The Rise and Fall of Roadside Magazine
by Randy Garbin
Sometime in the mid-1980s, I got hooked.
Henry's Diner in Alston, Massachusetts wasn't my first diner, but it was the place where suddenly I looked around and realized that my surroundings were special. In search of the perfect big cheap breakfast, it looked like I had found it. Beyond that, I couldn't help but notice all the stainless steel so artfully fashioned; the intricate patterns of ceramic tile; and the lively crowd of students and blue-collar types that joined me. Obviously, I was in a very special place.
That moment sparked the exploration. I wondered where I could find all the other diners, because I wanted to eat in every one of them. I wanted to tell everyone I knew about these places. And in a blissful moment of naiveté, I planned to save the industry by introducing everyone I met to the charms of these places.
In 1990, after pouring over every scrap of available information, which at that time amounted to three books and an assortment of articles, I decided to put together a simple publication about diners. The title "Roadside" came rather easily, and even though the plan would adhere to featuring diners and the culture within, I knew the scope would eventually broaden.
Early that year, I discovered that diner guru Richard Gutman actually lived not far from my home in Watertown, Mass. I penned a letter informing him of my plans to start this 'zine. To my delight, he actually responded rather quickly, saying he thought the idea had merit, but that he had heard of a woman in Virginia who had a similar idea.
About a month later, I had the first design dummy ready to peddle, and I sent a copy to Dick. His response again came quickly, but this time it came with much more enthusiasm for the idea. I then asked Dick if he might suggest some diner owners that would consider taking ad space in the first issue. One of those he suggested was the Blue Moon Diner and its owner Dennis "Skip" Scipione.
Bolstered by the positive feedback, I sent copies of the dummies to Dennis and other owners. Not long after that, I received a letter from one of the diner's customers with praise for what I had done. That felt great, but what did Dennis think? I called the diner and asked for him. When I introduced myself, Dennis, an ex-cop, said, "Yeah, I want you to come out to see me. I want to talk to you about this."
My partner, Marjorie Norman, and I set out the next day. Gardner, Mass. takes about an hour and a half to reach, and we could only wonder what we would find when we got there. The Blue Moon Diner stands out as one of the best preserved late-40s Worcester cars still out there. In the early 1980s, Dennis purchased the diner when it still sat in Winchendon, Mass. and moved it to its present location, the site of an older Worcester unit. He then contracted with Richard Gutman to make new porcelain panels for the diner in its new location. It had assumed its former name, the Miss Toy Town, from Winchendon's nickname, derived from its history of making hobby horses and other toys in the last century. Skip still has those original panels.
Walking into the diner, we found Skip in the furthest booth tending to some business. When he saw us, he waved his big hand, commanding without a hint of a smile, "Come over here and sit down."
Then before we had a chance to make ourselves comfortable in the booth, Skip reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. Among a thick wad of bills, he extracted $150 cash and handed it over.
"I love this thing," referring to the dummy on the table. "I'm going to be with you guys until the end."
We had breakfast on the house, and walked out thinking, "Man! This is going to be easy!"
Next installment: Reality and some fantasy sets in.
©2001 Randy Garbin