Monday, October 12, 2009

Calling from the Diner

I love diners for a lot of reasons, coffee being one of them. It’s cheap, generally a buck at your classic dives, in the $1.25 to $1.65 range at breakfast chains or what have you. It’s hot, and at the right time of day (or with the right waitress) it’s fresh. Best of all, it’s bottomless. You can drink as much as you like and the cup will always be forthcoming, as the waitress comes forth and offers more. You might limit yourself to a single cup at home, concerned about blood pressure and jitters and everything in between. At a diner you keep refilling the cup until it’s time to leave.

Occasions bring you to diners. Whether you’re on the road, on vacation, or your cupboards are bare and making breakfast is just too much responsibility to bear, diners are a great way to kill some time.

Diners make for great company. Interpersonal dynamics are tricky, chemical, ethereal. The boisterous drunk at a crowded party may be the perfect person for that time and place, but at an intimate dinner, the same person may be simply obnoxious. You probably have preferences on who you invite to a dinner party in your home vs. who you take out to dinner. You have movie friends (both rental and cinematic), SNL groupies, bowling buddies, reading groups, etc. - any number of social circles that are delicately balanced and carefully segregated.

At a diner, these circles can mix. A quick breakfast, lunch, or coffee and pie & coffee with someone you wouldn’t invite shopping or to dinner or a movie (well, maybe going out to a movie; you don’t need to talk, you just need to sit there) can offer unique bonding experiences. Almost everyone is interesting over pigs-in-a-blanket. The conversations can be business, philosophy, politics, TV, mindless blather, neurotic attention paid to minute detail, obsessive discourse on shared pop culture enjoyments, sex, love, the future, the past, the present. The picnic-style wood table, the white surface of indeterminate origin flecked with patterns of gold and silver, the wood veneer, the checkered tablecloth, the plastic gingham - all become blank canvases on which we paint any number of social interactions.

I like diners for the same reason I like breakfast: potential. Your day has just begun, and any number of wonderful things might happen because you haven’t had a chance to fuck it up. When you pull out a chair or slide onto a bench, the same potential is there. Jokes and odd phrases become shorthand and running commentary long after the last person leaves the table. Shared grief can open new friendships, whether it’s something as profound as a death or panic-inducing as losing a job or the realization that you’ll never read a new Harry Potter. The life stories that tend to come up in the dead period between ordering and eating. It’s all on the table before you even sit down.

1 comment:

  1. Hullo AJC,
    Nice one, perfectly observed and too true.