in 1921. It was opened by Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson who started with the first White Castle restaurant in Wichita in 1916. They had a small menu which had cheap, square shaped hamburgers and they sold them in large numbers. The first franchises appeared in 1921 (A&W Root Beer franchised their syrup) and the first restaurant franchise appeared in the 1930s by Howard Johnson.

Johnson didn’t know he was contributing to the eventual demise of his restaurant and honestly it didn’t begin to snowball until the Fifties when the American love for cars became associated with suburbs, drive-ins and in my part of the world, the Hardee’s fifteen cent hamburger that made its appearance during the Fifties and Colonel Sanders’ KFC sold its first franchise in1952.

As bad as I thought Howard Johnson’s food was, it didn’t die because of its chicken dying in vain. It was American lifestyle changes. Well, the chicken might have contributed.

I do feel remorse that another symbol of my youth is gone even though the orange roof had been previously forgotten by me. I also regret all fast food doesn’t taste like Burger King hamburgers smell. But then Burger King hamburgers don’t taste like they smell.

May all your fast-food hamburger patties be larger than the pickle slice topping it and may you not die of a heart attack from eating them.

A little live Buffett for your listening enjoyment. No, not Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Don’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3Gpuu1x2MckONqCD6fIVcrtZbn6FG4595ZSgRqE2sDiwZAzECxvPAF7lI

The Persimmon Tree That Ate Superman

In those thrilling days of yesteryear, before twenty-four-hour cartoon channels, Disney apps, Nickelodeon, YouTube, and such, there were Saturday mornings.  Every Saturday was like Christmas except better.  Well, maybe not better, but Christmas only came once a year. Saturdays came once a week. 

For a child, it was the best morning of the week.  Sitting in front of our black and white TV with a plate full of Dad’s pancakes watching the good guys beat the bad guys without anyone drawing blood until the Saturday afternoon movie reruns took over or Dizzy Dean, singing “The Wabash Cannonball” with his little pardner Pee Wee Reese doing the color commentary, brought us the Major League Game of the Week sponsored by Falstaff beer.

From the time the local TV station’s test pattern was replaced by a US Flag with forty-eight stars and the National Anthem played, Saturday mornings in the Fifties and Sixties were dedicated to children’s programming.  Looney Tunes,  Merry Melodies, Tom and Jerry, Howdy Doody with Buffalo Bill, Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans, even a Japanese Sci-Fi cartoon about a battleship turned into a spaceship, Star Blazers…wait.  That was in the Seventies.  I guess I never outgrew cartoons.

I liked the cartoons.  I did.  But there was something about the syndicated serials that ran along with them. “A Fiery Horse With the Speed of Light, a Cloud of Dust and a Hearty Heigh-Yo Silver! THE LONE RANGER!” Let’s not forget his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, or other oaters like Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and The Cisco Kid, “Hey Cisco, Hey Pancho”.  There was even a modern cowboy, “From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King”, flying in his faithful steed, The Songbird. Modern for the Fifties. Finally, Captain Midnight, pilot of the Silver Dart and leader of the Secret Squadron, spoiled saboteurs while hawking Ovaltine and secret decoder rings.

I watched them all but my absolute favorite was something else entirely.  George Reeve was the man of steel, and he didn’t need a horse or an airplane.  He could fly!

“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”

Intro to the Adventures of Superman. YouTube

.38 caliber bullets bounced off his chest like popcorn and he twisted the pistol they came from into a pretzel, crushed coal into diamonds, used his X-ray vision to see through walls or burn up asteroids, and he could fly.  He was my guy! 

Oh, Noli, my grandson, I remember the four-year-old you in your Spiderman costume.  You had all the Spider moves down pat.  Me?  I was limited to a red union suit with one of Mom’s towels safety-pinned to my shoulders. The things you did to fight “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

I did have a small closet to use as a pretend telephone booth and twin beds to “fly” between. Clark Kent might have a problem in these modern times since there are no telephone booths to make quick changes in.  Bummer.

Too many times I heard, “Son! Quit jumpin’ on that bed before you break it down!”  I was reduced to running through the house pretending to fly. I got yelled at about running in the house and finally took the game outside.  “Quit slammin’ that screen door, boy!”

Reduced to running until the fateful day I walked into the  Woolworth Five and Dime and saw the Transogram Superman Flying Toy.  For less than a dollar, I could watch Plastic Superman fly, soar, bank, loop, glide, or dive.  It said so, right on the package.  I imagined the flash of red and blue sailing through the air.

The Superman Flying Toy was a plastic glider powered by a slingshot affair that would tear your arm up if you weren’t careful despite the package assurances, “Safe for children of all ages.” Right!  It taught lessons, painful lessons I’ll say.  He was also a blond-headed Superman that looked nothing like TV Superman.

I had to beg for a three-week advance of my allowance, but I walked out with the last package and into hours of fun with Superman…until that damnable tree intervened.

A huge persimmon tree sat, majestically…no…ominously, to the left of my grandparent’s home.  It was a pain when the fruit began to fall.  A pain for me, not the possums that reaped the tree’s bounty. How many times did I come in with rotting persimmon pulp oozing from between my toes?  Persimmon pulp mixed with dirt, resembling puppy poop one might have stepped in.  At least it didn’t have the same aromatic properties and the possums partaking of the fruit seemed to like it.

The bottom limbs had been lopped off to allow the blue Rocket 88 my grandfather drove to park under it.  Without lower limbs, it was impossible to climb unlike the pecan tree on the other side of my grands’ front porch.  It also created persimmon Kryptonite for my Superman glider.

At some point in time, I found it necessary to replace the long and thick rubber bands that powered Superman and set about to do so when the thought occurred, “What if you double the bands?”  Twice as much umph, twice as much distance or flight time thought I. That thing would fly a country mile, especially if launched with the wind.  Against the wind?  It climbed higher and higher…circling and circling, right into the clutches of the persimmon tree from one of Krypton’s mountain tops.

An updraft took Superman to the top of that tree.  I prayed to the “gods of Krypton” he would clear but he didn’t.  “Charlie Brown, I feel your pain.”  I wonder if he could have told me how to get Superman out of the tree. Ole Charlie seemed to have a lot of experience with kite-eating trees.

I threw rocks, even the Chinese oranges from the bush with the sharp thorns that tore at my clothes, sometimes my arms.  I ran out after windy thunderstorms with hope in my heart only to have my hope squished flat. Mostly I just stood and shook my head in anger and despair. My parents didn’t seem inclined to call out the volunteer fire department to help. “Son, file this under lesson’s learned.”

I never got Superman down.  He spent years as a lonely sentinel in the top of a persimmon tree until I finally outgrew him and he disintegrated due to loneliness.  Rubber band airplanes, bicycles, my Combat Thompson machine gun, my genuine Rifleman Winchester air rifle, and such replaced him much in the same way Jackie Paper replaced Puff the Magic Dragon.  Later girls would entice me to buy more expensive toys.

Funny, I don’t remember many of those girls, but I remember Superman and the persimmon tree that ate him.  I remember the best day of the week and the childhood memories it sparked. 

Don Miller’s author’s page maybe found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0pjd3sx2XSojL9YQGsygAqHaAp6MfY7pm_ywvteFSDLLII20gZN7hbk6A

Image from https://www.artstation.com/artwork/380LY