2021 Update underway: Start Here.
No one over 50 needs an introduction to these places; we have dim smoky memories of road trips with the folks, stopping at odd cafes and coffee shops en route to some distant destination. Hamburgers and fries and maybe a shake! Cottage cheese for Mom.
Anyone under 40 may recognize a few of these places, or find an analog to a local hash house. But people who came to these places in the post-chain, post-franchise, post-"Diner" movie era are cursed: they approach these places with Irony and Context, and see them as Symbols, pieces of History.
They're just restaurants.
But the pedestrian artifacts of yesterday take on extra meaning when the pedestrian examples of the present are just stage-sets for an hour or two of gustatory theater. Few things these days are so cheerfully modern, futuristic, and approachable. These were ordinary places, and it says a lot about modern times that they sometimes seem so extraordinary.
Here are some postcards to be enjoyed with or without irony, or context. Off you go.