Category Archives: Diners

The Story of the Skylark, Robbie the Robot, Uncle George & that Gypsy Smell Foretold


I’m going to explore why diners fascinate me so much. They’ve inspired me since childhood. Their ambiance elicits a delicious blend of sweet nostalgia, tasty food, classic sci-fi, trains, jukeboxes, checkerboard floors, chrome plated, red-topped, swivel stools, mystery noir, neon, Cokes, malts, coffee, cigarettes, and writing.

Topping my list are the Skylark Diner in Vestal, NY and Mickey’s Diner in St. Paul, MN. The Skylark, founded in 1956, was our entire family’s favorite diner, too. Often, I’d be accompanied by Dad, Mom sometimes, Uncle Bobby, Auntie Sara, and later in life, my wife Thyme when we were in town. I loved the town I grew up in. The Skylark is one of those treasures that has withstood the march of time.

A treasure lost is the old Vestal Theater across the street. The same year the Skylark was established, the first movie I ever remember seeing came out. It was the early sci-fi flick, The Forbidden Planet, featuring Robbie the Robot. I fell asleep in the car on the way home, and was still dreaming about Robbie when Mom and Dad carried me up to my bed and tucked me in.


You can go to the Skylark website (below) and in their photo album is a picture of the old theater. Here’s a clue. In the photo of the old Skylark logo, the movie theater’s just to the right of the the Star Cleaners. Let me know if you find it or if you have any memories about the Vestal Theater.

Thyme has also been with me every time I’ve visited Mickey’s, made famous by Garrison Keillor in his Prairie Home Companion movie. My most recent visit there was after attending a concert by Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. More on Mickey’s in a future blog.

My memories of the Skylark food mostly entail eggs over easy, hash browns, triangles of buttered toast and strawberry jelly, ham, OJ, and a bottomless cup of coffee. Served up on the classic blue-striped, white enamel dinnerware with matching cup—diner Nirvana.

We met there during our last visit to Vestal before Mom and Dad moved to Arizona—the next to the last Christmas of the 20th century. Auntie Sara, matron of the local clan, held position at the head of the table. And, you know, that was okay. She was one of my two favorite aunts. I delighted in hiking over the hill from Echo Road, where we lived, to her house on Torrance Avenue.

There were a couple of times I even stayed at the house overnight. Auntie Sara made up a bed for me in the basement. I remember one night reading the entirety of the children’s book Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars. I think that was my first foray into a science fiction chapter book. Quite different from the Flash Gordon comics and TV show I dug so much.

Another time I stayed there, I built a plastic model plane, a Piper Tri-Pacer, and it turned out pretty good—until I painted it. All I had for paints were green and gray—blech! When I took a flying lesson at Tri-Cities Airport as a teen, I flew over her house. Man, the look on her face when I told her about it. She was nearly as excited as I was.

It was at her Torrance Avenue house that we celebrated my great-grandfather, Uncle George’s, 90th birthday. The “9” and “0” stuck into the top of the cake reminded me of a pair of scissors. Some of this will be coming out in a future novel, especially the part about Uncle George lounging in the back seat of his Buick, decreasing the rat population with his .22. It’s nearly done, and shines an historical spotlight on my eccentric Uncle George Larrabee. He was a quirky inventor and Tom Watson’s tool-and-die man in the early days of IBM. I don’t know if Uncle George ever frequented the Skylark. I’ll have to ask someone in the family before anyone who could remember forgets it. If you’re curious why I called my great-grandfather Uncle George, you’ll discover why when you read the book.

Uncle George

The last time I saw Auntie Sara was after Dad’s memorial service in 2003. She was well into her nineties by then, and in the hospital. I’d never seen anyone look so stately in the hospital before, but she pulled it off.

Next time I’m back in Vestal, I am paying a special visit to the Skylark to report on their cheeseburger, curly fries, and chocolate malt.

I think it was in the fall of 1991, about a year before I moved to Minnesota, that I experienced the quintessential diner hamburger. I was riding home with the president of GTE’s New England Division from a visit to the Northeast Division headquarters in Johnstown, New York. It was an excellent fall day, and halfway through Vermont on our way back to Concord, New Hampshire, we spotted a fine diner.

“Hungry?” Chuck chimed.

My drool machine went into overdrive. “Sounds good to me,” I replied, attempting to be cool and nonchalant about the possibility.

The heavenly smell of hamburgers on the grill greeted us as we opened the diner door. I felt set up like I was having my fortune told. “You shall meet the hamburger of your dreams,” the Gypsy smell foretold.

And the prophecy was fulfilled at that diner. But the quest to repeat the experience continues to this very day. More next week.

Please share your own out-of-this-world dining adventures with us!


More on the Skylark Diner

More about Space Larrabee: I was made manifest in a book called By the Time I Got to Woodstock—or Space Meets Thyme in the Shadow of Atlantis. I am Space Larrabee, and in Lunch on the Moon I share tasty delicacies I’ve found in the experiential arts. Join me every week or so and share your experiences, too!

Have A Seat. Join Us for Lunch on the Moon

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You know, we’re funny. For time untold, mankind has sat on earth dreaming about the moon. Forty-six years ago, man finally set foot on its surface, helping us get a much clearer picture of what it’s like to actually be there and see ourselves on this beautiful, big blue marble from afar.
Let’s do that! Imagine we’re sitting in a diner on the moon and our table is outfitted with a telescope in addition to the remote jukebox. When we point the telescope at the earth, we can manifest who or what we see in the diner with us.
This is our intent with Lunch on the Moon, to invite creative people with great stories, inspiring visual arts, and music too share what inspires and moves them, and if they wish, their favorite dining experience.
Despite all of the jokes about restaurants on the moon having no atmosphere, Lunch on the Moon has plenty. And it has since I started frequenting it. There was a time I didn’t know it existed. It never came to mind. But once it did, in an inspired flash, I was hooked. I must confess that I never existed before I came to mind either, since I am a fiction.
Aren’t we all?
I’m not going to go waxing philosophic on the nature of existence. But we are who we believe ourselves to be. And though you may not be able to see, touch, smell, or punch my physical body, you can still hear me. Eventually you’ll be able to see me in your mind’s eye. Plus you’ll be able to physically experience some of what we’ll be sharing with you.
I was made manifest in a book called By the Time I Got to Woodstock—or Space Meets Thyme in the Shadow of Atlantis. I am Space Larrabee, and from here on, I’ll be sharing tasty delicacies I’ve experienced in the experiential arts.
Now that we are launched, you’re welcome to get lunch and join me every Wednesday at noon. I’ll be sharing stories of diner experiences, authors, musicians, artists, and filmmakers. In other words, creative, inspirational people I either met (thru my doppelganger D. E. Munson) or whose creations I admire. Not to mention favorite diner experiences.
I will be sharing some of my own adventures. Hopefully together we’ll be learning a bit more about life, the universe, and everything.
Sound like fun?
Let’s go!

The first lunch on the moon
Setting aside any antediluvian or superannuated alien cultures that may have inhabited the moon, the first lunch enjoyed on the moon was . . . Well, I’ll get to that in the moment.
Anyone alive at that time will remember the first time man set foot on the moon. As recorded in the aforementioned book, I’d just returned home after an ultra strange month living in Atlantic City with my best friend Frodo and a couple of other roommates.
Before I left Piper College I daydreamed of watching America’s historic moon landing in the great room of the Piper student union building.
That day was coming up soon, and I’d made no plans. I didn’t even know how I would get there. I think it was Saturday, July 12 when I got Frodo’s excited call. “Hey Space, I just found the perfect car for you!”
“Geez Frodo, I don’t even have my license yet.”
“You don’t need your license to just check it out, Space. Look, this is a great deal . . .”
“What’s the car? How much?”
“It’s a 1962 MGA. It has red leather interior and a walnut dash. It’s only $500, man! ”
My first car . . . a sports car? I wondered. But then this could be my ticket to Williamsport.
When we approached the seller’s driveway on Hayes Avenue in Endicott, New York, there it sat, black and beautiful. The evening sunlight bounced off the chrome grill and bumpers. Red leather bucket seats accented the fancy walnut-wrapped instrument cluster. O my God, I thought when I finally got the keys and fired up the English engine. This is like flying a Spitfire!
A week later, on Saturday, July 19, I was zipping down route 220, lost in thought and anticipation, and it struck me, I better slow down. Here I am driving a 250 mile road trip on a learners permit!
Apollo 11 made its spectacular launch from Cape Canaveral that Wednesday, July 16. The moon landing would be on Sunday, July 20, at 3:17 PM. Soon enough, we pulled up in front of the Piper College student union building and parked. The snack bar was still open, so we each got a hotdog, Coke, and a big basket of fries — the best. “Tomorrow I’ll treat you to a Cosmo at the Hilltop Sub Shop,” I told Frodo.
“You think that will make up for dragging me down here?”
“You’ll see.”
Next day, as 3:17 PM approached, we gathered around the console TV in the Northeast point of the giant compass inset in the tile floor of the great room. The crowd included Frodo, Preacher, Gretel, Marcus, and me.
At North was the big fireplace. At Southeast, the couch where I met Odetta and Josh White Jr. after they’d performed at the school.
Before us sat the large black and white Motorola TV in a mahogany cabinet. On the silver screen, NASA Mission Control announced, “We now have a live transmission from the LEM, that’s the lunar excursion module . . .” The television screen went black, then the horizon of the moon appeared on the lower right. It slowly filled the right side of the screen, cut off at a roughly 45-degree angle, which was the edge of the LEM’s window. The moon’s surface now filled half the screen, small craters growing larger, and moving out of the picture.
Walter Cronkite said, “The Eagle has begun its descent to the surface of the moon, to the sea of tranquility.”
Audio feed trickled in from the LEM, “60 seconds . . . lights on . . . 30 feet down . . . Two and a half down . . . Four forward . . . Drifting to the right a little . . . 30 seconds.”
Rays of light cut through a swirl of dust disturbed by the Eagle’s engines.
“Contact light . . . Okay . . . Engine stop . . .
“Tranquility Base here . . . The Eagle has landed.”
“Roger Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
Our unified cheer echoed throughout the huge room, filling it with a joy and hope that mankind seldom experiences. Walter Cronkite, overwhelmed, shook his head and removed his horn-rimmed glasses. He wiped the tears welling in his eyes. Then, after replacing his glasses, he rested his elbows on the desk. Rubbing his palms together, he issued his immortal words, “Whew . . . Boy!”
The moment could not have been more eloquent. We wept with him.
But in the interim before Neil Armstrong made his historic footprint in the dust, Buzz Aldrin had a breakfast of bread and wine– communion.
This communion was not broadcast, and it was not an oversight on the part of NASA. They were still reeling from a lawsuit brought as a result of the Apollo 8 crew’s reading of Genesis. The experience was originally meaningful for Buzz, but even he admits in his memoir that, had he the opportunity to do it over again, he wouldn’t.. “Apollo 11 came to the moon in the name of all mankind,” he said.
Now, lunch is in another matter. Would you imagine they had a cheeseburger, shake, and fries? Well, we can imagine it here, but the reality they faced was a different story. Hamburger buns are banned because of potential crumb casualties. The same with fries and salt.
Maybe they could’ve gotten away with the shake, since it would be pretty well contained. But who’d want a warm milkshake? Oh, they didn’t have freeze-dried ice cream, either.
To quell their lunchtime tummy rumble, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first lunch on the moon was–drum roll please–gelatin-coated bacon squares, peaches, strawberry cubes, and the choice of orange or grape drink. Yum!
Now, onward and upward.
Join us next Wednesday at noon Central Time for the next Lunch on the Moon!
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