"The difference between a welfare state and a totalitarian state is a matter of time." — Ayn Rand
On our drive home from our road trip to Glacier National Park in Montana my wife and I were getting hungry around 12:30 pm as we drove south on I-15 though the Mojave Desert in California. As far north as Las Vegas we began seeing billboards advertising Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner. We had passed these signs numerous times during our trips up and down I-15, bur this time we decided to stop at Peggy Sue’s for lunch. When we reached exit 191 on I-15 we turned off to Yermo Road by the big Marine depot and pulled into the parking lot for the diner.
There we were in the middle of the Mojave Desert about to walk back into the 1950’s. What an experience. The place was packed on this Saturday afternoon. There were cars, trucks, and RVs with license tags from as far away as Pennsylvania and Alberta, Canada. When we walked through the door was greeted by a mannequin of a buxom 1950’s car hop standing next to a sign telling us to seat ourselves and a waitress would be there to serve us, and by golly this is what happened. It took about a minute for a pleasant waitress to come to the table with eating utensils and menus and ask us what we wanted to drink. The service was great!
The menu was pretty comprehensive with items ranging from 50’s style milk shakes to burgers and deep fried dill pickles. Kathy ordered the Patti Page, of “How Much is the Doggie in the Window” fame patty melt and I choose the 50’s style burger. All of the menu items were named after various 50’s movies stars and recording artists such as Buddy Holly, Chubby Checker, and Marlon Brando.
The food was delivered hot and it tasted great. As we ate I began looking around the diner and I was amazed at how much 50’s memorabilia adorned the walls and floor including a juke box and figures of Elvis, the Blues Brothers and of course the figure of Marylyn Monroe in her iconic pose from the movie “The Seven Year Itch”. The walls were adorned with posters and photos of movie stars, films and recording stars from the 50’s and off course there was music from the 50’s coming from the speakers including Buddy Holly’s version of Peggy Sue.
Behind the diner there was a small park with a pond and fountain along with figures of prehistoric animals including a statue of King Kong. This was called Peggy Sue’s Diner-Saur Park, There was also a pizza shop. One of the unique items was the flower arrangements on each table resembling a 1950’s milk shake – quite cute.
Peggy Sue's Diner and Dinosaur Park is the perfect midway pit stop between LA and Vegas – Peggy Sue's '50s Diner is a true gem along part of Historic Route 66 (this section of I-15 follows the original track of Route 66 from LA to Barstow. Originally built in 1954, Peggy Sue and her husband Champ brought it back to life in 1987. Peggy Sue was a celebrity featured in over 100 films and commercials and even had a song written about her ("Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly and The Crickets), and Champ worked at Knott’s Berry Farm before they decided to bring a taste of Hollywood to Yermo, California.
According to Peggy Sue:
“Champ and I came from Southern California in 1981, reopened the diner in 1987 and attempted to restore and preserve it in its original state. Before moving to the desert in 1981 Champ worked for Knott’s Berry farm and I worked in the movies. The diner was the perfect place to display our extensive collection of movie and TV memorabilia.
To complement the cozy atmosphere of the Diner, we wanted good homemade food and great 50’s music. We used my grandmother’s family recipes, made the old fashioned way. Thanks to the support of our Loyal Locals, Trusty Truck Drivers, Mighty Military, and Terrific Tourists the diner prospered and became more popular. We ran out of room, so we decided to expand the Diner into a real Old Fashioned Tourist Stop. Just like we remembered when we traveled across country as kids. We opened a 50’s style 5 & Dime Store with Curios and Memorabilia, Soda Fountain, Ice Cream Parlor, and Pizza Parlor. We even created or own Diner-Saur Park with larger than life Dinosaur Sculptures, Waterfalls, Fountains, Ponds, Grass and Trees for our guests to take a stroll. We appreciate you visiting with us at Peggy Sue’s. Hope you relived some old memories and made some new ones.”
There were numerous other 50’s diners along our route of travel and our Historic Lincoln Highway road trip last fall including one in Green River, Wyoming. There is also one several miles from my house in Murrieta, California called Richie’s Real American Diner where the menu is based on comfort foods of the 50’s.
Why this fascination with the 1950’s a time where I came of age. I clearly recall those times. These were great times and they were troubled times. The Korean War had just ended when I graduated high school, but we still had the selective service, something I needed to register for. There was the Cold War and the threat of Soviet Communism. There was still “Duck and Cover” in the schools and of course there was tail gunner Joe McCarthy. There was fear of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union and the destruction of the planet. Francis Gary Power’s U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union and Nikita Khrushchev came to the United Nations and pounded his shoe on the table stating the USSR would bury us.
Yes there were troubled times but there were many more great times. Even with the troubles the 50’s were a time of great optimism and opportunity. You did not need a college education to get a good job and if you were willing to apprentice yourself and work hard the sky was the limit. Young people knew they could succeed if they worked hard and played by the rules. They married young and knew they could buy a home and car in a few years. As examples; I 1954 the average annual income was $4,000 per year ($35,000 adjusted for 2012 dollars according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI inflation calculator). A new home was $10,250 ($87,500) or 2.5 times the average annual salary. A new car was $1,700 ($14,000), in fact I purchased a 1954 Chevrolet Belair four door sedan with the deluxe package for $1,900. The tuition to Harvard University was $800 ($6,800) per year and state colleges were much less. Gasoline cost $0.22 per gallon ($1.88) and a postage stamp was $0.03 ($0.26).
The Interstate highway system was just getting underway and the Ohio Turnpike opened to traffic in 1955 and you could drive across the state without stopping for one traffic light. Cars were getting larger and more powerful and tail fins were in vogue. In 1955 Chevrolet, which had always had an in-line six cylinder engine, introduced its brand new V-8. America was on the move. One of the most popular singing commercials of the 50’s was Dinah Shore singing “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” And, Rock and Roll was here to stay.
I believe people are yearning for those days of the 50’s when things were clearer and opportunity was the watchword of the day. Unlike today where the federal state governments infringe on all aspects of your life to 50’s provided unlimited opportunities for those who wanted to succeed, especially in the realm of small business. The music had a beat and you could understand the lyrics. Films were, for the most part inspirational and the guys in the white hats always won out in the end. Patriotism was in vogue and kids recited the Pledge of Allegiance or Preamble to the Constitution in school and Santa Claus or the Baby Jesus was not banned from the public schools or Public Square. The only social networking going on was when a group of guys or gals would gather on a warm summer evening to gossip and exchanges their dreams for the future.
These are the days people see when they walk into a diner like Peggy Sue’s. It’s not the food as much as the memories places such as Peggy Sue’s invoke. The next time you motor along I-15 in the Mojave Desert in your imported Japanese car look for exit 191 and pull off for a stop at Peggy Sue’s for a burger or a milk shake and reminisce on those halcyon days of the 1950’s. See you later alligator.