One HoJo’s to Go

hijoI have a couple of lasting memories of Howard Johnson’s. One, because of the shape of the scooper they used, the ice cream looked like upside down dunce caps sitting atop a sugar cone. Each scoop not only had that distinct shape, they all also seemed to always be infused with chips of ice because, I guess, of some mandated freezer setting that was totally inappropriate. 


My other lasting memory is service that varied from glacial. A stop at a HoJo on a road trip meant you were going to show up at your destination at least an hour late.  But you didn’t really care because that orange roof, the prospect of digging your teeth into a clam roll or hot dog on one of those oddball buns and licking one of those dunce cap ice cream cones represented everything good about America. The service may have been slow, but at least it was friendly. The prices weren’t bad and moms and dads could feel confident they were treating their families to a wholesome meal and clean bathrooms.

I’m thinking about Howard Johnson’s because with the recent closing of the Bangor, Maine restaurant, there’s only one left–in Lake George, New York. That one seems to be doing well but I expect that one day the last HoJo will be NoMo.

Only those of a certain age remember time when there wasn’t a fast food joint at every exit and places like Howard Johnson’s and Stuckeys and Horne’s horneswere the oases you hoped would appear around the next bend with their tall signs stuckeysbeckoning you from the road for food, rest and yes, their restrooms. I never fell victim to a Stuckeys pecan log roll but guess what, I still have a shot. According to their website  there’s a Stuckeys near Indianapolis…that’s within a day’s drive from my home.

Just as Howard Johnson’s hangs on with one last location, one Horne’s restaurant remains in Port Royal, Virginia.

I think the last time I went to a Howard Johnson’s was back where I went to college in Oswego, New York. My then-girlfriend, who’s now been my wife of 43 years, and I, would hop over to HoJo a few blocks from campus to take advantage of their “Double Bubble” drink special, which provided giant alcoholic beverages at college student prices. Even though the college was the town’s meal ticket the waitresses always scowled at us scruffy students and served us only begrudgingly knowing we were not only scruffy, but crappy tippers. Still, for my wife and I it brings back warm memories of our courtship and we still do “double bubble” several times a week at home. I can tell you this..the service is a lot friendlier!

Still, it’s sad to see some of our cultural touchstones fade with time but business is business I suppose. However, I’d give anything to lick one more ice chip -infused dunce cap cone. Fall in Lake George sounds nice.

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