Bill & Nada’s Cafe was where I had my first script idea. It’s not that the Salt Lake dance clubs were cooler than the ones in Provo, there were no dance clubs in Provo. (Don’t talk to me about The Palace; that was like a church dance in Orange County). So we’d drive to Salt Lake to go out. Finding a designated driver was never a problem (think about it). Then after the clubs closed, we’d go to Bill & Nada’s. Much cooler than Denny’s. And full of characters, whether at 3AM or 8AM or lunchtime. Clubbies trying to be bad, punks, mothers with home-dyed hair, Willy Lomans, and always a few grizzled friends of Bill at the counter, truckers, probably. Or prospectors.
It was the time warp kind of diner that hadn’t changed since the early sixties. Ancient country music on the jukeboxes (one on each table. There’d always be some jerk who’d order up Patsy Cline’s Crazy ten times, just as he was getting his check. Damn college kids.) The most famous dish was eggs & brains, but I’d always get pancakes (“Breakfast served all day”), which were orange (fertilized eggs, they’d say) and tapioca pudding. Or a patty melt. Every hour, the head waitress’d saunter over and spin the wheel. If your seat number hit, your order was free (there are little stick-on numbers at each spot, it turns out). There’s a vintage Field & Stream-like mural of a mountain lake on one wall, and a portrait of Bill, in full metal jacket and chaps, on his show horse. Just like in the Pioneer Day parade, every July.
There were stories, told on the way home, about why the pictures of Bill & Nada are so old, too. “Go ask where she is,” some smart ass’d say, but no one ever did. Uncovering the urban legend we were sure lurked behind Bill & Nada’s was to be my first documentary, I decided; So many characters! And so quirky! (I was running the International Cinema program at BYU my senior year.) Half-assed research and writing efforts in the following years yielded one problematic result: there was no mystery, nothing lurking behind anything at Bill & Nada’s. What do you do when the reality turns out to be far less sensational than what you’d built it up to be in your mind? In my case, you go to business school, I guess.
I found this meal ticket from Bill & Nada’s today while sorting through some tax receipts. I bought it for the clean design. Despite the slogan, Bill & Nada’s closed at the end of 1999. On their last night in business, I took my DV camera down there and roamed around for a couple of hours, capturing the atmosphere, shooting detail shots, so I could recreate it on a set, when the time came. Looks like longtime patron Bert Singleton did the same thing before they tore the place down last January.