Published on: October 6, 2016
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Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to drive up to Lake George to do a speaking engagement for the Frozen & Refrigerated Association of NewEngland (FRANE), which was cool not just because I'd never been to Lake George before, but also because it gave me the chance to visit a Howard Johnson's there.
Now, I normally wouldn't go to a Howard Johnson's. But this was different. Because this actually was the last Howard Johnson's.
It's been in the news lately, since the second-to-last Howard Johnson's closed. And the stories have largely been sentimental, focusing on how when there were HoJo's everywhere, American was a simpler and better place. I figured it would be good for my soul to get in touch with that, so I steered the Mustang off Route 87, hung a right and hen a left and went looking for a simpler and better time.
I didn't find it.
Oh, I found the Howard Johnson's all right. There was the iconic orange roof, and a building surrounded by an almost empty parking lot. When I went inside, it was dark and dingy and there were just four people eating, two couples at separate tables, but they might as well have been in separate counties. Serving cases were empty, and the salad bar looked like the kind of thing that food safety regulations were invented to address. One of the patrons was eating spaghetti and meatballs that looked like it had been served directly from a can.
By the way, it was dinnertime when I stopped by. Restaurants across the street seemed busy. So this was not a matter of a lack of customers during the offseason. For this HoJo's, I suspect it always is offseason.
I sat at the counter and perused the menu, which seemed populated by items from the fifties and prices from 2016. Nothing looked particularly appetizing, so I decided to go with an old standby - a black and white milkshake. "Sorry, we don;t have that," the waitress said. "We just have chocolate, vanilla and strawberry shakes." I didn't want to break it to her that if she had the makings of as chocolate shake and vanilla shake, she probably could make a black-and-white shake. I ordered chocolate. It took about 10 minutes to get it, and it tasted like chalk. Albeit chocolate chalk.
I paid on the way out, and then, just out of perverse curiosity, checked out the men's room. No surprise, the garbage can looked like it hadn't been emptied in a week. Somehow, I wasn't surprised.
Now, I don't want to be unkind here, but if this is the reflection of a simpler and better America that some people say it is, we're better off without it.
The thing is, what really bothered me about the last HoJo's is that nobody seemed to be trying. Aside from a small sign saying "last one standing," there was absolutely no effort to take advantage of the brand name's role in the nation's gastronomic history. They could've had real fun with it - it was a Friday night, and they could have had music playing, maybe an antique car show in the parking lot, and all sorts of nostalgia-driven promotions driven by an innovative energy that nobody else on the street could've matched. But instead, there was what appeared to be a death watch.
Sometimes life deals you a crappy hand. But that's the hand you have to play ... and in this case, I don't think the last Howard Johnson's was taking advantage of any of the opportunities that might have allowed it to differentiate itself and drive customer traffic and sales.
Won't matter, though. I have to believe it'll be gone soon, and the name will only be remembered by people who check out Wikipedia from time to time.
It'll probably be found under "irrelevant" or "obsolete."
That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: