Every April, bloggers from all over the world participate in the April A to Z blog challenge, and you can too. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great way to meet other bloggers. To play along, all you do is make a blog post for each letter of the alphabet during April, then visit as many other bloggers as you can.
Road trips would never be the same without the opportunity to stop at local diners, dives and drive-ins (OK…I gotta give credit to Guy Fieri). Food is such an important part of a road trip. Obviously, no matter where one drives they always come across the chain shops like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, etc. With those places, the food you get is always the same.
But, for me, the real joy is stopping at a local Mom and Pop shop or local Drive-In and trying out the fare. Someplace well known in that little town or region, but maybe not known anywhere else.
My good friend, singer/songwriter/storyteller/artist Antsy McClain did a song a few years ago called “Mom and Pop Don’t Work Here No More” in respect for these places that are quickly becoming a dying breed. (see the video)
“There used to be more flavor in this country that I roam I feel like I’m a stranger, no place to call my home I can eat the same cheeseburger from New Mexico to Main The same darn cup of coffee, just to link in someone’s chain No, mom-and-pop don’t work here no more”
So, when I am on the road I really make an effort to find the local places to eat and I have found many of them across this wonderful country of ours. For example, there is “Cozy Drive-In” in Springfield, IL which supposedly is famous because of its creation of the corndog.
Then there’s the place in Missouri called Lambert’s Cafe that is famous for its “Throwed Rolls.” Or how about the diner outside of Natchez, Mississippi that looks like an old 1930s black woman servant on the outside and service homemade sandwiches on homemade bread with deserts of homemade pie and cake? And how can I forget “Hillbilly Hotdog” in West Virginia or the unique burger joint called Fat Smitty’s that is plastered with dollar bills in Washington. And what about The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, Texas?
Along the road there are always the burger joints, the ice cream places, and the roadside cafés. One never knows what they will get in some of these places. But, chances are the food will be much better than what one will get at a fast food chain place.
And each of these local places has their “speciality,” such as the Ku-Ku burger at Waylan’s in Commerce, OK on Route 66.
I recall visiting the “Tightwad Café” in Tightwad, MO. Amazing breakfast made for a king and not a miserly tightwad. The only indication that it was a “tightwad” type of place was that they only took cash — no credit cards.
But check out the food. This giant breakfast was very affordable and kept me filled up for a good part of the day.
Of course, there are the barbecue places. Oh yes, the myriad barbecue places across this country. I have had barbecue in North Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. In fact, one of my favorites was in Paris, Ontario in Canada!! And they’re all different and wonderful.
One such great barbecue place is Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Kansas. The café is inside a gas station and people are always waiting in line out the door to get their famous barbecue. And when I finished, my friend Brad Sweeten, and athletic director at one of the high schools in Kansas City, Missouri, took me to a local ice cream place that makes ice cream cones as tall is the Empire State building.
Honestly, I could write about the dozens and dozens of places I’ve visited over the years. Every single place has its own personality and tasty cuisine.
Following are a few of the photos of the diners, dives and drive-ins that I visited over the years. I have dozens that you can read about in my blog. I only have room to include a few. One piece of advice though… don’t go looking for a sandwich in Sandwich, NH. Been there…failed that. No sandwiches in Sandwich.
During the month of April I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge has each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays. My blog is number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts will take you across the back roads of America to many unique what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
The H Towns
I can’t in good conscience include a post about towns that begin with H without starting with Hell, Michigan. Located near Pinckney on a beautiful forest drive, Hell is a great tourist spot. There are only a few buildings there including an unofficial Post Office (it is actually part of Pinckney, but they have this one there and will do a Hell post mark). There is an ice cream/gift shop called I Scream, then there is the Dam Fine Food and Spirits place and you can even get official Dam U T-shirts (Damnation University). No public restrooms, just Porta Potties. You can see my complete post about Michigan and Hell that I wrote back in 2008 HERE.
Sticking in Michigan, swing over to the Hamtramck suburb of Detroit. This is a very interesting place to say the least. Hamtramck was originally settled by German farmers, but Polish immigrants flooded into the area when the Dodge Brothers plant opened in 1914. Poles used to make up a large proportion of the population. It is sometimes confused with Poletown, a traditional Polish neighborhood, which used to lie mostly in the city of Detroit and includes a small part of Hamtramck. But more recently (November 2015) the blue-collar city that has been home to Polish Catholic immigrants and their descendants for more than a century has now become what demographers think is the first jurisdiction in the nation to elect a
majority-Muslim council. In fact, in 2013 the town earned the distinction of becoming what appears to be the first majority-Muslim city in the United States following the arrival of thousands of immigrants from Yemen, Bangladesh and Bosnia over a decade.
Despite all of this, tucked away on a side street is probably one of the most interesting accumulations of weird whirly gigs, mannequins, and a plethora of oddball knick knacks. Known as Hamtramck Disneyland, it is a yard art folk art located owned by a man named Dmytro Szylak. Hamtramck Disneyland was started in 1992 and came to be finished in 1999. Szylak died at age 92 in May 2015 and now the future of the place, located at 12087 Klinger St in Hamtramck, is in question. But the menagerie of fun will always be etched in my mind.
While living in Ontario in 2008, I visited a number of places and always seemed to pass through Hamilton, a wonderful place to visit. In the town itself is the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, which contains over 40 different aircraft. Then there are the waterfalls!! The township has over 100 waterfalls within a short drive from downtown, and many of them are spectacular. The area is part of the Niagara Escarpment which provides perfect geological conditions for waterfalls to occur, from Tobermory to Niagara Falls. The most scenic waterfall in Hamilton is Webster’s Falls. With its 98 ft crest, it is the largest waterfall within the city. Tew’s Falls is a 135 ft ribbon waterfall, and is the tallest waterfall found in Hamilton. Both are in photos above. There is a website dedicated to the waterfalls of Hamilton HERE. And then, after all of the waterfalls, head over to Lake Ontario and to the shoreside burger joint known as Hutch’s on the Beach for a great burger in a 1960s style diner.
Hatch, New Mexico
We’ll move from Hutch’s on the Beach clear south to Hatch, New Mexico. Hatch is known as the Chile Capital of the World. Located off Interstate 25, between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, the Village of Hatch has a population registered at little over 1,600 people. Chiles can be seen everywhere, both dried and fresh. The Hatch Green Chiles are my most favorite in the world!! Stop into one of the shops and get some and you too will be hooked. Every year in September they have their Hatch Valley Chile Festival which looks amazing. While in Hatch, check out Sparky’s burger joint which has a vintage A&W Family on the roof and nearby is giant Muffler Man. Ronald McDonald, Colonel Sanders and other fun stuff decorates the place known for BBQ and their World Famous Green Chile Cheeseburger. I went through there a few years ago, but never got around to writing a blog post. But many of my photos can be seen HERE.
Hico is Texas all the way. Only about 1400 people live there, but everything is BIG there. From the giant 12 foot tall spurs in front of a business to the many murals splashed on walls throughout the town, it is a fun place. And of course, you can’t miss the Billy the Kid Museum in downtown. The town where “Everybody is Somebody” is covered in my 2012 Blog Post HERE.
In May 2015 I was in the San Francisco area to participate in Antsy McClain’s Woodflock gathering in Red Bluff, CA. Along the way we passed a sign that said “Needing to Pee?” What a kick! It was one of many signs in Hopland advertising the naturalist’s department store known as Real Goods. Hopland It is located on the west bank of the Russian River 13 miles south-southeast of Ukiah, at an elevation of 502 feet and has a population of about 750 environmentally conscious folks. I got to meet one of America’s Solar Pioneers while there and saw a plethora of interesting items inn the shop, which is an extension of their massive website catalog. The place has a see through working beehive, the strangest restrooms in the world and some interesting, unique and even quirky items for sale. See my full post about Real Goods HERE.
Hoboken, New Jersey
On another family trip in 2015, my wife, daughter and grandchildren all headed east to Connecticut for a baby blessing. On the way we made a stop in Hoboken, NJ, which offers amazing views of New York City and is also the home of world famous Carlos Bake Shop, from the TV show Cake Boss. The town is packed, the roads are narrow, but the atmosphere, even at 11 PM, is amazing. See my complete roadtrip report, including Hoboken photos (and Hershey, PA photos) HERE.
On a return trip from Texas in 2014, I made my way into southeast Oklahoma for a visit to Hugo, which has the nickname of Circus City USA as it is perhaps best known as a resting place for Circus Performers and, has become the eternal resting place for many of these performers. Hugo has been a circus wintering ground since 1942 and is still such for three circuses and their staff and performers, The Carson and Barnes Circus, The Kelly-Miller Circus, and the Culpepper-Merriweather Circus. It is a common site to drive past their grounds in the winter and see them taking care of an elephant or working on their equipment. The town cemetery, Mt. Olivet Cemetery, has a special area called Showmen’s Rest which features unique headstones and grave sites for circus performers and owners. there is also a section called Bull Rider’s Reprieve set aside as a resting place for rodeo riders that have passed on. I thoroughly enjoyed the brief visit to this hallowed ground to remember circus performers. Here are a few photos from this fascinating corner of a cemetery. Read more about it in my 2015 post HERE.
In the southwest region of Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, the chocolate scented town of Hershey rests. Home of the Hershey Chocolate company, the town is decorated everywhere with chocolaty things, right down to the town’s Hershey’s Kiss shaped streetlights. I visited there in 1998 and then again in 2015. Hershey’s Chocolate World has some great stuff, lots of chocolate for sale and even a factory tour. We visited Hershey on the same trip as Hoboken, so check out my blog link above.
Home on the Range, North Dakota (Honorable Mention)
Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam…well, Home on the Range is somewhere in Western North Dakota off of Interstate 94. It turns out that Home on the Range is a working Catholic-run ranch for boys and girls ages 12-19, especially those that were abused or come from broken families. It helps them readjust and cope. Appears to be a great program.
Hamburg, Iowa (Honorable Mention)
Finally, I wanted to mention the small town of Hamburg, Iowa only because of the unique shop there known as Stoner Drug Store. They even sell T-Shirts!! The Drug store still has a working Malt/Soda Bar like they had in the 1960s. You can see more HERE.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
Everywhere I go I see old neon. These signs remind me of the my youthful days in the 1960s and 70s when we traveled. Alas, for many, the only signs they see are the same unoriginal fast food, gas station and motel chain signs all over the place. But, in the by gone days there were few McDonald’s and Motel 6 spots. Instead, there were the little cozy motels with the old metal chairs in the front and the unique neon signs. There were the local burger joints with their big shiny signs. And there were the drive in movie theaters and the downtown theatres with their unique names. Here is a trip down memory lane with neon I have captured along the less beaten paths and just a few comments, when appropriate.
Of all of the unique neon signs, perhaps the hotel and motel signs are the most fun and bring back the fondest memories. My first ever motel stay was in some non-descript motel in Amarillo, Texas in 1968. At the time I was only 12. It was exciting to sleep in a motel bed, see the paper covered drinking glasses, taste the strange tasting water, sit on the metal rockers on the front porch. We watched the news and stock reports on the local television and ate pancakes at a local cafe before heading to our new home in Richardson, Texas (we were moving from Albuquerque, so yes, we were on Route 66 back then).
And to round off the trip, how about one of the more famed ones….
CAFES AND RESTAURANTS
After a nice evening a a comfy motel, what is better than starting the day off with a great breakfast at a diner, a pancake house or a local cafe. The servings are always big, the mom and pop service is better than any fast food joint. Of course, while on the road you can also stop for lunch and even a big dinner, in some cases even more than you can manage if you are willing to take the chance (think Amarillo, Texas!!)
How about some burgers for lunch?
Perhaps you want to try an ORIGINAL Cozy Dog….a Route 66 Classic indeed. This one deserves two photos
Don’t want a burger or a corn dog? How about a Maid-Rite Sandwich?
Or perhaps some great authentic Bar-B-Q?
And a little Ice Cream for an afternoon treat….
Okay. So this next one is not neon. But it is certainly Vintage. And who can resist stopping for an ice cream at a place that LOOKS like an Ice Cream?
There are lots of places that you can get dinner…many of the old neon places are a combo bar/grill or bar/restaurant. And many have unique signs. Personally, I don’t drink alcohol, but I have certainly enjoyed a few good meals at some of these kinds of places.
And let’s not forget two of the most iconic vintage neon places for travelers….
Maybe you prefer something a bit more ethnic in the evening….
Or perhaps just a late night Philly Cheese Steak? How about two choices and they are just across the street from each other in the triangle….(I actually tried one at each place on the same evening – add the whiz!)
Movie Theaters, Drive-In Theaters and Music Halls
Perhaps you have had a long day on the road and need a break from motel room TV. A visit to an old drive in theater with some popcorn and thus fuzzy little speakers hanging in your window will do ya.
Too cold outside? Then there are some classic old movie theaters around that show some cool movies or maybe even will have a live band playing in them. Many of the old theaters are multi-purpose nowadays, but their old neon signs still draw you in and bring back the memories of 1960s childhood.
Following are a few classic looks with neon I have seen over the years as I travel the back roads of America.
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY OTHER PLACES
Sure, I meant it when I included “Sundry” in this section. That term seems old fashioned now, but the old five-and-dime shops had “sundry” items. There were also the old drug stores that sold magazines, had fountains in the shop and they sold “sundries.”
I also include the “various” in here since there are a few odds and ends neon signs that I want to include in this section.
Now, wasn’t that just a yummy adventure through the past?