Pleasures of Roadside Dining

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jan 15, 2011

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
Marcel Proust

Ever since Evie and I were first married, we have enjoyed every part of the journey of life. Sure, the destinations mattered, but whether we were traveling between countries, counties or cities, we have always enjoyed the journey. 

On one of those journeys between Cumberland, MD and Carlisle, PA we chose the colorful meandering back roads over the easier and straighter interstate highways. And that was when around lunchtime we drove into McConnellsburg, PA. 

As the county seat of Fulton County, just over a thousand people call McConnellsburg home. Slowly we drove down Main Street through the historic district looking for a place to eat. And that was when we came upon Johnnie's Diner. 

Inside, a young waitress in her early 20's showed us to a booth. After we ordered our lunch (mine was a BLT on toasted rye; Evie ordered an open faced roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy) we just had to stop, look and listen. 

Three construction workers enjoyed the homemade bean soup. Two elderly women talked to each other and for part of their lunch one of them talked freely on a cell phone. A white haired man sat alone reading the newspaper. 

Scotch taped to the wall of our booth just above the flower-covered sugar packet container was the number "7." To our left was an empty salad bar labeled "Super Bar" with two signs: "Take all you want but please eat all you take" and "You abuse the bar you will be charged extra! Thank you! Management." 

In a conversation behind us we heard a patron say to our waitress, "When is your baby due?" to which she replied, "January." We also heard her address the cook as "Mom." 

By that time we knew we were in the middle of the wonderful culture of a small American town. As we went to pay our bill I couldn't help but notice the eight ice cream flavors hastily written on a green poster taped to the wall. A whiteboard propped on a shelf listed the lunch special. Eleven low stools were lined up along the counter. 

Next to the cash register was a rack with a copy of the Thursday weekly edition of The Fulton County News in its "110th year, No. 38." A "Public Auction" poster was taped next to a "missing poster" for Devln Heliniehman. 

Johnnie's Diner must occasionally have challenging customers because behind the cash register were the signs "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." And next to it were these words, "No foul language will be tolerated with our employees or any disruptions, you will be asked to leave." We must have passed the test because as we walked outside our waitress said, "Come back again." 

But it was the sign outside that really caught my eye. There on the siding was a historic marker identifying the "Lincoln Highway - Heritage Corridor" with the caption "Pleasures of Roadside Dining." These words followed: 

Located at the fork of Route 16 and "The Lincoln Way - the Road Without Toll," Johnnie's Motel was built to serve the many motorists passing through McConnellsburg. The motel neon sign advertises "rooms with private showers." Business prospered at the diner and motel as travelers needed not only good food, but a place to rest their heads. These types of rest stops became popular all along the Lincoln Highway. The diner's home-cooked meals continue to be a draw. 

How surprised we were to learn that Johnnie's Diner at 709 Lincoln Way East was located on the famous Lincoln Highway, the first road spanning across the United States through 14 states, 128 counties, and over 700 cities, towns and villages for 3,389 miles beginning in 1913. Today, Interstate 80... is considered the grandson of the Lincoln Highway. 

Once again we learned that day to always enjoy the journey. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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