Out along the Lincoln Highway, about a half an hour’s drive from Ames, is the little crossroads community of Colo, Iowa. On our recent cross country odyssey, in route to Bozeman, Montana, we had the good fortune to stop in at the Colo Motel and Niland’s Cafe. A lovingly restored gas station, bus stop, motor court and Cafe, this oasis stands as a beacon among the corn fields and silos, within earshot of the cross country freights that sing their lonesome songs late into the night. The owners and workers here are friendly, outgoing and treat you with all the care and love that is normally reserved for long lost family. If you’re ever driving across Iowa, pull in, have a milkshake and give yourself a rest before hitting the highway again. You’ll be glad you did!
This beautiful city has long been known for its fine dining and proximity to some of the finest vineyards in the world. The gorgeous hotels, bed & breakfasts and luxury accommodations make any Michelin reviewer sit up and take notice. On my recent visit, I set out every morning to walk this fair city, and discover for myself, from street level, the many joys that the City by the Bay had to offer in the way of potent comestibles and comfortable lodging. ….and away we go! From the Castro to the Haight, North Beach to the Tenderloin, a gentle walk on the wild side of SF.
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Once again, the intrepid traveler and neon explorer has loaded up the trusty Retromobile and set a southwesterly course through Kentucky and on to Tennessee before making my yearly pilgrimage to Princeton and Penningtonfest! As planned, it was a long drive, but one teeming with roadside treasures and surprises galore. My trusty and loyal crew and I were rewarded with new adventures and plenty of bizarre and interesting bits of vanishing small town Americana. …and, of course, plenty of neon, lost commercial ephemera from bygone eras and interesting architecture that the 21st Century has bid a not so fond farewell to in favor of a landscape of homogenized conformity.
What would a trip to Memphis be without a stop to Graceland. Sorry, no published pictures allowed! Elvis, Elvis!
Historic Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis- Beautiful!
Some cool neon in Memphis
I just LOVED this house- Was formerly a Doctor’s office, now up for sale, but too far from anything to make it practical
Old small town movie theaters
Several generations of wildly diverse roadside architecture in the South
Who knew that rural Tennessee was home to such great Deco design?
It was a gray and dreary day as The Diner Hunter and I set out for an impromptu road trip to the Garden State. Although many folks associate New Jersey with refineries, turnpikes and the likes of someone named Snooki, we chose to view a different version of the Jersey shore, although our journey did ultimately lead us to Seaside Heights, to see the roller coaster and surrounding damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy. Once off the highway, New Jersey is home to a huge diversity of small towns, scrub pine forests and cranberry bogs. Along the way we saw our usual roadside collection of abandoned buildings, darkened neon and diners. Jersey is the repository of hundreds of diners of every shape and style and we barely made a dent in the list.
After breakfast, Wildwood was one of our first stops. A piece of beachfront history suspended in time, every manner of so called “DooWop” motel and retro signage exists here, and their amusement park’s roller coaster rose out of the morning mist like a vision from a bygone era, a hole in the old space/time continuum.
If you love vintage style neon, this is THE place to be-
More retro neon in Wildwood – I need a shower, now!
The Caribbean ( design art from the Library of Congress)
This part of New Jersey is also home to re-purposed Muffler Men & all manner of strange creatures from the Land of the Giants- must be all those chemical mutations
The most beloved giant of all is Lucy, The Elephant who has made her home in Margate, New Jersey since 1881.
American Roadside architecture at its zaniest- Even the municipal offices are cool
Pennsylvania seems to be the state that my wanderlust feels compelled to visit, so for the second time in a week, I’ve laced up my traveling shoes, cranked up the old jalopy, and headed west to the Keystone State and a new adventure out along America’s highways and byways. This was a leisurely journey, with no real destination or objective in mind, so my beautiful traveling companion and I settled for the scenic area around Lancaster county, home to a substantial community of Amish and Mennonite families, as well as Jennie’s Diner, in Ronk’s PA.
Jennie’s is THE place to go if you have a hearty appetite and appreciate friendly service and delicious food.
Although only a minute from strip malls and an amusement park & putt-putt golf, you’ll see the old ways practiced directly across the street from this busy diner.
Another few minutes down the road and you’ll run into the Strasburg Railroad, and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, always fun for young and old alike!
And darn, wouldn’t you know it ( because, after all, this is a blog about neon & diners & roadside stuff) we luckily happened upon some great old neon and motel signage along Rt. 30, The Lincoln Highway
This is Amish country, and, as anywhere around the world, kids will always be, well, you know…..kids! The Amish are private people, and generally avoid photographs, so this was taken from a discreet and respectful distance.
On a sunny spring day like this, all the other cultural rituals play out as well, and this wedding party in downtown Lancaster seems to be having a great time clowning around prior to the big event.Beauties every one!
The many styles of architecture in Lancaster County
Of course, no roadtrip would be complete without ending the day as it started…..at a great diner.
The late Lady Bird Johnson was never big on the art of the roadside sign. In fact, she devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to rid America of the pox of neon signs, billboards and other bits of the art of commerce along our Nation’s highways and byways. Ultimately, we are better for it, and I applaud her efforts. Today, of course, we are smothered by the crushing weight of electronic advertising, and the simple regional attempts at exterior self-promotion lay rusting on their own walls, forgotten reminders of a less sophisticated time. Ah, but plenty of examples still remain, in small towns and cities across our great country, and I am always on the lookout, along with my fellow commercial archaeologists! Here’s a quick romp in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
This week’s roadtrip was to the beautiful, yet chilly town of Newport, Rhode Island. As is my usual custom, breakfast was always at whatever diner was close at hand, a haven of coffee, bacon and homefries, served by a friendly, yet saucy waitress, in my mind at least always going by the name of Bernice or Flo. Here is a brief photo essay of breakfasts served up on the frost of those brisk New England mornings.
It’s all about where you sit your weary butt down.
Variations on a theme of bacon and eggs
Al Macs ( awaiting re-opening ) Joe’s and Bishop’s
It’s always a good day when I can go out exploring the great American roadside with my son, The Diner Hunter. This has been a tradition of ours since he was but a lad, and now that he’s an acknowledged expert in the field, it is all the more fun. As a pre-Christmas holiday treat, we headed to the Harrisburg, PA. area for a return trip to Kuppy’s, a great little Ward & Dickinson diner which opened in 1933. It was a hoppin’ place on a chilly Thursday morning, full of spirited local conversation, but we warmed right up with some hot and tasty coffee, and a breakfast which couldn’t be beat. Spencer had the baked oatmeal, with brown sugar and blueberries, a regional Amish delight and I tucked in to a traditional bacon & eggs, with plenty of perfectly crisp bacon. Yum, yum! It must make old Carelton Towers’ mouth water just to think about it. Diners of Pennsylvania writers Brian Butko, Kevin Patrick and Kyle Weaver like it here…. and so do we.
Not much to look at on the outside, but a great neon sign
Owner Greg Kupp keeps things happening behind the counter
Getting hungry again just thinking about it!
Keep your sunnyside up
Don’t forget to try a Grilled Rachel