The first restaurant chain in the US, the late-19th-century Harvey House, popped up in train stations and followed the rapid growth of rail travel. It disappeared decades ago, but the project of connecting huge swaths of land with the promise of culinary sameness lives on. In a country that currently seems fractured and exhausted by its own divisions (at least from across the Canadian border, where I live), are chains a unifying force, a common denominator — or yet another arena in which cultural and political tensions play out?
Here are some of my favorite reads on America’s restaurant chains, from the generically upscale to the proudly down-home. They cover politics, economics, regional identity, and even (surprise!) food.
The following essay was published by Kill Screen, the video game arts and culture magazine, and co-funded by Longreads Members.
The pleasure of Sid Meier’s Civilizationseries is that it is at once tantalizingly grand and endearingly granular. The game’s approach to the past has always been playful. Abe Lincoln can lead war-bands against Mahatma Gandhi’s phalanxes. The Aztecs can build the first nuclear bomb. Every version of the game begins with the same wide-open promise: a settler, a worker, a few tiles of visible land, and an ocean of darkness—all the ingredients of a world ready to be discovered and made anew. Read more…
In The Red Car, Marcy Dermansky’s newly released third novel, 33-year-old Leah Kaplan is lured away from an ill-considered marriage and taken on a surprise hero’s journey.
With deadpan humor, in dreamlike, Murakami-inspired unvarnished prose, Dermansky tells the story of Leah’s adventures after a former boss dies and bequeaths to her the red sports car Leah never liked in the first place.
This curious inheritance, and her boss’s funeral, leads the Queens-dweller back to San Francisco, where she’d worked and lived just after college. There, Leah gets to back up in reverse to relive a bit of her youth, and to reconsider her life choices from a better informed perspective before moving forward into a more intentionally designed adulthood.
“Maybe coming of age is happening a bit later,” she said. “Maybe people find themselves a bit later. It’s funny because you’re not supposed to come of age in your 30s, but maybe people are allowed to keep reinventing themselves. Maybe it doesn’t stop.”
As a 51-year-old late bloomer I’m encouraged by that idea. And it supports a hunch of mine: that the older women are—the more entrenched patriarchy was when they were growing up—the longer they might need to be allowed to arrive at true self-actualization. Here is Dermansky’s excerpt. Read more…
In 2013, I contracted a virus that I thought was the flu. It ended up being dengue, sometimes referred to as “breakbone fever.” The nickname is a reference to the levels of pain some people experience when they are in dengue’s throes. I expected my symptoms to subside once the active infection went away. After all, friends who contracted dengue, sometimes multiple years in a row, seemed to return to a sense of normalcy. Instead, the joint pain remained, below the fever pitch of “breaking bones” but nowhere near my old self. For a long time I waited for that “old self” to materialize, and for the pain to recede. It took three years to finally surrender to my present and admit that the pain isn’t going anywhere.
The excerpt below is adapted from The King’s Revenge, by Michael Walsh and Don Jordan. The story takes place in the wake of the English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”), who favored limitations on the king’s power and had the support of radical Protestant religious minorities (such as Puritans), and the Royalists (“Cavaliers”), who were loyal to the throne and were mostly members of the Church of England. In 1649, the victorious Roundheads tried and executed the king, Charles I. After the coronation of his son Charles II in 1661, known as the Great Restoration, Charles launched a global manhunt for the 59 judges who signed his father’s death warrant, as well as the court officials who tried the case, collectively known as the “regicides.”
Many of the regicides fled to other countries, and below we found out what happened to those who fled to America, as well as to those were pursued by an American in Europe. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.
* * *
If what he had done against the King were to be done again, he would do it again.
The spring of 1661 was significant not only for the crowning of the king. Hitherto Charles had paid little attention to the capture of regicides abroad, but that was about to change. As carpenters sweated over the erection of those magnificent coronation arches with their dual themes of royal triumph and revenge, Charles unleashed his bloodhounds in America and Europe. Two royalists set out from Boston to lead a hunt across New England for Whalley and Goffe, and the most ruthless operator in the king’s service was drafted in to spearhead a search across Europe for Ludlow and the other nineteen regicides who had escaped in 1660.
The American manhunt was launched on May 6 by John Endecott, governor of Massachusetts. Endecott had received an arrest order from the king which, dispensing with flowery courtesies, had been brutally curt:
Trusty and well-beloved,
We greet you well. We being given to understand that Colonel Whalley and Colonel Goffe, who stand here convicted for the execrable murder of our Royal Father, of glorious memory, are lately arrived at New England, where they hope to shroud themselves securely from the justice of our laws; our will and pleasure is, and we do hereby expressly require and command you forthwith upon the receipt of these our letters, to cause both the said persons to be apprehended, and with the first opportunity sent over hither under a strict care, to receive according to their demerits. We are confident of your readiness and diligence to perform your duty; and so bid you farewell.
Autumn is my favorite time to walk around my city. The swirling skies, the cool weather, the breeze, the crunchy leaves—it’s dynamic, and, best of all, I don’t sweat as much.
In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit writes, “Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”
I love this quote. Despite the fear I feel sometimes as a woman walking alone, walking places gives me a sense of control. I’m not at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. I can take a new, weird route or linger by the Canadian geese in a recently renovated lake. In the following essays, Antonia Malachik discusses the cultural implications of our aversion to walking; Garnette Cadogan relates how his walks are coded by his skin color, depending on where in the world he is; Adee Braun praises the New York eat-and-walk—and that’s not all. You can read these on the move. Just don’t trip, okay?
We’ve featured Antonia Malachik’s article on Longreads before, but it fits this week’s theme too perfectly to ignore:
“In many parts of the US, pedestrianism is seen as a dubiously counter-culture activity. Gated communities are only the most recent incarnation of the narrow-eyed suspicion with which we view unleashed strangers venturing outside on foot, much less anywhere near our homes. A friend of mine told me recently that a few years ago, when she lived in Mississippi, she was stopped by police constantly simply because she preferred to walk to work. Twice they insisted on driving her home, ‘so I could prove I wasn’t homeless or a prostitute. Because who else would be out walking?’”
In an essay that remains sadly, horrifically relevant, Garnette Cadogan describes his risk-tainted wanders through Kingston, Jamaica; New York City; and New Orleans:
“Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone. It forces me to be in constant relationship with others, unable to join the New York flaneurs I had read about and hoped to join…Walking as a black man has made me feel simultaneously more removed from the city, in my awareness that I am perceived as suspect, and more closely connected to it, in the full attentiveness demanded by my vigilance.”
My friends and I paused on a classic Manhattan street corner so we could purchase hot dogs on our ill-fated attempt to catch our bus back to Maryland. Certain denizens of the Mid-Atlantic are familiar with the Day Trip to New York City: You wake up earlier than is reasonable in order to board a stale, at-capacity charter bus full of crabby Marylanders (or wherever), and a few restless hours later, you’re deposited somewhere outside Times Square or Chinatown or the Javits Center. Then, you see a show (anecdotally, the most common reason for these jaunts), or go to the Strand bookstore (guilty), or something else. After we saw our show of choice (cliche, I know, but it was a one-weekend remount), we partook in that hallowed New York tradition: the eat-and-walk.
At Narratively, Adee Braun has written a love letter to the eat-and-walk, a lesser-known American export and beloved regional pastime.
At two in the morning in mid-July, I sat cross-legged, my hands full of lichen, waiting for the caribou to come.
It was my second to last summer in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the light outside was what most people associate with dawn. I wore shorts and a hooded sweatshirt. I sat as still as possible. When the small herd started towards me, I looked back at Whitney for reassurance. He stood about twenty feet behind me in the fenced enclosure, hips cocked to one side, his frame lanky and thin despite his baggy pants and sweatshirt. When he smirked at me, something shifted in my chest.
He was just a teenager—19 and about to begin his second year in a private college on the east coast. I was five years older. I felt so much wiser. We were two weeks into the four that we would spend together. The finiteness of those days gave us freedom to be inseparable without losing ourselves in each other. After all, it was impractical—I knew that in two weeks, I would drop him off at the airport, that I would wake up the next morning with an aching chest and an empty bed. But for the short time before he left, I could love him unabashedly and feel no shame.