Friday, September 4, 2015

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks – "Traffic Jam" (1971)

Traffic jam – I'm in a hurry
Why we're going so slow, I'll never know

Traffic jams are a way of life for those of us who live on the East Coast.

The I-95 corridor between Washington and Boston is 500 miles of potential road rage – you never know exactly where a traffic jam will bring your progress to a halt, but you know it will happen sooner or later.

I-95 traffic jam
During my recent Cape Cod vacation, I had occasion to drive from the Cape to central Maine.  ("I had occasion to" – ?  Who the hell do I think I am, Ford Madox Ford?  Evelyn Waugh?)

I barely got over the Sagamore Bridge before running into stop-and-go traffic on the highway to Boston.  The congestion continued off and on all the way through Beantown, finally easing once I was well north of the city.

So there I was, minding my own business, driving north on Route 1 through the nondescript blue-collar suburb of Saugus, and suddenly I see this enormous sign looming over the highway:

All that remains of the Hilltop Steak House
The Hilltop Steak House, which opened for business in 1961, closed for good in 2013.  The building was demolished recently to make way for a new development, but the 68-foot-high sign is going to be preserved.  

According to the New York Times, the Hilltop was the busiest restaurant in the United States 25 years ago.  It served 2.4 million customers a year and grossed $27 million.

In a typical week, the Hilltop served 3500 pounds of butter, 8000 pounds of fish, 14,500 pounds of salad, 17,500 pounds of baked potatoes, and 20,500 pounds of beef.

Frank Giuffrida founded the Hilltop in 1961
Click here to read a long magazine story about the Hilltop Steak House by a man whose father bought it from its original owner.

Not far away from the Hilltop was Weylu's, a 1500-seat Chinese restaurant that featured hand-painted Chinese vases, marble lions, and an indoor waterfall.  Chinese immigrants Rick and Wilma Chang spent $13 million to build it in 1989, but their bank foreclosed on it ten years later.  

New owners reopened the restaurant on three separate occasions since then, but all three of those owners eventually went belly up.  Today the building sits empty on a hilltop that looms over Route 1. 

The entrance to Weylu's
Saugus is also home to the Prince Pizzeria, which seats 700 and also houses Giggles Comedy Club. 

Prince's "Leaning Tower of Pizza" is another Route 1 landmark:

"The Leaning Tower of Pizza"
Freeport, Maine – my ultimate destination – turned out to be a match for Saugus when it came to roadside weirdness.

Freeport is the home of legendary retailer L. L. Bean, which started selling its distinctive "Maine Hunting Shoe" – also known as the "Bean Boot" – in 1912.  A large "Bean Boot" stands outside the main entrance to Bean's flagship store in Freeport:

Big-ass Bean Boot
When I was in Freeport, the L. L. Bean Bootmobile just happened to be parked in front of the Bean store.

The Bean "Bootmobile" in Chicago
Just south of Freeport is a 30-foot-high Indian statue known locally as the "Freeport Big Indian."  It was constructed in Pennsylvania from fiberglass and plywood in 1969, and driven to Maine on a flatbed trailer.

The "Freeport Big Indian"
I can only imagine the rubbernecking that must have resulted as that flatbed truck travelled up the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95.  Talk about your traffic jams!

In 1965, Dan Hicks became the drummer of the Charlatans, a legendary "San Francisco Sound" group.  A couple of years later, he switched from drums to guitar, and then left the band to form Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.  

"Traffic Jam" was released in 1971 on the Where's the Money album, which has been one of my favorites since I was a college student.

Here's how Hicks later described his music:

It starts out with kind of a folk music sound, and we add a jazz beat and solos and singing.  We have the two girls that sing, and jazz violin, and all that, so it's kind of light in nature, it's not loud. . . .  Most of the songs are, I wouldn't say funny, but kinda maybe a little humorous.  We all like jazz, so we like to play in a jazzy way, with a swing sound you know, so I call it "folk swing."  

Here's "Traffic Jam":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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