Friday, September 8, 2017
No Mo Ho Jo
No Mo Ho Jo
I recently read that there was only one more Howard Johnson restaurant in business. I felt a twinge of sadness. In the fifties and even in much of the sixties there were no fast food restaurants, no Mc Donald’s, no Burger King’s, there were no Motel 6’s or Holiday Inns.
If you went out to eat, you ate at a fancy restaurant that required a coat and tie, even for children, a local Mom and Pop’s, or a “Greasy Spoon” diner.
The fancy restaurants were no place for children, too expensive and they did not serve burgers or mac’n’cheese.
The Mom and Pops could be very good, or they could not. The Greasy Spoon was generally great for truckers, not so great for families.
If you were on the road and needed a place to stay there were only local motels. These were crappy rooms with a bath and a bed. Some were OK, some were The “Bates” Motel. All had a sign outside indicating Vacancy, or No Vacancy and listed the amenities they provided…TV was a big deal, Pool was a really big deal and Air Conditioning was…I don’t remember any having air conditioning. Some motels were OK, some not so much. If you were tired and the sign said “Vacancy,” you took your chance.
Then there was Howard Johnson’s with the big orange roof. HoJo’s were all over the United States, though I only remember them on the east coast. When we traveled across the country following my Pop’s job, we did not see many HoJo’s. When we did we knew what we would get. A nice room, clean sheets, good service and a good restaurant for a family.
I have a few memories of HoJo’s.
They were famous for their ice cream, and claimed they could make almost any flavor milk shake (actually I believe there were 28 flavors). At a stop one day on one of our long family trips, my brother asked what flavor milk shakes they had. Not wanting to recite all 28 flavors the waitress said they had whatever he wanted. My brother, Chris, ever the difficult one, thought long and hard and then ordered a Black Raspberry milk shake.
We thought that was impossible, who would carry black raspberry ice cream, but the waitress wrote down the order without batting an eyelash. When the meal was served Chris had his black Raspberry shake. At least it was the color and flavor of what you might expect a black raspberry shake to taste like, but since no one had ever had a black raspberry shake we did not know if they had one or made up a facsimile. Either way, with that shake we had great respect for HoJo’s.
Years later, when I was in college, HoJo’s was where you booked your weekend date if you expected to get lucky. Mention HoJo’s to a college student and you got a knowing wink.
I never booked a HoJo’s for a weekend date.
I do know some that booked a HoJo’s got unlucky as they were married not so long after. Actually one got lucky twice as the marriage has lasted over fifty years.
The last time I went to a Howard Johnson’s was around 20 years ago. My wife and I were traveling through Podunk Maryland. We were tired and hungry. I spotted a HoJo’s and pulled in. I expected good food and good service.
The restaurant was serving many locals who were dressed in their Saturday night finery. It was apparently the place to go for a night out in Podunk Md. It reminded me of the good old days, except the food was crap and the service Greasy-spoonish. It was not the HoJo’s I remembered.
Except for a few motels, HoJo’s is gone now, at least the HoJo’s I remember. The first successful franchise of its kind in the country, at one time an institution, it did not keep up with the times and has been displaced by other franchises that do the job better.
A pleasant memory, but with all the fine motels and fast food restaurants around today I will not morn its demise.
I do admit to having a hankering for a good black raspberry shake.