06 May 2016

Good Morning, Mr. Zip, Your Dining Car Is Looking Mighty Fine

Recently, I had the pleasure of eating dinner at Zip's Dining Car, a diner in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. I learned two things as a result of this visit. The first is that a "dining car" is in fact, not actually a dining car from a train, but a term describing those long, shiny prefabricated buildings one thinks of when one thinks of "diners":

I didn't know this, but apparently they're designed to be shipped prebuilt, like a mobile home, hence their long and skinny nature. They're not common where I grew up in Ohio, but I can think of a number of them within a relatively short distance of my Connecticut home.

I like the aesthetic of them, but the quality of the food is often variable. It's hard for me to recommend the Aero Diner in North Windham, for example, even though it has a pretty storied history: one of two dining cars built in 1958 by a manufacturer of hospital equipment that traveled from Hartford to Southbury to South Windham to North Windham, and was at one point donated to the American Diner Museum. (Their website says of the restoration they had to do: "The manufacturer's 1958 advertisement claims that the 'Bramson is built like a battleship' and, like a battleship, it leaked rainwater in from every imaginable spot!") The best dining car I've been in around here, I reckon, is the East-West Grille in West Hartford, which serves delicious Thai and Laotian food.

Zip's was pretty good: I would recommend getting the chicken-friend steak, which was delicious.

But the whole time I was there, I had a song stuck in my head, and that brings me to the second thing I learned. When I was in Boy Scouts, we would often sing a song at summer camp that went:
Good morning, Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip
With your hair cut just as short as mine,
Good morning, Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip,
You're looking mighty fine!
Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,
If the [scoutmaster] doesn't get you,
Then the [cooking] must.
Good morning, Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip,
With your hair cut just as short as,
your hair cut just as short as,
your hair cut just as short as mine.
Different words could be subbed into the brackets; those are just the ones that occurred to me when writing this up. My wife had never heard of it, despite being a camp song aficionado herself. (I think Christian camp and Boy Scout camp had very different song repertoires.) I looked it up, and it turns out to be a very popular song from the First World War. Which makes sense of what seemed to me to be nonsense lyrics when I was a kid: everyone's hair is cut short because they're in the Army, and I think the "Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip" of the title is meant to evoke the "snip-snip-snip" of the barber's cutting.

The original's lyrics are slightly different, most notably that the bracketed words are Camels and Fatimas, both brands of cigarettes! I don't know how it became a Boy Scout camp staple, but I guess that change was pretty inevitable. There are also verses that we never sang at all.

You can hear a 1918 recording of it by Eugene Buckley and the Peerless Quartette on YouTube below:

I highly recommend watching it, as the poster has done some delightful work with the video, animating old Army iconography. The 1918 version is a bit more jaunty than what we would sing in the Boy Scouts.

I like to imagine this fellow came back from the war and opened a dining car in northeast Connecticut.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if there might be a bit of a pun here? A Sopwith Camel was also a kind of WWI fighter plane...