If you’ve never been to a diner after, oh, 10 pm, you’re missing a special slice of Americana. Here’s what I experienced:
• A man at a nearby booth who SPOKE! LIKE! THIS! ALL! THE! TIME! He was wearing an old-school fedora, a vest and black running sneakers. He was talking to a man with a long white beard; perhaps a post-Christmas mall Santa looking for work.
• I asked where the manager was. He’s the guy who’d been there on 99 of my past 100 visits. “Oh, he went missing.”
“Missing. He didn’t show up for work one day, and no one has seen him since.”
That seems sorta troubling.
“I’m sure he’s OK.”
• The plate. This is the dish of gnarly-looking cookies that greets you at the cash register. The plate is somewhat appealing until you look closely, and spot a couple of finger prints, a stray hair, crumbs, etc. Then you think, “It’s flu season.” No cookie.
And yet, I friggin’ love the diner. I love speaking Spanish with the regular busboy. I love hearing the crazy people chatter, and wonder if I’m crazy, too. I love the greasy fries and the nasty burger and the side of lettuce that no hamster would damn touch. I love how, at 2:32 am, the place remains alive; how there’s always someone in need of a diner. Of a slice of warmed blueberry pie; of a soda; of quiet conversation.
I’m no patriot, but there’s something uniquely American about the diner.
Even when it smells.