Beginning in the late 1800s, restaurants went to great lengths to develop “waiterless” systems to please their customers. These mostly failed attempts tried replacing waiters with a mix of conveyer belts, dumbwaiters in the centers of tables, and—in one particularly odd case—500 mini electric cars.
In 1896, German engineer Max Sielaff, the inventor of the vending machine, teamed up with a candy company to open the most enduring such waiterless restaurant: the Automat.
Tyler would hold a sign on the side of the road and beg for money. He would go to a town 30 miles down the road and stand at one of the region’s busiest intersections, where he prayed no one would recognize him, to plead for help from people whose lives seemed so far removed from his own.
To Tyler, the collapse of the coal industry had left two kinds of people in these mountains. There are those who work. And there are those who don’t: the unemployed, the disabled, the addicted, and the people who, like his family, belonged to all three groups. Those who work rarely mix with those who don’t, except in brief encounters at the grocery store, at the schools or, for Tyler, along the side of the road, where he knew he was likely to encounter acts of generosity as well as outbursts of resentment.
As he walked toward the car and got inside, he had so many hopes in his head. He hoped he would get enough money to feed his family. He hoped the cops wouldn’t arrest him. But most of all, he hoped he wouldn’t run into a man named David Hess.
If there’s one thing I hate in life — and there is not; I hate many things with equal vigor — it’s being too hot. In bed, my wife sleeps under two sets of covers, wearing pajamas, still shivering, while I lie naked, the covers thrown off, two limbs ideally hanging through the nearest open window. Heat is my mortal enemy: The sensation of sweat dripping down my back in a crowded, clammy subway station makes me want to tear off my own skin.
So, naturally, MEL decided I was the best person to send to an urban sweat lodge to spend 55 minutes sealed inside an infra-red sleeping bag that heats up to 160 degrees.
People tend to take air for granted, but as Kean will persuade you, its invisibility and odorlessness — and, at times, its visibility and smell — hold clues to history. He uses the volcanic eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980 as a gateway to explore the previous atmospheres that Earth has harbored over its existence, a past he vividly describes as "a place where megabubbles of poisonous gas broke free all the time and stalked the landscape like supernatural terrors." From there he meanders through a variety of subjects — anesthesia, steelmaking, refrigeration, gas warfare, atomic testing — while putting on his well-worn storyteller hat. He tells alternatingly horrific and comic tales about World War I's ominous Operation Disinfection as well as how Charles Dickens' Bleak House stirred up a huge controversy about, of all things, oxygen.
But what really elevates The Music Shop is Joyce’s detailed knowledge of – and passion for – music. There are stories here about composers and musicians ranging from Beethoven, Vivaldi and Purcell to Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin and the Sex Pistols. Joyce weaves these into Frank’s musical therapy and the flashbacks to his childhood with his bohemian, emotionally remote mother, Peg, who taught him how to listen: “Music is about silence… the silence at the beginning of a piece of music is always different from the silence at the end… Because if you listen, the world changes. It’s like falling in love. Only no one gets hurt.”