With The Missus, Little G and Little Miss C away over the weekend, I finally got to watch the PBS documentary “Hometown Huntington,” about the Long Island town where I was reared, that had been hogging up space on our DVR for several months.
Huntington is one of the great suburbs in America: sophisticated people, great bookstore, lively pubs, loads of arts and entertainment, the water, and a downtown that’s both rocking and quaint, and that would take a few hours to walk a circle around.
So there was a lot of good stuff to show in the program, and Hometown Huntington hit almost all of them. And it’s a Long Island Railroad hop from Manhattan–about an hour and six minutes, a little less if you catch the express.
Bunny Hoest, co-creator of the comic strip The Lockhorns, which frequently shows Huntington shops and bars in the strip, even referred to Huntington as “The Little Apple”–a phrase I can’t say I heard during my decade or so in the town. (By the way, Bunny sure looks like a Bunny…no, not a bunny,a Bunny….with her yanked back silver hair, high cheekbones, and gravelly Katherine Hepburn voice.)
Yet the thing turned out to be a total bore, every Huntington pundit (Hundit?) making the town sound like some Currier and Ives print where the snow is always pristine and the hot chocolate is always tasty, or, in another season, the storybook sailboats cruise by on the bluest sea in the world. There was no balance, no counterpoint–just a sepia-toned look at a town where time seems to have stopped in 1959. No mention of the growing Hispanic community over in Huntington Station, for instance. No mention of Fox Newser resident Sean Hannity, and what it’s like to live in a place where your politics are diametrically different from the large majority of Huntington’s left-of-Marx world view.
I also quibbled with the program stretching to pull some B-list celebs into the talking head mix, even though they may not have had true Huntington roots. Patty Lupone of neighboring Northport gets lots of air time. So does some music producer I never heard of from Cold Spring Harbor. So does Dix Hills’ own Ralph Macchio.
Granted, Northport and CSH and Dix Hills are technically part of the township of Huntington, but they’re all essentially suburbs of Huntington Village, on which the doc was focused. (Uh, where the heck was Billy Joel?)
But Macchio, best known, of course, as the Karate Kid, does offer a fun bit about going shopping for a suit at Marsh’s when he was a boy, then being treated to a meal at Hamburger Choo Choo. Macchio vaguely recalls the Main Street burger joint:
“I think there was a place called Hamburger Choo Choo,” says Karate Kid. “I don’t remember what anything tasted like–I just remember that it came out on a train.”
Indeed, your burger was placed on a miniature electric train, which followed the tracks to where you sat.
My memories of the Choo Choo are a bit vague too; I remember the train stopped at the luncheon counter, but I don’t know if it made its way out to the tables in the dining room too.
The Hamburger Choo Choo met a familiar demise for Long Island restaurants in the early ’80s. Recalls Dylan Skolnick, whose parents opened the arthouse cinema in Huntington, of Hamburger Choo Choo: “I remember Saturday Evening Post covers on the wall. It had been there forever. It burned down in a fire–that was the end.”
Hamburger Choo Choo currently has 642 pals on Facebook. I don’t know if Ralph Macchio is one of them.