Monday, April 02, 2007

ROCKIN' the car hop thing











In his ROAD & TRACK "Side Glances" column this May, Peter Egan gently chided me for not truly knowing what a "car hop" was.
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He is correct that "a carhop is a waiter or waitress [sometimes, but not always, on rollerskates] who brings food to people in their cars."
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Yet it's also true, as I riffed in ROCKIN', that the word "carhop" often applied to the drive-in establishment itself, as in "carhops originated in the 1950s when such eateries were popular." For instance, see the picture of Didley's Car Hop (Metamora, IL) at the top of this blog. There are other examples, such as Johnny's Car-Hop and Juke-Joint, in Southold, NY, and the Fabulous 50s Car-Hop Drive-In in Newport, NH.
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Many franchised A&W drive-ins offered car hop service, as did independents like Porky's in Minneapolis; the Pig Stands in San Antonio; Swensons in Akron; the Frosted Mug in Chicago; Arnold's in Decatur, IN; Ardy & Eds in Oshkosh, WI; Bummies in Bluffton, IN; Charlie's in Hortonville, WI; Fender's in Holland, MA; Mel's in Northern California; the Rebel in Cleveland, TN; the Triple XXX in West Lafayette, IN; the Varsity in Atlanta; Famous Amy's in Toledo, OH; Dano's, Jim's, Lenfant's, Martin Brothers, the Rockery, Signorelli's, the Star Bright, and Wallace and Raoul's in New Orleans; Wayne's in Lawton, OK; and Stewart's in Tuckerton, NJ. (and there are likely a couple thousand more inde's that were famous gathering spots in their time.
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There are some famous carhops, including Judy Garland, who was a carhop at the beginning of the movie "A Star is Born," and there she is (above) pictured wearing her famous car-hoppin' boots. Britney Spears wore a flirty carhop outfit (seen to left) at the beginning of her video "Drive Me Crazy."
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A wonderful reminiscence, "When Grandma was a Carhop" (at the Cross Roads Cafe in Santa Cruz, CA) appears at www.webspawner.com/users/crossroadsdrivein/helpsavethecros16.html.
In that piece, Nancy Jellison and Roxy Newland (Santa Cruz High School classes of 1954 and 1957 respectively), remember being only 14 years old the first time they carted trays full of food to cars full of teenagers.
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Roxy recalls that her biggest take came on a Saturday night in the summer of 1958 when she pocketed $90 in tips. That would amount to $630 in 2003 dollars. "Tips were what made carhopping such a highly sought-after job by teenage girls in the late '50s," she said.
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"It wasn't too difficult if an order consisted of the usual teen fare of hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes. We simply hooked a tray to the outside of the window on the driver's side. That was rather lightweight compared with dinners, consisting of soup, salad, entree with potatoes and vegetable, drink and dessert--all served in heavy-duty crockery.
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"We had two different types of trays on which to serve dinners. One was fitted to the steering wheel for the driver and the other was latched to the inside of a passenger's window and hung suspended just above the customer's lap. We had to reach inside a car's window to secure both kinds, which could be a difficult maneuver. If four people in a car ordered dinners, that meant four separate trips. But I never dumped an order on anybody's lap," Roxy said.
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"How did we know when the customers were ready to place an order, or ready to leave," Nancy continued. "In the daytime they would first flash their headlights. But, if it were an extremely bright day and I couldn't pick up the flashing lights, they would lightly tap their horns."
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"At night," said Roxy, who preferred evening work because that's when carhops got the biggest tips, "customers would flash their lights and that was good enough." On Saturday nights in the summer in the mid-to-late 1950s, especially on a three-day holiday weekend, there could be 50 or more vehicles at the Cross Roads being served almost continually by up to five carhops from 6:00 to 3:00 am the next day.
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Carhops became a famous, even ubiquitous American franchised institution, now best represented by the Sonic chain. The famous "Big Boy" chain was created by Bob Wian in 1936 in Glendale, CA. They began franchising in 1952, eventually including Abdow's (MA, CT); Azar's (IN, CO); Eat'n Park (PA); Elby's (WA, PA, OH); Elias Brothers (MI, OH); Franklin's (PA); Frisch's (OH, KY, IN, FL); JB's (UT, ID, MT, SD, WY, WA, NM, KS, RI); Jerry's (KY, IN); Kip's (TX, OK, KS); Lendy's (VA); Manners (OH); Marc's (WI, IA, MN, IL); McDowell's (ND); Shoney's (TN, AL, MS, LA, GA, FL, VA, SC, NC, WV, OH, MO); TJ's (NY); Tops (IL); Vip's (NM); and Yoda's (WV).
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The oldest remaining Big Boy in America, built in 1949, is in Burbank, CA, near Toluca Lake, and is just down the street from George Barris' Kustom City customizing headquarters. This is the one briefly discussed in ROCKIN'. According to the LA CityGuide, a plaque outside "assures everyone that it is a magnificent example of the emerging California coffee-shop-style of architecture that exploded in Los Angeles in the 1950s." The current owners still offer car hop service on weekends and at special gatherings of hot rods and customs (popularized by the artist Robert Williams).
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A somewhat controversial car hop is Frisco's in Long Beach, CA. There the waitresses wear car hop costumes indoors, a sort of Hooters-Lite experience. As one customer reviewed it, "the contrast between the sultry uniforms and the wholesome 50s image that the place is striving for is, well, jarring."
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Car hops are also car-hopping events, many now vividly portrayed on YouTube. Two excellent examples are (1) www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-_i8VGwsNc and (2) www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-Q9QeNNfzw. And extensive and detailed rules for such car hops (here referred to as car/truck dances, can be found at www.lowridermagazine.com/features/07_hop_and_car_and_truck_dance_rules/.
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Today car hoppers are also known, within [UK] urban culture, as (from the Urban Dictionary online) "typically 14-15 year old girls who hang around car parks and boy racer spots in groups, trying to get taken for a drive, or at least get spoken to by college guys with cars. Most of them, once picked up, think they're great while sitting in the back and eviling everyone who looks at them." Also see this interchange as part of the definition:
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"hey mate, look, Paul's picked up some car hoppers!"
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"(shouts), PAUL, WHY DON'T YOU GO DROP THOSE KIDS BACK AT SCHOOL!!"
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There's also 1-800-86-CARHOP (auto sales and finance), the Car Hop on Lakeland Avenue in Crystal, MN (used car dealer), and www.carhop.co.uk/ (a domain name available for sale).
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With all this noted, the most amazing use of the term "car hop" has to be seen on MySpace Videos at http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoID=701280711.
The description: "dude runs on top of a car as it drives by, only to get smoked by another car from the other direction."
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For those wanting still more (??), check out the "Sonic Burger adventure blog" at blog.myspace.com/badassfrank for Monday, March 7, 2005, starring Bad Ass Frank and Natalie.
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9 comments:

Dan B (no, not Bennett, think harder) said...

Speaking of Judy Garland, there is an exciting and popular new group on Yahoo called THE JUDY GARLAND EXPERIENCE. The group features amazingly rare audio files, great photo's, lively discussions and more. The membership includes Garland family members, new fans, old fans, authors, historians, everyone is welcome. Please come by and check out our little Judyville, you may never want to leave.
http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/thejudygarlandexperience/

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