It’s not a destination. It’s on the way to someplace.

“They have 28 flavors, surely you can find one you like?” A reasonable question from an exasperated Don Draper (Jon Hamm) as he deals with his young wife Megan (Jessica Pare) in “Far Away Places” of the fifth season of Matthew Weiner’s period drama Mad Men. 

Megan had grown tired of Don’s bossy nature and decides to draw the line at…orange sherbet. Don’s frustration rises as their quarrel escalates, and finally points out that if she didn’t like that flavor, there are plenty of other options. Howard Johnson made sure of that. 

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The scene of the newlyweds fight is a Howard Johnson’s hotel, an extremely popular chain in the 1960s and 70s. It is featured prominently throughout the episode, and is used as a catalyst for the events that take place throughout the episode. Howard Johnson’s was in fact, not originally a hotel. It instead goes back to 1925, and an orange-roofer soda fountain and ice cream shop. It was around this time that Mr. Johnson developed a secret formula for his ice cream, off of which the success of the rest of the chain was built. Johnson began to expand in the 1930s, beginning with a second store in Orleans, Massachusetts. This was one of the first franchising agreements in American history.  The restaurants became increasable popular, and by 1954 there were over 400 Howard Johnson’s restaurants in 32 states. It wasn’t until 1959 that the company created the concept of Howard Johnson Inns alongside highways, and they entered the hospitality business. This is the primary reason for Don and Megan’s visit, as the company was looking for a way to market their new hotels. The concept was successful throughout the next couple of decades, up until Johnson sold the company to Imperial Group PLC for over $630 million. The company is now part of Wyndham Worldwide, which still operates many of the hotels. Only two of the original restaurants still remain, one located in Lake Placid, New York and the other in Bangor, Maine. 

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Howard Johnson’s was also known for its signature trademarks. Like Don pointed out to Megan, there were 28 flavors of ice cream at every restaurant.  Johnson as once quoted saying that the “28 became my trademark” at each of his venues. Each Howard Johnson’s also had a district look. The roof and awning were typically a bright orange, as was most of the furniture inside of the building. On top of each building was a weathervane, which now can be bought for a few hundred dollars on eBay. The Howard Johnson logo was also found on the weathervane. It featured an outline of Simple Simon and the Pieman, sometimes lighting a light post.  These characteristics are featured prominently throughout the episode, and played a role in Don’s meltdown throughout the night as he searched for Megan. It’s too bad they ended up at a Howard Johnson’s, I doubt they could’ve had the same fight at a Holiday Inn. 

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