(How in the world did it get to be 15 August already! The cruelty of time and August!) At a traditional Saturday AM breakfast at Hollywood Burger Bar—how scary it is when you get a cold Saturday in August, when you're this far north—you see winter waiting down the road, impatiently. I'm still threatening to move closer to the equator—maybe to Florida to work in the burgeoning artificial community industry.
More on my trip to Ohio—now, nearly a month in the past—since I left—scary! Anyway, the big and weird thing that happened to me. I was visiting my parents and brother and his family in Sandusky, Ohio, my hometown. A place I grew up, and lived in for a total of about 20 years, all added together. A place I know pretty much inside and out, except for all the new bullshit. (Of course, no one really knows any place inside and out.) A place with an enormous tourist attraction, Cedar Point, an amusement park, which is open only seasonally—summer. It's a place, Sandusky, because of the seasonal nature, that has the highest number of fast food restaurants per capita of any place in the United States, ad thus the world, I would assume.
I went for my class reunion—the 20th, and also to go to Cedar Point, which I do every 10 years or so to see how much has changed. Of course, by now, it's more like to see what's stayed the same. A remarkable number of things actually stay the same—each one of them being like a little miracle—because for the most part, the old gets moved, torn down, eliminated, to make space for the colorful, hi-tech new rides that seem to be influenced by the extreme sports fads—everything is either the fastest, tallest, steepest, etc., or based on white water rafting, skydiving, and bungee jumping.
Anyway, around back around the time I was in school, about 15 years ago now, I got really interested in diners and was taking a filmmaking class, so I did a documentary portrait of diners in Ohio. Of course I didn't presume to find them all, but in my hometown, Sandusky, I felt like I knew what was there. The old diners that were still operating had at one time or other been remodeled—usually the exterior, usually in the Sixties or Seventies, to keep up with the times. So I know that around the eastern United States especially, there were many old stainless steel train-car style diners hidden in bricked-over, shingled over, contemporary facades. My friend Sean started a diner appreciation magazine and we wrote and talked about this endlessly. Also, my film was partly a defining of what a diner was, which has to do more with what's on the inside than the outside—more with atmosphere, history, function, and especially personality—both in what it's become, as well as the people working and the customers—than architecture.
So I'd be the first one to say that you should look inside a place before you make any judgments about it. So I was completely floored when I went with my dad out to this donut shop where he told me served breakfast and he went occasionally. It's a place called Jolly Donut, and it's been there for as long as I can remember, probably all my life. It's connected to this little motel called The Sands, on the main long shopping strip outside of Sandusky city limits. I've just always assumed it's a donut shop, which it is, and never realized they had a counter and booths and served breakfast and lunch. The place, for as long as I can remember, had a brick facade and a mansard style roof, which matches the motel. So when we went in and it was a classic stainless steel dining car company diner—! These classic dining car restaurants were prefab structures, manufactured by several companies, mostly in New Jersey, mostly post-war—they resembled the train dining cars, and because of their long, thin design, they were easily transported—carried behind trucks to anywhere in the country you wanted. They're mostly in the East, then here and there throughout the Midwest. People returning from war, presumably, wanted to start a new life, work for themselves, found this a good way to start a restaurant. So they're associated with the Fifties, mostly, and have made a comeback in today's nostalgia market but...