Felt under the weather for most of the day, so this will be brief.
I have, for years, been working on a site in the comics section called “The Distant City,” and I never get around to making it happen. The name alone, combined with this image, should tell you everything you need to know about the foundational concept.
See what I mean? Once you start looking for it, you’ll find it everywhere.
Where are these places? In the case of the Heathcliff strip, there’s nothing visible across the street - even a two-story structure would block the sight of the building. (Which is oddly constructed - three wings, indicating size, but only two windows per wing?) In the Mama strip, the building in the foreground is large and featureless, and then there’s a vast expanse of nothing with the city jutting up in the distance.
The worst offender is "The Knight Life:
One building in the middle of nowhere.
While writing the column I mentioned St. Cloud, and for a second considered writing how the city had become a desolate, barren expanse after the highway bypassed it, with no news coming out in the last few years save snippets of rumors about feudal lords and general lawlessness, but people in St. Cloud would get miffed. Besides, old Highway 10 still runs through the place, and you can see it’s thriving just fine. But it did remind me of the days when I drove home from Fargo through St. Cloud before they finished the I-94 bypass; must have been a long, long time ago. There was a sign on the outskirts of town; it showed a scrawny-necked guy in the trappings of old academia - the mortarboard, the robe - and he wore black-rimmed glasses. He had a pointer, because that was part of the cliche; academics needed long sticks so they could draw your attention to necessary words or items. His stick pointed to the words on the chalkboard:
DON, DEAN OF TIRES
I must have written about this at some point, but nothing shows up on Google. And I know I’ve looked. But today when I looked again, his obit popped up: 2001. His name was Donald Dean. He ran a tire company. The obit mentioned his slogan.
You’ve accomplished something in life when your obit mentions your slogan.
The sign’s gone, of course. The family probably has pictures. But there’s nothing on the web. The more I think about it, the more the entire 70s seems to be absent. And half of the 80s. Oh, there are commercials and music sites and fashion sites, the usual cultural residue, but there’s so little quotidian data. Millions of people make their photos look like something taken in 70s, but we have little that was actually, you know, taken in the 70s.
Oh, I suppose I should google before making such a broad assertion, let alone give my theory for why that might be the case.
. . . Well, the images that came up were the usual mishmash of “retro” graphics and clothing ads. I’ve no idea what’s out there. My theory was this: the 70s and early 80s form a dead zone in the internet memory because there’s not enough video, and news photography was absolutely horrible. When I look back through the paper’s archives - or did, before they were carted off for scanning and disposal - I’d always hit a point where the photos went to hell, because they were printed on fax paper. Wire photos were always printed on fax paper, so to speak, but a lot of the pictures were from news agencies that printed off good copies and mailed them. Starting in the seventies, everything’s on cheap paper, has the resolution of something seen on a foggy day through a filthy window - and they not only faded, they went brown. (Fitting.)
But there’s another reason.
The people who remember them well aren’t major content producers. The ones who are don't want to remember them at all.
Although . . .
When I left the Interstate to go through St. Cloud, I stopped at Sambo’s. Wonder if the building’s still there. You can always tell an old Sambo’s.
. . . I can’t find it, and there’s no Denny’s in Sambo’s. Many of the old Sambo’s turned into Denny’s - not a morph from one brand to another, mind you. Denny’s just moved into the locations.
Or, in one instance, it became a Randy’s:
There were two Sambo’s in Fargo. The one above was the southside Sambo’s; the Northside version is gone now, I think, but survives for a while on Google.
Hah: Go ahead, google “Fargo Sambo’s.” Sometimes I hate it when this site is the first thing that comes up. I used to have “Fargo Google View Friday” back in 2009. Why did I stop?
Here’s an old ad:
Was that something good about the 70s? In the sense that I remember going there for breakfast after church, and having French Toast dusted with powdered sugar; we sat in the back room, which was always packed after church. In the afternoons I might wander in for coffee, if I was back from college. Met a friend there a few nights. Got dumped by a cheerleader there my senior year, and I’ll never forget that: I was early, ordered coffee. She came by, sat down, waitresses dropped off water and a menu, and the soon-to-be-ex waved it away and said “this won’t take long.” Bang! Dumped.
Was Sambo’s one of the things that redeem the 70s? If you consider that it brought the last gasp of that pseudo-Flintstone sort-of Googie architecture to Fargo, yes.
Before they painted it over, it looked like this.
Not sure Jasper was impressed.
Speaking of restaurants, Restaurants! The Exteriors site has the usual four additions. Enjoy, and I'll see you around.