Taking a Stand for Small Diners
In the beginning of the 1950s, when less was much, and Communism a filthy word, America’s number one import was not wheat, corn, or beef, but the Small Diner. No other business sounded, looked, or smelled like the Small Diner. If you are rolling your eyes in disbelief, I don't really care. But your grandparents met in one, ate in one every Friday night and even fell hopelessly in love in a Small Diner. There was one on every corner in every small town in America.
Every Small Diner was different. From the retired hardware store owner sitting with his wife, "Marge," in "their" booth while he winked at her and smoked his Tampa Nugget.--while the cocky Greaser smoked his Winston standing by the cashier posing a Brando pose and eyeing the pretty waitress, "Donna." No Small Diner was complete without these incomparable cast of characters.
The food was fast and so was "Dimples," a 30ish woman who loved to dance in those out-of-town dance halls with "Harry," a man she's dated way past her walk down the aisle – but she doesn't care. She is fueled by hope and nibbles on faith each morning when she puts on her face. And while she is getting ready to go to "Bobby's Place," the only diner in her town, she occasionally smokes a Winston, but not on the job--so her church following will not scold her for acting the whore.
The Small Diner boomed! Money was taken in as fast as these eateries were fading into history. People in these Days of Prosperity were blind and loving it. If you lived in a small town and did not have a Small Diner, you were of men, most miserable. Life wasn't challenging or a haven for the lonely unless a town had a Small Diner. Songs and sonnets were written about Small Diners. And for good reason. They meant more than their building and equipment was worth. The Small Diner was alone on the front lines to feed the starving and supply the blackest of strong coffee for those "nights before."
Fights and spats sprang up at Prom Time as well as the break-ups and burned-out's who had rode the striped line way too long and just "bought the farm" in an obscure motel room with "A Man With a Broke Heart Was Here" scribbled on a dusty wall. The three-story hotel with cheap rooms, by the week or by the day, were cousins with the Small Diners. They, without any creator, went hand-in-hand. When everyone and every thing failed, you could always count on the Small Diner and the Cheap Motel. They were priceless even while they made their day in daily life. And yet, no one was able to see their demise.
I recall a time not so far back when I was on a "Selling Tour" for a radio station where I worked, and when my empty stomach told me to drive over and eat--I hit the first Small Diner that was on my road route. You may not believe this, but the very moment that I entered the small eating establishment, there was a group greeting, hey, shug! Make yourself at home--one of us will be with ya' soon. I felt welcomed and embraced by the unpretentious atmosphere of the diner. The place, I have to say, was packed. No seats. No booths. "Sissy," not a joke, took my order while I stood and studied the jukebox sitting in the back and you might be thinking now that I was in a Ripley's Believe it or Not, but on this jukebox were the Hit Music Years represented by: Jim Reeves, Country Music, "He'll Have to Go; Elvis, Early Rock, "Love Me Tender," and Steppenwolf, 60s Rock, "Born to Be Wild," all at one time. I knew then that I would never see this happen again. Not too many years from that time, I was right.
I recall a time in a nearby city north of my hometown, Hamilton, Ala., in a city northwest of me, Hodges, Ala., the smallest of small town Americana still stands. The population today is no more than 288 people. No joke. And no joke--Hodges makes "Mayberry, N.C." home of "Andy" and "Barney" look posh. Hodges is an old heart-throb of mine when I was 17. But my heart did not throb for girls with names like: "Dixie Mae," or "Sally Jean," (oh, how I loved them), but the Small Diner named: The Hodges City Diner. I mean every word.
I hate to sound selfish, but when I reached for the door handle of the Hodges City Diner, I thought that maybe this one time, "this" diner will be different. How could I have been so ignorant? The moment I stepped inside, a waitress snapping her Wrigley's said, "Hey, hun, be with ya' in a moment. Just sit anywhere, and I did. I would have loved "Barb,"even with her snapping Wrigley's. The food and coffee were fantastic--and my huge cheeseburger, fries, and coffee came to $3.55 tax included. "Ginny," the cashier smiled a genuine, and I waved back as I left. This honest-to-God great atmosphere, food, and true friendliness had to come from God. I could not think of Bill Gates, who just "thinks" his philanthropy makes points in Heaven--but even Gates, if he were forced to visit one of the Small Diner(s) that I've been talking about--were forced to step inside one of the Pure Classic Small Diner(s) because the GPS on his Rolls stalled and he needed directions, he would, I hope, be treated with the same non-discriminatory attitude that I had received. Then buy one for melting his eccentric heart.
Bravo, Small Diners! Do ya' hear me? Bravo!
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© 2018 Kenneth Avery