A Drive in the Country

Today we went on a little road trip, just because it was a nice day. A coworker with a common interest in old diners recommended the Agawam Diner in Rowley, MA. It was reported to be worth a trip, both as a well-preserved dining-car diner and for decent diner food. It also happened to be not far down the road from the Clam Box of Ipswich, which I’d also been wanting to try.

We drove up Route 1, past such local landmarks as the Hilltop, Kowloon, The leaning tower of pizza, and the orange mini-golf dinosaur. We stopped at the site of the defunct Bel-Aire diner, sadly closed and abandoned (for at least four years now, according to Google searching). Vines were visible growing inside the vestibule. Perhaps some venturesome and wealthy patron will someday find the funds to relocate this classic 1950s-vintage diner to a location where it would do enough business to stay open. Nearby we counted two or three boarded-up motels, including one directly across the street. Two local strip clubs had full parking lots, though.

The Agawam Diner has had the good fortune to escape this end, though it is the last of what was once a chain of four. In fact, when we got there, the place was packed, so we decided to keep driving and go by the Clam Box. The Clam Box had a line out the door and down the block a ways. As much as I like fried clams, I’m not up for long lines.

So what is there to do in Ipswich besides eat? Antique shops. And flea markets. And more antique shops, really, as far as the eye can see. So we se a sign for a flea market, and go in.

Find #1: An Argus AF 35mm camera in decent condition. Five bucks, with an intact leather case. Not a steal really: five bucks is about what the camera is worth. This camera dates from around 1937, but the Argus was the first relatively inexpensive (a list price of $15, compared to, say, a Kodak Retina I at $57) 35 mm camera made in the US, and it was pretty popular in its day. Used Arguses (Argi?) are still abundant and commonly found gathering dust in antique stores and flea markets. So I hardly need to buy this camera. But as I say, it does seem to be well-preserved example. The shutter and focusing mechanism seem to be working okay, and the glass is clear. And it is kind of a funky 1930s art-deco bakelite artifact. So what the hell, another toy to play with. I’ve got some FP4 in a bulk loader–I can make up a short roll to test.

As I go to the table to pay, the guy says, “Do you know anything about cameras?” I’m wearing my “Got Film?” T-shirt and carrying my Nikon F2, so I say, “yeah, a little.” He’s just happy to get rid of the thing.

Find #2: We go down the road a ways to check out more antique stores. At one, I find two boxes of #25 flashbulbs, each with a dozen bulbs. Twelve white and Twelve blue. The blue bulbs have a better balance for color film. Judging by the packaging, I’d guess these are late-60s vintage bulbs. The box gives times for two versions of Kodachrome discontinued in 1974, so before then, anyway. Original sticker price: $2.59. My price: $5 per box. Press 25 bulbs fit the flash tube for my Speed Graphic, so I can use them as soon as I finish rigging up the shield. I have found a clip-on diffuser that fit, so all I need is something to keep the glass shards contained. One of the dangers of using 40+ year-old flash bulbs is the occasional burst bulb. The bulbs are actually plastic-coated to prevent shattering, but the coating can fail.
I discovered this by direct experience.

We did get back to the Agawam diner for dinner. And indeed, the Agawam is very well maintained. Nice chrome exterior, nonworking jukebox selectors at the booths, Formica counters. It was busy, but we snagged seats at the counter with no waiting. I actually like being at the counter at a diner, especially a curved counter. You can watch what’s going on behind from there. We’re sitting next to the dessert station, mainly various types of meringue and cream pies, fairly usual diner offerings, along with some fruit pies. At one point I watch a waitress do a fairly sloppy job of slicing a blueberry pie, mashing it so the filling runs out all over the pie tin.

After spending the day driving around and seeing signs for clams every hundred yards or so, I give in to suggestion and order the clam roll. Not the strips; whole clams. And these were definitely whole, with necks. Some places cut the siphons because they can be kinda chewy, but some places leave them on. I’m okay with that. Strips are usually made from sea clams, not shore clams. They’re cheaper, but I don’t think you get a good clam flavor unless you have whole clams. The batter was decent–not quite as crisp and light as you’d get at a good clam shack, but okay–not too thick or crunchy, a frequent failing. The roll is industrial-grade hot dog roll, but toasted in butter. Fries and cole slaw. I don’t eat the cole slaw.

I decide on what seems a safe choice for dessert–chocolate cake. And it’s actually okay, better than I was expecting, though there was a white-frosting filling that was less than good. On the whole, a satisfactory diner experience.

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