Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Quack is Back

After a 1708 mile haul from Prior Lake, Minnesota to Surprise, Arizona I am once again firmly ensconced in my lair in the Gopher state. I opted for the shorter, non-scenic route that avoided most of the Rocky mountains and took me through such vacation wonderlands as Des Moines, Iowa, the Kansas Cities (both Missouri and Kansas), the fruitful plains and cow pastures of Kansas and the twin panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. New Mexico and Arizona were more scenic, though since this was my fourth road trip through this area in the last 3 years the landscape has lost some of its charm.

Even in the remote, barren hinterlands of America it can truly be said that Mom and Pop are dead. All the major fast food venues were available at every town over 1000 people, as well as the discount hotel chains like Best Western and Holiday Inn. There were plenty of boarded-up ghosts of the Mom and Pop era on display, though, especially in Tucumcari, New Mexico. All of them seemingly dating from the postwar boom era of the 1950s and 60s. My route through New Mexico and Arizona paralleled the old interstate route 66, which saw a golden age of tourist travel during that period, before Interstate 40 was built. Lileks would have a field day photographing all the commercial kitsch from that era on display


Blogger Oroborous said...

...Mom and Pop are dead.

Well... Kinda. Mostly they just own franchise restaurants now.

And I'd argue that American travelers are the better for it. They no longer have to look for where the truckers are parked, to find a decent meal.

August 08, 2006 4:14 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Quite right. For every unforgettable shepherd's pie and homemade rhubarb pie, there were a dozen places with surly service, cold food and filthy washrooms. The only mom 'n pop places these days are upscale in expensive resorts. A little tough on existentialist novelists, to be sure, but much better for we busy ordinary folk.

August 08, 2006 8:03 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

So, how about listing your favorite surviving mom and pop establishment, in case we happen to travel through.

Mine is actually a mom and son restaurant, The Lady and Sons in Savannah, Georgia.

Sawdust on floor, wandering musician, real Southern cooking -- I mean down home, with lots of store-bought stuff like Campbell's soup hidden in the recipes. I recommend the chicken pot pie.

August 11, 2006 1:02 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

There are two truckstop diners along highway 13 in Savage, MN that I've been driving by for 20 years that I've never stopped in. There's the "Spur Cafe" and the "Windmill Cafe". One of these days I really must stop in, if only to congratulate the owners for staying in business so long.

One class of establishments that hasn't been invaded by any chains is the bar. Mom and Pop continue to rule the bar scene. I wonder why?

August 13, 2006 6:22 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, there are plenty of mom-and-pop bars, but plenty of chains, too, like Hard Rock Cafe.

The evolution of the British pub is interesting. If you look at pictures of them in the tourist brochures, you'd think them quintessentially local -- they're even called locals.

That is, the buildings do not have a corporate design.

But as I understand it, they are almost all tied houses.

Maui is curious that way. In the early '90s, some of us here were concerned that local businesses were going to be overwhelmed. Planet Hollywood came in, and Red Lobster, but they left.

Aside from fast food joints, about the only national chain that's hung on is Hard Rock Cafe.

August 13, 2006 10:07 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

There are four kinds of British pub: free houses (able to buy from any brewery), chains (PubCos), micro-breweries (brew as well as retail) and tied houses.

Tied houses are either required to buy some of their booze from a particular brewery, or are run by a manager employed by the brewery. Most pubs in the UK are tied because the owners need the finance from the brewery to buy the pub. They all look different because the owners control the decor etc.

The biggest chain of pubs is called JD Wetherspoons. They've got a pub in every town, and they're all similar, but they've all got different names and are designed to reflect the local area. For example, amongst the Wetherspoons pubs in Bristol are 'The Magic Box' (because it's on the site of an old cinema), 'The Commerical Rooms' (site of an old businessmans' club) and, just close enough for a cheeky lunctime half, 'The Staple Hill Oak', named after a whopping great tree that used to be the centre of the village before Bristol swallowed its satellite dwellings.

There's a Hard Rock Cafe in the centre of Bristol but it's full of chavs.

August 14, 2006 1:32 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Among the local brews in the Oxfordshire area, the most memorable brand was Bishop's Finger.

I never worked up the courage to inquire as to the etymology.

August 14, 2006 5:07 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

According to thier website, a Bishop's Finger is an unusual finger-shaped signpost still found in Kent, which once pointed pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.

So that's all right then.

August 15, 2006 5:04 AM  

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