|Frequently Asked Questions
Who are you?
I'm a professor in the Communication Studies department at San José State University (currently also directing the university's Peer Mentor Program). Jenny works in the tax department at Seagate Technology and also invests in real estate. Vienna is our 19-year-old daughter, a veteran of lengthy roadtrips since our first journey along Route 66 in 1996 and a great navigator in the making. Vienna attends college at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where she studies psychology. The three of us are fans of roadside culture, particularly motels and diners, and we're always up to learn something new.
Why did you spend your vacation touring diners?
We try to "theme" all of our summer roadtrips. We once focused solely on presidential sites (birthplaces, libraries, that sort of thing. Jenny wrote the text for that webpage, by the way); another year we dedicated our trip to sampling awesome BBQ from Texas to the Carolinas (a gut-busting adventure, let me tell you). This time we figured we'd explore diners because of their combination of cool architecture, quirky personalities, and regional cuisine, not to mention their location in part of the country about which we know relatively little. When it comes to the best diners in America, we had to start in New England.
How did you select the diners for this tour?
The usual way: we consulted books, websites, and friends; we even got advice on the road, because the people who know diners best are those who run diners themselves. Diners of New England, an impressively researched and clearly mapped book by Randy Garbin, also contributed much to our planning. Diners that ultimately secured a spot on our itinerary needed to boast architectural character, offer great food, and possess historical significance; solid Tripadvisor reviews helped too. Surely we missed some terrific diners, but we tried to see the best ones we could squeeze into a short time.
Why did you miss so many essential "diner states" like New Jersey and New York and...?
Time, mostly. It's true that great diners reside in New Jersey and New York (and elsewhere), but the time we could spend on this trip (a little over two weeks) -- and the fact that we wanted to spend a couple days in Montreal -- required us to postpone visits to other essential states. Moreover since New Jersey and New York aren't technically located in the region historically termed New England we felt OK bypassing them this time. That said, we'll definitely return to the road soon and expand our itinerary. Heck, as any Barry Levinson fan will tell you, we've got to tour the famed greasy spoons of Maryland!
Where is the best diner in America?
Of course there's no way to answer that question definitively. A great diner is defined less by consensus than by personal memory; it's a place that feels real and meaningful to you. The food should be good, but even less-than-ideal food can be forgiven when it's served by people who make you feel welcome. For me, the best diner experience of this trip was the Boulevard in Worcester, MA. No forced 50s vibe, no fancy offerings, the Boulevard simply offered a perfect combination of qualities that make a great diner. Other necessary stops? The Red Arrow in downtown Manchester, NH and the Rosebud Diner in Somerville, MA.
Did you gain weight on a trip dedicated to diner food?
Surprisingly, we gained little weight over two weeks, even as we sometimes visited four or five diners a day. My personal gain was maybe a pound (and that dropped soon upon our return). The secret is sharing. The three of us tried to order only one or two meals, sampling from each others' plates. It was the same with desserts: our goal was to taste, not gorge. What's more, even when tempted to select fat-laden comfort foods we found that most diners offer healthier options like fish, vegetables, and salads that helped us moderate our caloric intake. Finally, we came to appreciate the value of walking after our meals as a means to limiting our poundage.
How can I contact you?
Easily! You can reach me online at Andrew.Wood AT sjsu.edu (sorry for not making this address clickable; I'm trying to avoid spam). I'm happy to chat further about this project. Just don't expect detailed travel advice. Our visits to these spots were necessarily brief and I don't know nearly as much about them as I'd prefer. I should add that if you'd like to point out problems in this site -- silly typos, errors in fact, problems with clarity, anything that looks weird -- I really want to hear from you. I never take offense at constructive criticism, especially since I'm prone to typing-mistakes, so don't be shy with your feedback.
All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.