There was an interim of optimism, at least on the surface, before the Cold War reached a fever pitch, after World World II, still in evidence across America. Route 1 runs parallel to I-95 and adjacent to the new extension roads where big box stores sprawl, causing the slovenly wilderness to widen in its concentric target wake. If you take the time to idle at a traffic light every few hundred feet, to slow way down for frozen custard and vintage signage, you’ll notice remnants of the mid-20th Century, a fistful of decades swiftly becoming history. Here, nuclear families spent a week at motor inns, where a horseshoe of cabins protect a cement-ringed swimming pool and rusty swingset, close to a beach on the ocean or lake, and if there was no natural body of water nearby, man made one. It was our right, our destiny, what we were entitled, after defending democracy abroad. An exuberance of youth did not create, but clung to adolescence, and with it subculture, rock and roll, and eventually, revolution.
On that stretch of old road between South Portland and Saco, the route that takes today’s Maine vacationer to Old Orchard Beach and Aquaboggan (I’m presuming there’s a water-skimming sled of some sort), is where you’ll find the Rock ‘n Roll Diner, a vestige of things past and lost time, vintage cars and flame-sided jukeboxes, sideburns and milkshakes and cliched but utterly true waitresses named Flo. It’s all chrome and checkerboard floors. And they serve a perfectly Platonic diner breakfast. You aren’t going to want to get intimate with your eggs or know the source of your sausage, but you’ll get everything you ever really wanted for about five dollars. Immediate and infinite coffee, daily specials like pork pie and baked beans, and a soundtrack of nostalgia is all there in abundance, without irony or apology. Go reclaim your personal and collective past, whether that was fifteen or fifty years ago. And get the blue plate.
This morning I kept it simple: two eggs over medium, rye toast, hash browns, sausage, and apple juice. It was just as I remembered or wished it to be. Runny yolks, four pieces of invisibly and profoundly buttered bread, coated deep fried potatoes, and two slightly spicy, salty patties (my choice over links, which for some reason gross me out while I’m totally fine with processed pork in pounded rounds). This isn’t food you should write about, or write home about, or typically even think about moments after it happens. So, why am I? It’s a utilitarian breakfast, yes. Food that fills you up and makes you fat and costs so little it almost seems criminal. A bit of a relief after feeling compelled to so earnestly stroke your seasonal greens and the farmer that grew them. Which is a luxury of our time and a topic for another day. Our ethos is good; I like it and I’m a part of it and I believe in it. But it’s always important to consider the context. Where we’ve been informs where we are going. And for my money, I’m going to US Route 1 in Scarborough, whenever the urge for a straightforward serving of anachronistic America strikes.