Zippy theorizes, syncretically, on the comic strips

🐅 🐅 🐅 tiger tiger tiger for Ultimate January, as we leave the darkest period of the year in my hemisphere

The 7/24/22 Zippy strip:


Zippy theorizes that comic-strip characters and their stories are an overlay of characters, personalities, settings, and tales from elsewhere in popular culture — in particular, from television shows. (Just to get some grip on these things in the real world, rather than ZippyWorld: Billy in The Family Circus has never marinated a duck breast.)

(Note: this is a Zippy strip, always liable to veer into surrealism and the injection of Zippreoccupations into things, so that not all the details are going to hang together coherently.)

Zippy offers these theories to Griffy from inside a sort of monument to pop-cultural syncretism, Davies’ Chuck Wagon Diner in Lakewood CO: something that was created as a reproduction of East Coast diner culture, but got crossed with the symbols of mythical cowboy culture, in the shape of a gigantic neon cowboy and a life-sized fiberglass horse. Located not in the dusty high plains of cowboy country, but on a commercial strip in a thoroughly built-up suburb of Denver. (I grant that you can at least see the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains from there.)

The actual diner.


From the Atlas Obscura site: “Davies’ Chuck Wagon Diner, Lakewood, Colorado: One man’s love for East Coast diner culture brought an entire eatery all the way from New Jersey to Colorado” (about the diner at 9495 Colfax Ave in Lakewood CO):

THIS WESTERN-THEMED AMERICAN DINER IS hard to miss. The 36-foot tall neon cowboy in an apron out front is far from subtle, making the full-sized fiberglass palomino horse overlooking the outdoor patio seem quaint. It also may be the westernmost traditional diner in the country. [That claim is easy to dispute — some discussion below.]

William Lyman Davies fell in love with the diners of the East Coast while traveling the country as a restaurant supervisor for over 20 years, but lamented the lack of diner culture back home in Colorado. When he returned in 1947, he saw U.S. 40 — the main East-West route through the small city of Lakewood at the time — as the perfect spot for a diner, with throngs of tourists and truckers passing daily. The fact that the closest diner manufacturer was over a thousand miles away would not sway him.

In 1957, the two 50-foot-long halves of what is now Davies’ Chuck Wagon were shipped by rail from New Jersey to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The tabletop jukeboxes are originals, playing everything “from Country to Rock & Roll.” The prefabricated steel eatery is one of the last of its kind, earning it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The location of the diner, in the Denver metropolis:

(#3) Note Boulder (home of the main Univ. of Colorado campus) in the upper left; and Littleton (home of frequent contributor to this blog Bonnie Bendon Campbell and her husband Ed Campbell) at the bottom

Diners. From Wikipedia:

Considered quintessentially American, many diners share an archetypal exterior form. Some of the earliest were converted rail cars, retaining their streamlined structure and interior fittings. From the 1920s to the 1940s, diners, by then commonly known as “lunch cars”, were usually prefabricated in factories, like modern mobile homes, and delivered on site with only the utilities needing to be connected. As a result, many early diners were typically small and narrow to fit onto a rail car or truck. This small footprint also allowed them to be fitted into tiny and relatively inexpensive lots that otherwise were unable to support a larger enterprise. Diners were historically small businesses operated by the owner, with some presence of restaurant chains evolving over time.

Diners typically serve staples of American cuisine such as hamburgers, french fries, club sandwiches, and other simple, quickly cooked, and inexpensive fare, such as meatloaf or steak. Much of the food is grilled, as early diners were based around a gas-fueled flattop grill. Coffee is a diner staple. Diners often serve milkshakes and desserts such as pies, cake or ice cream. Comfort food cuisine draws heavily from, and is deeply rooted in, traditional diner fare. Along with greasy spoon menu items, many diners will serve regional cuisine as well, such as clam chowder in New England and tacos in California.

Classic American diners often have an exterior layer of stainless steel siding—a feature unique to diner architecture. In some cases, diners share nostalgic, retro-style features also found in some restored drive-ins and old movie theatres.

Classic diners are tucked into small plots in urban areas, or sprawl amidst parking lots along highways. Many are open 24 hours a day.

Syncretisms. From NOAD:

noun syncretism: 1 the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought …

Popular culture is routinely syncretic, mixing forms and styles with wild abandon; mash-ups abound. Two discussions from previous postings on this blog:

— from my 6/5/19 posting “The Chinese diner”, about amalgams of classic diners with little Chinese (that is, Cantonese-American) restaurants, in Ardmore PA, Wheeling WV, and Idaho Falls ID):

The diner and the Chinese restaurant. Two quite different items of culture, each involving a structure of a characteristic design, with a characteristic ambience and clientele, and with a characteristic menu. Both serve food, in a place that is typically of modest size, but otherwise they diverge wildly. So it’s absurd of Zippy to expect Chinese food  in a diner, just as it would be for him to expect diner food (a burger and a shake, say, with coffee, and for dessert, a slice of coconut cream pie) in a Chinese restaurant.

But of course, wherever there are separate architectural and design styles and also separate cuisines, there will, eventually, almost surely be cultural syncretisms, in both domains — some no doubt ill-conceived, but others with hybrid vigor. As it turns out, Chinese diners aren’t very common, and their syncretisms seem to be quite superficial, mostly packaging Chinese food in a diner-like space. (Similarly for Japanese diners and Korean diners.)

— from my 6/14/20 posting “Milk Duds with duck sauce chez Zippy”:

You see in these dishes [from Zippy’s McCully diner in Honolulu] massive syncretism of food practices from many different sources — Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander, Japanese, Chinese, Okinawan, American working class (note the export of chili and Spam into new cultural niches). The result is that what has come to be seen as characteristically local food is in fact extraordinarily diverse in its origins (compare, oh, New Orleans food, or Vietnamese cuisine). This is just the way food practices develop, by spread and borrowing (much as with linguistic features); ordinary people don’t care much about historical authenticity, beyond reverence for what Mama and Grandma used to cook.

Back at Davies’ Chuck Wagon in Lakewood, the menu offers some characteristically “Southwestern” items — chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy, huevos rancheros, chicken and waffles, chili, burritos — as well as some diner items from back East: an Italian sausage sandwich, Philly cheese steak. Plus standard diner fare like grilled cheese sandwiches and patty melts.

Davies’ Chuck Wagon: “the westernmost traditional diner in the country”. That’s a profoundly silly idea, first because the Chuck Wagon is so obviously syncretic — traditional in its materials and furnishings, but only in those — and then because William Lyman Davies was not the only person who fell in love with traditional diners and hoped to reproduce them along the highways going west, all the way to the end of the line, in the cities along the West Coast. In particular, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The result is a rich and complex diner culture in both places, with individual eateries cleaving to the accoutrements of traditional diners to various degrees and to the food offerings of traditional diners to various degrees. Syncretisms small and large abound, even in classic dinerdom.

Two guides to the diner culture in the two cities (well worth reading to get some sense of the enormous variation in the configurations of the diners covered (remember that SF is tiny in contrast to the gigantic sprawl that is LA)::

— from the 7×7 site, “7 Classic Diners in San Francisco” by Shoshi Parks on 8/25/22: Pork Store Cafe on Haight St., St. Francis Fountain, Art’s Cafe, Orphan Andy’s, Pinecrest Diner, Eddie’s Cafe, Chestnut Diner

On Art’s Cafe:

This Inner Sunset hole-in-the-wall is a beloved neighborhood institution. Art’s Cafe has all the hallmarks of a good diner: a long counter lined with vinyl stools, a kitchen built for efficient flapjack flipping, and a touch of nostalgia in travel postcard form. In addition to the expected breakfast and lunch fare, they also serve a handful of Korean specialties—bulgogi, dakgogi, and bibimbap — in a nod to the heritage of its Korean-American owners.

— from the Eater Los Angeles site, “19 Classic Los Angeles Greasy Spoons Every Angeleno Should Try: Breakfast classics, patty melts, chicken pot pie, and more” by the staff on 8/2/22. (Note that Googie architecture is a feature of a number of LA diners.) Two samples:

Sapp Coffee Shop [5183 Hollywood Blvd, LA] might not be a traditional American greasy spoon, but the vibe inside to the comforting food absolutely works. That’s because Sapp opens at 8 a.m. with fried egg-topped fried rice or soulful noodle soups like the famous boat noodle soup that Anthony Bourdain popularized in the late aughts.

Norm’s Restaurant [470 N La Cienega Blvd, West Hollywood]: The Googie architecture at the Norm’s on La Cienega was deemed a city treasure and saved from demolition a few years ago. For a good time, just grab a stool at the counter and dig into an affordable platter of steak and eggs.

About this Norms (which is how the diner punctuates itself), see my 1/15/15 posting “Norms”.

One Response to “Zippy theorizes, syncretically, on the comic strips”

  1. lise menn Says:

    Further west in Colorado…I hope it’s still there! – one of the best diners I’ve eaten at, with great chili, is the 19th St. Diner in Glenwood Springs, on Grand Ave heading south towards Aspen (aka Rt. 82).

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