One of the essays that I enjoyed from "The Food of a Younger Land," the newest Mark Kurlansky-edited food adventure collecting some of the material from the Federal Writers’ Project of the 1930's, came early in the book and described in worshipful detail that New York City self-service institution of old, the Automat. I've read about Automats in other things, about people going into Automats, meeting at Automats, and so on, but none so persuasive and glorious as this gem. Maybe it appeals to my love of ridiculous efficiency?
Here's the first paragraph and some glamorous photos from the google search I immediately did after reading the essay :)
"A sight to the out-of-towner, and an honored institution among the city's millions, is the mechanical lunchroom known to fame as the Automat. This type of self-service eating place is the result of deep probing into the needs to the five-minute metropolitan center. Here, the man-in-a-hurry is worried by no middle-men; his relationship with his fodder, over which he may gloat, ruminate, or despair, is strictly private. He selects, pays, conveys, eats, and departs, leaving no tip, uttering no sound."
Paying for things with nickels is looking pretty good right about now since the vending machine at work is strange and only accepts certain combinations of coins for certain products, leaving me with a purseful of useless nickels and never the dimes necessary for what I want to buy. I'm such a sucker for vending machines and often get ACTUALLY nostalgic for the convenience and efficiency and variety of vending machines in Osaka.
The whole book is of varying interest to me as a reader -- it's not really something I can say I sat down and read cover to cover -- but it's an oddly inspiring collection of food this and that, worth looking at for the introduction alone. It's crazy to imagine that these essays were just sitting around somewhere unpublished and uncelebrated.