I felt a little silly going to a Bob’s Big Boy for my blog, since it’s a huge chain, but this was one of the very first ones, built in 1949, and the oldest still around. At some point in the ’90s someone bought it and started making it more like it was in the old days, with car-hop service on the weekends and a classic car show every Friday (which, I’ve been told, Jay Leno attends). My friend Terry and I decided to check it out but didn’t go on a Friday or a weekend, because it’s supposed to be extremely crowded then.
-Curvy walls with tall windows, Googie-style, a neon “Take-Out” sign just inside, pictures of classic cars everywhere, a large “Bob” statue inside, almost as big as the one outside, hanging lamps like long cans with a fancy letter “B” stamped out, framed pictures of old-time movie stars, lots of newspaper articles on the walls about Bob’s Restaurant news through the ages, neat chandeliers that look kind of like wagon wheels, if wagon wheels were metal and sort of art deco. There’s a long counter with red and white stools near the front, and many, many orange booths.
-I got the California Strawberry Chicken salad, and it was better than I ever would have expected from a chain diner. Terry got the Big Boy combo, and said the burger was “a good piece of meat like your pop would have cooked.”
-Our waitress, Mindy, had a glass name tag with her name and, next to it, a fantastic engraving of the face of the girl from Night of the Living Dead. Mindy told us she also had tags with Beetlejuice and the Misfits logo, and that one of the other waitresses made them. The folder that held Mindy’s order pad was covered in red glitter. Mindy liked my Buzzcocks T-shirt. Mindy was the greatest waitress ever.
-There were some crayons lying on the table next to the wall, probably from some kids who had eaten there before us, but no paper to draw on. There was a blank white wall next to the crayons. It wasn’t that I was tempted to draw on the wall, I was just very aware of how much I would have wanted to when I was four or five.
-I wanted to go around looking at all the other waitstaff’s name tags, but I didn’t. I just saw one, that had Superman on it. The waitress who makes them should open an Etsy shop.
-At the foot of the indoor Bob’s statue were many, many little wicker baskets full of jam packets. I know they were probably just put there for waitresses to grab when someone ordered toast, but they looked like they were offerings to the Bob god.
-One of the photos of old-time movie stars that hang near the entrance is of James Dean. Underneath the picture, it says that he frequented this very Bob’s in 1954 and 1955. I wondered why he stopped coming, then realized he died in ’55. Another photo is of Maria Montez, who I’d never heard of but apparently she was called the “Queen of Technicolor” when she was in a bunch of movies during World War II. The photo is in black and white.
-Near the door is a little gift shop area, where one can buy all sorts of Bob’s Big Boy merchandise; t-shirts and mugs and dolls. A few months ago the library where I work had a display of retro Bob’s merchandise; we have display cases in the front where anyone who wants to can show off their collection for a month. I’ve never seen any display get more attention. Patrons would crowd around and exclaim over the old cookie jars and figurines. They library finally arranged for the people who owned the collection to come and give a talk, there was so much interest in it.
-On the wall there is a copy of a newspaper article from 1967, about the merger of Bob’s Big Boy and Marriott Hot Shoppes. I never knew that Marriott started out as a string of diners, or that they started in Washington, DC–my home town. It’s wonderful the things you can learn by reading old newspaper articles on restaurant walls.
-I wanted to ask about the car hop service from back in the day; specifically I wanted to find out if the hops wore roller skates like you see in old movies, but the guy at the register assumed I was asking about the present-day car hop service and, just when I was getting through to him, a waitress overheard and jumped in to say what the hours were of the current car hop service, and as I was trying to explain to her, another waitress came and started saying how crowded it was and how I shouldn’t count on getting a spot when I came for the car hop service. I gave up and left them discussing it amongst themselves; I’m not sure they noticed I was gone.
-There’s a patio outside with crazy, tilt-y orange sun shades. Right next to the sidewalk is a little sign with a picture of a dog on it, and the words “Filling Station.” I assumed this was where people could get a bowl of water for their dogs, but now I’m second-guessing myself because there’s no real indication of that. It’s just a picture of a dog with “filling station” above it. It could mean lots of things, or nothing. Anyway I don’t have a dog.
-A plaque on the wall says that this particular Big Boy is a “State of California Point of Historical Interest.” There must be a list of all the State of California Points of Historical Interest somewhere. Someday I will look it up and visit all of them. I might make a blog about it.
What I Ate: Chinese Chicken Strawberry Salad, a few of Terry’s french fries, a sip of Terry’s milkshake.
Who I Ate With/Things We Talked About: Terry; college, the Rockford Files, playwriting, siblings, theater
What Sort of Ghost I’d Expect to Find if I Believed in Ghosts Which I do Not: A teenage boy who would come almost every day, and lean against his car and try to look like James Dean, and smile at the car hop waitress who had a mad crush on him. She’s there too. Note: Unless otherwise stated, all ghosts mentioned in this blog died peacefully of old age and then reverted to the age/place of their choosing.