Finding Food in the Fifth Dimension: A TZ Diner Tour
If someone suggested taking a trip to the Twilight Zone, even the most diehard fan would hesitate. You mean that distorted landscape inhabited by pig-faced people, hungry aliens, and homicidal dolls? Um, hard pass on that idea.
Hold on, though. What if your trip was limited to one of the fifth dimension’s eating establishments? That’s right, I’m talking about that culinary mainstay of mid-20th century cuisine: the good ol’ American diner.
After all, The Twilight Zone began with one. The first shot of the pilot episode, “Where is Everybody?”, shows Mike Ferris walking along a dirt road. His first stop? An unnamed café.
Just check out that interior design. It screams classic, unassuming diner. I can smell the coffee and bacon already.
Naturally, there are fresh pies. A diner without pies is like a Twilight Zone episode without a twist ending.
But although it all looks inviting, the jukebox is loaded with peppy tunes, and Mike has $2.85 to spend (at a time when coffee cost 10 cents a cup), the service and the company at the “Cafe” leaves something to be desired. So let’s diner-crawl to a place all TZ fans know and love: the Busy Bee from “Nick of Time”.
Bacon, eggs, hot cakes and coffee for 70 cents? That’s about $6 when you convert it to 2020 dollars, but still, I’ll take it. :)
Is there a jukebox? Of course! Complete with celebratory music when you find out you got that big promotion. The iced coffee flows freely, and the menu is stocked with vintage diner fare. And the proprietor doesn’t even need a cash register: He can rattle off an itemized tab any time you like, apparently.
He is pushing that chicken-fried steak pretty hard, though. I’m sure it’s delicious, but learn to take no for an answer, hmm? And the drinking water, according to one of our patrons, “tastes like it was siphoned out of a swamp.” Plus, yes, those fortune-telling napkin holders look pretty neat, but things can take an eerie turn if you feed them too many pennies.
So let’s head over to a diner that even most big TZ fans have likely forgotten about: the Happy Daze Cafe from “The Prime Mover”.
Complete with chairs out front to relax in while you polish off one of those cold beers! But if you’re not a drinker, no problem: you’ll find coffee and donuts for 20 cents, and homemade apple pie for 15 cents a slice. Want it à la mode? 35 cents, please.
The Happy Daze has more than coffee, dessert and booze, though. There are 60-cent buttermilk hot cakes for sale (with a side of ham or bacon for 25 cents extra), as well as a roast beef dinner for $1.25. And, hmm, a calendar from December 1955, which would have been about five years out of date then. But hey, this doesn’t look like a place for the in-a-hurry crowd, so we’ll let that slide.
No fortune-telling napkin holders, though. But if you’re in a gambling frame of mind, maybe you could feed some change into the Happy Daze’s own slot machine. Hmm, that one-armed bandit looks awfully familiar …
Whoa, wasn’t he last seen croaking “Frannnkkklin!” over the body of … *ahem* Okay. Let’s move on. O_o
Our next stop is Joe’s Airflite Cafe and Gas Station from “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim”.
The perfect spot when the ol’ gas tank is getting low and your stomach is growling as you drive across the desert … or when you’ve just crossed some mysterious time-space barrier in search of medicine for your sick son.
I’m guessing the waffles are a house specialty, given the way they’ve got it written above the door. And hey, don’t let the fact that Joe greets you with sunglasses, a cool attitude, and a jaunty cowboy hat throw you off. He’s a nice guy.
What else is on the menu? How about some beer, sandwiches, and burgers?
Or some chili? It might also interest you to know they’ll serve breakfast items “any-time”.
Counter, sir, or booth? Here, enjoy some water, which, I’m glad to say, was not siphoned out of a nearby swamp. And if you don’t want to let go of your old rifle, hey, that’s cool … we’ve got an open-carry policy around here.
Notice the hot-cakes sign in the background? Same as the one in the Happy Daze.
The calendar on the wall, however, is from the then-current year of 1961. Good thing, too, so Mr. Horn — a very confused refugee from 1847 — would know exactly how far forward in time he’s come. Say … a roast beef dinner for $1.25? Coffee and donuts for 20 cents? This couple has clearly ordered from the same supply catalog as the Happy Daze!
Of course there’s a jukebox and 15-cent apple pie available. You want it à la mode for an extra … that’s right, 20 cents. How’d you know?
Time for one final stop on our tour of inter-dimensional diners. It’s the one place that rivals the Busy Bee in TZ restaurant lore. That’s right, I’m talking about the Hi-Way Cafe from “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
Virtually all of the action in this episode takes place in this one location — and believe me, if you like diners, you’ll like the Hi-Way. The jukebox and payphone are right inside the door.
You can wet your whistle with a 10-cent cola or root beer, enjoy some ice cream for a quarter, or have a 35-cent malt or milkshake. Hungry? There’s a 60-cent cheeseburger, a 55-cent ham sandwich, a 40-cent cheese sandwich, or a bowl of chili for 60 cents. Or maybe you’re in the mood for breakfast? An order of waffles is yours for 30 cents.
Hmm, I’m also seeing some familiar signage here as well for pie and hot cakes. But there’s a new one for ham, eggs, toast, and coffee for 75 cents, and one announcing “beef stew to-day!” Oh, and you can forget about cashing a check or asking for credit.
But what, you may ask, if I want coffee and donuts? Or a roast beef dinner? No worries. Haley, your Venusian counterman, has you covered, and for the same reasonable prices you’ll pay at the Happy Daze or the Airflite.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tempting tour of fifth-dimensional diners. And hey, if you’ve already had dinner, and you’re out for a walk, and an ice-cream soda would hit the spot, how about old man Wilson’s drug store? Three scoops for only a dime …
It’s not a diner, no. But chances are, you’ll be very glad you came.
For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post.
Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 07/17/2020, in Twilight Zone and tagged A Hundred Yards Over the Rim, Nick of Time, The Prime Mover, Twilight Zone, Walking Distance, Where Is Everybody?, Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.