Philosophically speaking, the transition from glove compartment trays to cup Holders is an example of how our culture has changed over the last 50 or more years. The use of Cup holders reflect how we consume beverages in our cars or trucks today, as opposed to the way we consumed food in our vehicles during the ’50s and ’60s in particular.
Picture a balmy summer evening in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. A couple in their mid teens are out on their first date. Robert, 17 has borrowed his dad’s ’52 Olds 88 four door sedan for the evening. After the movie they decide to go for something to eat at the local drive-in restaurant. They park their car at the curb between a two tone yellow and black ’56 Chev Bel Air 2 door hard top. The teen-aged couple in the Bel Air sit snuggled up to each other. Meanwhile across from them, in a red and white ’58 Plymouth Sport Suburban station wagon mom and dad are trying to restrain their 3 kids from killing each other in the back seat. Robert turns the lights on and a pretty carhop emerges from the small Building. She smiles and takes down the order. Minutes later she returns with a tray of two foil wrapped burgers, some hot fries with ketchup and a couple of tall frothy root beers, and hangs the tray on the driver’s door window. Robert pays for the order Stella opens the glove compartment door and Bob passes her the two cold rootbeers to put on the tray. As they consume their order, they engage in lively conversation about the important things in life like . . . the upcoming chemistry exam, personal conflicts with teachers class and the large project that needs to be completed before school ends for the year. By the time their discussion turned to the senior boys volleyball team being second in the regional standings, their had finished their meal. Robert pulled out the light switch once again and within a minute the same blonde carhop came out to pick up the tray, pausing to ask how everything was. Before leaving, Bob and Stella noticed their friends Mark and Rhonda, just arriving in Mark’s ’48 Ford Tudor. They stopped to chat before leaving to cruise downtown. . . .
This scene depicts a typical ’50s and early ’60s scenario on a Friday or Saturday night. That carefree and innocent era, as immortalized by the movie “American Graffiti”, is unfortunately gone forever. Those who experienced that period in history, while they were in their teens and early ‘20s will no doubt claim it was the best time of their lives. Those people may be right. Although, for the most part, the nice part about our memories is that we tend to retain memories of the good times and stuff the bad ones back into the darkest recesses of our brains.
The idea of drive-in restaurants did not begin in the 1950s, as some believe, although they reached their height in popularity during that decade. While it is true that in Canada, A&W established their first franchise with operators, Dick Bolte and Orval Helwege in 1956 on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, the original company began in Lodi California in 1919, although not the first drive-in (the first drive-in restaurant in North America opened in 1911) Roy Allen and Frank Wright opened a sidewalk stand offering a creamy beverage called A&W Root Beer. Capitalizing on the popularity of the automobile, they introduced their first “drive-in service”, inviting customers to pull off the road, park and enjoy their delicious new drink. As a result sales soared and the fast food business was born.
Other franchise drive-in restaurants like “Tastee Freeze” and “Dog ‘n Suds” were also getting in on these new phenomena. Mom and Pop operations were typical in most large towns or cities in North America, and were popular hangouts. The “Baby Boomers”, those born between 1946 and 1964, forming the largest single segment in our population, have had a profound influence on marketing everything from pre-formulated baby food, toys to fads like hula hoops. This group was now beginning to exercise their purchasing power. Fast food was quickly becoming the teen’s staple diet.
The novelty of drive-ins began to fade by the mid ’70s and restaurants like A&W had to change their marketing strategies in the face of stiff competition from multinational fast food chains. That meant closing down drive-in restaurants and opening new restaurants in shopping centers. This change in philosophy has spurned new growth for companies like A&W. Businesses have to go where the people are, as opposed to having customers coming to businesses, as in the case of drive-in restaurants.Now, instead of parking your car and waiting for service, you drive up to a menu board, order the food items you want by speaking into a microphone and drive on to pick up the bag at the take-out window. You drive off, munching on the run.
Because of this change in consumerism, the glove compartment in newer vehicles no longer contain a beverage tray. Instead, there are cup Holders front and back to secure your hot or cold drink while you are traveling to work, school or making that first sales call of the day. Forty years ago, hardly any mention, if any, was made about glove compartment trays in the auto ad brochures. Car manufacturers in North America pretty well accepted the fact that the majority of the customers buying their products would eat in drive-in restaurants and watch movies in drive-in theaters. They made sure their popular models had beverage trays in their glove compartments, just as the public demands cup holders in the cars we drive today.Just look at today’s automotive reports and you will see cupholders mentioned in the same sentence as leather seating and climate control. Indeed, the more cup holders a vehicle has, the more appealing it is to the consumer.
Indeed, all is not rosy in cup holderdom! With the multitude of types and array of styles of cupholders being offered in virtually all of today’s cars, there is a tendency with some top heavy coffee and soft drink mugs to tip over as drivers negotiate those sharp corners, come to sudden stops or hit those unexpected bumps in the road. The contents of those super mugs or especially tall containers tend to topple and spill on that twisted wool carpet, on those fancy cloth seats or worse still, on that expensive business suit. This can lead to a lot of anger and frustration. These are emotions that aren’t a great beginning to your work day. However, help is here, thankfully, with after market products that help you secure your mugs in their rightful places. You can check them out on the internet when you search for “cup holders. ”
I will leave you with this final question. Where are we heading? What is the next car culture phenomenon? Will cars be equipped with computer games? for the kids (there are already video displays on some mini-vans), or built-in hands free telephones so you don’t have to be distracted when driving using your regular cellular phone? Probably. If they aren’t on the drawing board, they will be offered in the not too distant future. And what about that aged old phenomenon . . .the Drive-in Restaurant? Is it indeed doomed to oblivion, like the finned cars of the ’50s? Well, yes and no.
Although some former drive-in restaurants have been changed to drive-thru restaurants, there are a few drive-ins around, mostly in the eastern U.S. The “Dog ‘n Suds” restaurant chain is still alive and well and believe it or not, more drive-ins in this franchise are slated to be built in the future. One of the oldest surviving examples of that chain is in Montague, Michigan where the tradition has passed on to the next generation. You can still get the same food, hear the same rock ‘n roll on the jukebox and get that personal service from the kitchen to your car. Another is The “Skyway Drive-In in Akron, Ohio which has been an institution in the western part of that city since 1952. Skyway’s argument for the drive-in concept is that less land is required than having to build a restaurant for patrons to dine in.
As our pace in life switches gears to an ever increasing break neck speed, civilization may recognize and therefore appreciate the more relaxed, friendly and easy going pace of days gone by, where stopping to have a bite to eat in your car may be a better idea than rushing down the road with a doughnut in one hand and a coffee in another. Who knows, we may see the return to those less stressful, more carefee times of the ’50s. But wait! Recently I had a look at a new 2002 Volkswagen Jetta. I opened the glove compartment, and no, can it be? Yes, a tray for two cups! Does the manufacturer know something I don’t know? Is the Drive-in Restaurant going to make a resurgence in our current society?
Well then . . .I’ll have a large rootbeer, a Mongo burger with pickles, and hot mustard and a large order of those special onion rings,. . and if its not too much to ask,. . would you please bring the order out to my car