When it comes to Los Angeles, frankly, I am an outsider. When I pulled into Tiny Naylor's one day last summer, however, I felt I was pulling into history.
Now I am sure of it. Because they went and closed down Tiny Naylor's - one of the last original drive-ins in L.A. There used to be a dozen dotting Wilshire Boulevard between what is now Korea Town and what is still Beverly Hills.
Now I am glad I patronized Tiny's and noticed everything that afternoon: the towering palms, Ali Baba's next door (''Dinner Show/Belly Dancers''), and the loopy yellow script - Tiny Naylor's - dancing on the roof above my parking space. So what if there was a Safeway just across the street and a knot of people waiting on Tiny's curb, not for burgers, but for the Westwood bus? So what, I was at a real drive-in.
The menu hanging 10 feet in front of my windshield was not a disappointment: ''Steak 'n eggs''; ''Fried chicken''; ''Thick malts''; ''Baked potato''; ''Corn-on-the-cob.'' I couldn't recall the last time I ate a baked potato in my car.
I looked around for my carhop, the mobile service person that put drive-ins on the map six decades ago. That was their heyday, when people first learned the thrill of eating in their cars, and drive-ins came in shapes like their names: Tee Pee Barbecue, Ziggurat, Tail-of-the-Pup - exuberant forebears of garish neon signs, one supposes.
I was happy to see Tiny's hadn't stooped to such gimmicks - no molded plaster in the shape of a hot dog, no girls on roller skates. Just a parking lot, a menu , and a cadre of waitresses in plain orange and brown uniforms and plastic badges that in my case spelled ''Queta.''
Was I ready to order? I was. Although I had thought hard about the baked-potato option, I decided in favor of lemonade. Queta nodded, scratched her pad, and then turned toward the pickup and delivery window. I was not a regular and apparently did not merit conversation.
But I wasn't much in the mood for lighthearted exchanges. I preferred to wonder about the last time somebody ate corn on the cob in their front seat.
Looking around, I saw my Datsun was wedged between a TR7 and a Lincoln Town Car. A large woman in dark glasses, working on a strawberry sundae, peopled the Town Car. Two water glasses sweated on her car tray. Some pigeons splashed in a nearby puddle. The Westwood bus arrived and then lumbered off with its baggage of passengers. I began to wonder if this was really living history.
But just then Queta headed back in my direction with a platter to do Emily Post proud. Lemonade here wasn't just lemonade, it was a veritable production. First came the standard-issue metal tray with plastic-coated feet to clip on my window ledge. Then came the white paper doily, a slippery glass of ice water, a paper napkin - the thick kind - a long-necked spoon, a paper-covered straw, and finally my towering glass of lemonade.
What was I doing here, sticky in my vinyl seat, drinking lemonade in what was essentially a parking lot? Had I come simply to get a look at a woman eating in a luxury car? Suddenly I felt sad.
I thought about the drive-ins I had known. The odd A&W out on the hook of Cape Cod. But my mind started to drift toward drive-in banks. Maybe I was too young to have a real emotional attachment to carhops. I stared again at the plastic feet of my car tray and remembered a drive-in on the far side of Cleveland. My grandparents had driven half an hour to visit it on special summer evenings during the '60s. In the gradually darkening car, I remembered how we sat crumpling the white paper napkins in our hands and licking the salt from our lips. We ate ordinary food and felt special. No one spoke of Vietnam or the Beatles.The summer stretched endless and sat right there with us.
I put my glass on the tray and looked around for Queta. She was dressing a plate of ribs and didn't see me. ''Please Use Headlights For Service,'' read the menu right below the dessert listings. So I did - a polite, ''No rush'' flash. And then I waited again. I noticed that the Town Car had pulled out. So had the TR7. Buses came and went. I felt ready to move on, too.
Queta saw my lights and eventually came my way. My bill came to 59 cents. I dropped a dollar on the tray and asked how long she had worked Tiny's. Five years, mostly because of the people.
Later, I would hear rumors of some historic-minded folks trying to resurrect Tiny's and I would wonder where Queta wound up. But then, I simply put my car into gear, swung out onto Sunset, and headed into Hollywood.
In my rearview mirror, I saw Queta start for a Pontiac.