Seems like every small town in America has at least one. It’s a meeting place, a social center, a place where each day the problems of the town, the state, the country, and the world are solved—the local diner.
In some towns, it’s a silver-sided, classic vestige of the 1950s, with a long row of vinyl covered—often duct tape patched—stools lined up at the Formica countertop, and eight or so booths, all with matching vinyl/duct tape upholstery, along the opposite wall. At each booth, is an antique remote control which, when installed would, for a quarter, play six of your favorite Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, or Bobby Darin songs on the Wurlitzer. Now, of course, that same quarter will let you listen to any one of those same songs.
In other towns, the local diner/meeting place is not a stand-alone establishment, but part of a greater enterprise. It might be a part of the Pete’s Exxon – General Store – Catering – Restaurant and Truck Rental. Or it could be the Bargain City Department Store and Café. Either way, locals are encouraged—no . . . expected – to weigh in on local, state and national issues and, furthermore; if Pete has to run over to the check-out to sell a quart of milk and some roofing nails; to help out with the cooking. I’ve seen it happen.
“Jake, if you don’t want your sausage to burn, you’d better get your lazy butt off that stool and flip it over while I go out and fill Effie’s propane tank.”
I like small town diners and I have some favorites along the routes to visit family or friends at various locations in northern New England. I’ve noticed the same characters at Pete’s every time I’m there, regardless of time of day, and I’m sorry; but I’m guilty of eavesdropping on conversations about the likes of Sally’s latest child and boyfriend or Percy’s prostate surgery. Regulars hate to miss a day for fear they’ll become the topic of conversation. Now, I don’t visit family more than twice a year, but stopping at Pete’s is like watching a TV soap opera. You can miss six months, tune in, and feel like you haven’t skipped an episode.
I haven’t figured out how the hard-working folks at those shiny little diners can turn a profit, serving the likes of Jake and his buddies a three hour cup of coffee and a side of toast. They should replace the Wurlitzer remote control with a timing device kind of like those in taxicabs. The server would deliver the coffee, slap the timer, and move on to the next customer. When Jake is ready to leave, he just slaps the timer, pays his $1.75 for his coffee and toast and five cents a minute for booth rental. Standing prior to inserting the proper coinage into the booth rental machine prompts the Wurlitzer to play a loud version of the Beatles’ I’m a Loser and moves the cheapskate’s name to the top of the gossip list.