Sunday, May 14, 2006

Diners Dotted The Countryside

Diners dotted the countryside. I guess they originally started springing up in the thirties as the federal government, with a bit of help from the Work Progress Administration (WPA), started building a real national highway system out of a hodge-podge of narrow winding country roads that connected village to town to city. Many were located outside of cities, even in the middle of nowhere it seemed, with giant unpaved parking areas where a dozen or more "big rigs" could park while the truckers ate or slept. Row upon row of Macks and Long Horned Petes would be around the diner.

The style caught on as the epitome of modern casual dining, and you'd find them in downtown areas also. While the overall style was easy to spot they existed long before the era of national chains like Denny's or IHOP, even before McDonalds or Burger King even considered having an indoor dining area.

Individually owned, they had names like the Green Diner and the Orchard Diner (two names I remember from my childhood), and I guess Al and Mac were partners in this one. It was often the only place in town open 24 hours a day because the trucking industry operates that way. Cigarette smoke mixed with the aroma of fresh coffee and grilling bacon. Some were known for their cakes, some for their Danish, some for corned beef and cabbage, but whether you wanted a great burger with fresh sliced tomato at ten in the morning or eggs anytime at all with a steaming cup of coffee this was the place. Business men in suits sat at the counter together with truckers with strange regional accents and construction workers in jeans and work boots, discussing the mayors race or last night's game. The waitress knew your children's names and the short order cook knew exactly how you wanted your eggs. If you'd never been there before they'd ask, and make sure it was exactly right.

Now we go to places like Dennys or IHOP, Burger King or Wendys, where we know exactly what to expect, no surprises. No smoking either. Just food that reflects the bland sameness that our diet has become. You know you won't get poisoned, but you'll never hear "Hey, the Suchansuch Diner has a new cook. Try his roast turkey! And his blueberry pie? Outa this world!" Nope. Never again. Them days are over...


Blogger -- your favorite dilettante said...

this is one of the reasons why i want to tour the country on a motorcycle. stuff like this, if it's still able to be found, is disappearing every day. . . . i'd like to be able to see what's left of the country before it's covered by another wal-mart. . . or just falls apart completely.

3:26 AM  
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