Now, let me start by admitting that this was a total drive-by shooting. Really. No time to stop the car and get out and compose something that looks like an actual photograph. But when we passed this crumbling, tile-facade hamburger joint … because what else could it be with a name like Wympee … I knew I had to have this image. It is so iconic of a fading era in America.
One of the things I love about traveling is seeing places that don’t look like where you live. Wympee happens to be in Dayton, OH, where I’m attending the Cirrus Owners and Pilot’s Association meeting … not because I own a Cirrus, more’s the pity, but because I’m here working for Aero-TV and the Aero-News network … which does. But having grown up in the Midwest, about 90-100 miles southwest of where I am now, it does seem at the same time foreign, and familiar.
Where I live now in Florida, there is very little of the old architecture like you see behind the Wympee, though the restaurant its self probably would be right at home in some little beach town. But I’m certain there was a time when Wympee was THE spot to be in this neighborhood. If the walls and booths and counter could talk, the stories they could tell would, I’m sure, be mundane and fascinating at the same time. How many first dates, how many high-school breakups, how many families looking for an economic meal for the kids. I remember when the first “fast food” place opened up in Bedford, IN, when I was a kid. The Satellite Burger, not because there was any connection to the space program where we were in south central Indiana, but because it was the height of the space race, and you could draw a crowd with anything tagged with “Satellite.” There was a large, almost Disney-like moving thing out in the parking lot which I’m sure was supposed to look like a satellite or a solar system or an atom or something. Which leads me to believe it was a franchise of some kind, though I never saw another one.
The Satellite Burger is long gone. It looks as if Wympee made it a lot longer, and for all I know, it’s not that old. But now, Wympee stands near the Dayton convention center, vacant, weeds growing up through the cracks in the sidewalk and driveway, a “for lease” sign in the window.
The entrepreneur might look at it and see a cool space for some funky restaurant that, with the right menu, might attract a crowd and a visit from “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” And as we went off to another dinner at a national chain restaurant where the food always has a barely satisfactory same-ness but is never anything to write home about, I thought about how much fun it would be to pull up to the counter at Wympee and see how the burgers might be. Maybe atrocious, or maybe the best burger you ever had that your dad didn’t grill at the lake. But every day, there are fewer and fewer Wympees and more and more ubiqui-foods. And honestly, I think we’re a bit poorer for the loss.