The Suitcase Lady


February 18, 2014, 9:38 pm

Eating out while traveling in America is no picnic. The chances of finding grease saturated food are about 100 per cent and of finding food with taste and nutrition about zero. Note that I don’t consider limp, brown tinged lettuce suffocated in styrofoam boxes as “healthy food”.

It’s sad that history’s lessons have to be relearned. Fred Harvey had the traveler’s food thing all figured out. He came to America from England in 1850, got a job with an American railroad, loved the job but hated the low quality food that was the rail traveler’s standard fare. From 1870 to 1968 the Harvey House Restaurants provided good meals, gracious service and ambience for the ordinary railroad traveler. His waitresses, known as the Harvey Girls, were legendary. For a nostalgic trip, check out the 1946 film, The Harvey Girls, starring Judy Garland.

Howard Johnson revolutionized food service for the motoring public. Starting in 1925 with a drug store and soda fountain in Quincey, Massachusetts, he believed his customers should have more than the three standard ice cream flavors, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.  He devised 28 flavors and doubled the butterfat content. Soon he was franchising restaurants along highways and toll plazas all over the nation. A bright orange roof and a “Simple Simon meet a Pieman” logo made HoJos instantly recognizable.

Howard Johnson’s restaurants always retained hints of New England on their menus. All you could eat fried clams were a featured item. They were also my Aunt Vi’s favorite restaurant meal and my husband and I have spent many happy  hours watching her enjoy towering stacks of them.

American travelers no longer have time for sit down dining. Ironically, my most hated current roadside plaza is a former Howard  Johnson’s over the I-94 toll road going to Chicago. The plaza has a huge banner for Geico Insurance covering its windows. Does this imply that lizards are one of the menu items?  Inside the smells of stale grease and bathroom disinfectant are overpowering. The “food” is dished out from a bevy of fast food stands. Ambience is minus ten.

This formula is repeated at toll plazas, highway junctions and many airports all over America. It is not a recipe for travelers’ happiness.


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