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1995may21. About 20 years ago, I travelled to Washington DC with my family. After doing the usual touristy things (target practice at the FBI, receiving free $20 bills at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving), we stopped at a large cafeteria that served food Automat-style. Automats were supposed to be the cafeterias of the future; a large wall separates the kitchen from the dining area, and functions as a large vending machine. You select your foodstuffs from glass doors, put your money in the appropriate slot, open the door, and withdraw your dinner. Heavenly. Scott Berk, our illustrious staff chemist, indicated to me that he was heading down to DC for a short while. After a making a few calls, I found the following message on my answering machine:

“I’m calling from Washington DC regarding the information you requested for the food automatic facility. I’ve checked with the Smithsonian and various other tour organizations within Washington, and no, that particular place is not here at this time; we certainly hope you still will come and enjoy Washington; we do have cafeterias in place of the food automatic. Thank you for calling our office of Tourism and Promotion.”
I have passed the word along to Scott – be rest assured, they do have cafeterias in Washington DC. Now I’m wondering if there are ANY Automats left – I’m sure there’s some rotty Automat Appreciation Society somewhere.

1995may21. Down on the farm.

Stopped into Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum the other day. Marvin travels the world looking for ancient mechanical devices used to entertain the masses; everything from hand-cranked flip-card film machines to Chuck-E-Cheese audio-animatronic cast-offs (brrrr). The big pay-off, however, was an extremely large diorama created by the butcher of Alcatraz. In the 1930’s, this guy killed off an entire farm family. After shipping off to The Rock, our wood-artisan/mass murderer “feels remorse” (according to the handwritten index card) and spends the next forty years of his life creating this intricate pastoral farm scene, with hundreds of moving parts. People fishing, a farmer pitching hay, skunks shuffling around, and off to one side, a recently-axe-detached goose head (1 cm) opening and closing its tiny wooden mouth. Wonderfully eerie – four stars. [31005 Orchard Lake Road / Farmington Hills MI 48334 (810) 626-5020; $.25]