Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Juke Joint

A few days ago I posted a photograph that I took in front of this classic 1940's style diner as Dawn and I joined the waitress for a cigarette on the front steps. You can't light up inside these days. The black and white checkered floor, red vinyl stools and booths, lots of shiny stainless steel all screamed "Classic Diner!" The final touch of authenticity was the juke box. All that was missing were ash trays and a cigarette machine.

Once a fixture in diners and coffee shops, yes, bars too, juke boxes defined an era. A hit song in 1950 was "Music! Music! Music! (Put Another Nickel In)". The opening line was "Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon". A nickle would get you a song, a quarter would buy six, and probably last you through a leisurely breakfast or a harried lunch. When I was really young they played 10 inch 78 RPM records, but with the introduction of 7 inch diameter 45 RPM records the machines could be made smaller and hold a larger selection. The price per play soon jumped to a dime each, three for a quarter, but what the hell, coffee was no longer a nickel either. First it doubled to a dime, then floated up to a quarter where it stayed for quite a few years.

Eventually remote selectors were at every booth, connected to the juke box by wires. You no longer had to get up to spend your money, but the experience wasn't the same. The sound quality from almost hi-fidelity speakers on the wall was much better but the fancy chrome machine with its brightly colored neon tubes had been replaced by an automated tape deck and amplifier hidden somewhere in the back. These days most places just PLAY music, no charge. These days the cigarette machines are just a memory also. I sure wish they'd give out cigarettes no charge.

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A bit of history about diners can be found here: http://www.dinermuseum.org/dinerhistory.php

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