(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story opens with a historical retrospective of what Howard Johnson, his secretary, Mildred Bryce, and his chauffeur have been doing for the last forty years: traveling throughout the United States in a Cadillac limousine, visiting Howard Johnson’s motels and restaurants and scouting out new sites for future facilities. They are continuing their long-time practice of tasting new ice cream from their tidy ice-cream freezer, in which there are always at least eighteen flavors. Howard eats only vanilla, and Millie rarely indulges in ice cream because of her recurring stomach problems. Their African American chauffeur, Otis Brighton, has become the primary taster for any new ice-cream flavors. In the back seat, Howard keeps an eye on the rearview mirror to observe Brighton’s reaction to new flavors of ice cream. The itinerary they have followed for six months of each year has been determined by the bright orange dots on their travel map indicating existing Howard Johnson motels and restaurants and the white dots indicating future sites.

The first part of the story ends at the Los Angeles airport with Howard Johnson departing for New York City because his board of directors is planning new strategies for the company. Millie senses that their idyllic world may be coming to an end, but she is also experiencing greater pain from her bleeding ulcer.

Millie financed Howard Johnson’s original investment from a $100,000 inheritance that her father left her when he committed suicide. She is thus the real power behind the throne and has grown immensely wealthy as a result. Howard Johnson has an almost mystical gift for locating prospective building sites: He often suddenly asks Otis to stop the car and then wanders into a...

(The entire section is 712 words.)