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Words May 26

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Paul Mahfouz saw a Washington Post article about guitarist Les Paul that quoted Paul reminiscing: “ ‘There’s a fellow sitting in the rumble seat of one of the parked cars, and he writes a note to the carhop.’ ” Then either Paul or the Post explained that “ ‘Carhop’ is what they used to call waitresses at drive-in restaurants.” Mahfouz wonders if carhop is such an antique phrase that it needs explanation. He notes that the Post article did not explain rumble seat. There aren’t as many drive-in restaurants with carhops as there once were, but the SONIC chain still has carhops, and still calls them that. This is from the SONIC web site: “SONIC Drive-In Carhops have been serving up beloved American food and signature SONIC favorites at ‘the speed of sound’ since 1953. … Carhops still deliver food prepared-to-order right to your car.” SONIC even explains the origin of the term. “ ‘Carhops,’ as the servers were called, was a moniker from the early days of drive-in restaurants [about 1935, according to Random House], when servers jumped onto the running boards of early-day automobiles driving onto the lot and directed them to their parking spots.” Running board needs explanation, for all except the geezers. A running board was a small ledge that used to be on the outside of cars under the doors, supposedly to help passengers get in and out. But gangsters would stand on the running board while the car was going at full speed, hanging on with one hand and firing a Tommy gun with the other. Movie gangsters did that, anyway. The rumble seat became extinct even before the running board. It was “A seat recessed into the back of a coupe or roadster, covered by a hinged lid that opens to form the back of the seat when in use.” Nancy Drew’s yellow roadster had a rumble seat, I’m sure. (Nancy Drew sang with Les Paul.) There was no roof over the rumble seat. People who sat there were exposed to the elements. That may have contributed to its decline in popularity.

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