The ‘50s on a Roll : Skating Carhops in Downey Serve Burgers ‘n’ Fries to Tunes From the Past
On a perfect Friday night for cruising, Lee McCullough rumbled into the hamburger stand on Woodruff Avenue in a red ’59 Chevy El Camino.
He was accompanied by friends driving an orange ’32 Ford, a blue ’57 Chevy, and a red ’50 Ford pickup.
As Bobby Freeman sang “Do You Wanna Dance” on the jukebox, McCullough turned to eye a slender woman on red roller skates who whizzed by carrying a tray of burgers and fries.
“I’m 43, I graduated in ’61, so this is me, man. I’m back in style.”
At Frisco-Burger, the 1950s seem closer than ever since the hamburger stand owners brought back carhops three months ago. The service, which had not been seen in the area for a generation, has attracted nostalgia buffs like McCullough and friends who are members of the Orange County Cruisin’ Assn. The group of classic car owners liked the carhops so much they have included Frisco-Burger as one of the official pit stops on their once-a-month Friday night cruises.
“This is a time for people to get back to the way it used to be, the enlightened era of the ‘50s,” McCullough said.
“It’s a family thing, I bring my son with me. He’s almost 16 now and he’s just getting into cars, so he enjoys it,” said McCullough, who added that his son Clint, 15, also goes to meet the carhops. “I wish the hell I was younger and I could hide the gray in my mustache.”
Last Seen at Harvey’s in the ‘60s
James Dill of Downey, another Orange County Cruiser who drove a red ’57 Chevy half-ton truck, said he hasn’t seen skating carhops in the city in the 20 years since Harvey’s Drive-In closed in the 1960s.
“It’s a good idea. Over all these years it (carhop service) has faded away but I think it’s gonna come back.”
Steve Higley of Bell Gardens, another Orange County Cruiser, stood outside his black ’32 Ford five-window truck and recalled his youth while the jukebox played the Champs’ “Tequila.”
“I used to go with my sister and her boyfriend in his five-window and go to the A&W; in Lemoore,” he said. “Once I saw James Dean there.”
The carhops say the work is fun, but somewhat tiring on the ankles toward the end of a five-hour evening shift.
Kelli Patterson, 18, of Downey, wearing a red T-shirt and black shorts, was standing at the waitress window, ordering three medium sodas.
She said that because she has skated all her life, the job was “great, I love it.”
As Little Richard was singing “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” Patterson rolled out to three young men standing outside a Chevy pickup truck, who paid her $1.92 for the sodas and added a $1 tip.
“The music--I love it. It goes with the territory,” she said wheeling away.
Lisa Macksoud, a 16-year-old Norwalk High School junior, said she was “all nervous and everything” when she applied for a job as a carhop.
“They asked me if I skated and I told them I took lessons when I was a little girl. And he (the owner) looked at my legs and I had a miniskirt on. I told him I had a scar on my knee and he said, ‘Oh, that’s all right.’ ”
Macksoud said that most customers are nice, although “some guys drop change on the floor and they expect you to bend over” to get it. In response, she said she has mastered the art of bending down “real innocently from the knees and I hold my shorts.”
As she was talking, a young man with long, blond hair, shades and metal bracelets came up to talk. She put him off, saying, “I’m busy right now.”
“That guy bugs me. He told me he was a heavy metaler and he says: ‘Watch, I’ll go home and put on my outfit,’ and I go ‘OK.’ And he went home and put on the outfit that he’s got on right now, and I’m going ‘CUUUTE.’ ”
Owner Joanne Frisco Stathoulis said to ensure the girls’ safety, she has hired a muscular male carhop who provides “security on skates.”
Stathoulis and her husband, Takis, a former Las Vegas singer, said they brought back carhops because they wanted an attraction that would make their fast-food restaurant stand out from the competition.
“At first people said, ‘Oh, that’s from a long time ago, no one will go for it,’ ” she said, looking around the crowded parking lot.
“But that’s not what they’re saying now.”