|The Beauty and Allure of... the Diner.|
posted by Dave on 4/25/01
The other night I went with my friends Dan and Mike to go see Our Lady Peace play at Irving Plaza here in NYC. Now while I'm not a huge fan of the band... the whole concept of paying $16 for a few hours of music and a guaranteed good time with two friends on a Monday night can never be a bad thing.
Now the plan was that Mike was coming over to my apartment at around 6:30 while Dan had planned on showing up at around 7:00. Now being that I get home from work at 4:30, logic would dictate that I would use that time in between my getting home and their arrival to kick back, relax and maybe get a couple of slices of pizza for dinner. Being that I use logic about as much as the people that post for a living at X-Entertainment's forum have sex... dinner just wasn't in the cards. I'm kidding, people.
I stopped at the corner deli on my way home and picked up two six packs and two packs of cigarettes. Now being that I'm one of that place's best customers, anytime I ever order two packs, they always seem to pull some magical Marlboro promotional "buy two packs get one free" little mini carton from under the counter for me. Also, anytime I ever purchase more than one six pack of beer at a time, the Korean guy behind the counter asks the question, "So.. you havin a party?"; to which I have to resist the urge of every wiseass bone in my body and say, "No.. Just having a friend or two over.".. instead of what I really want to say... "Yeah... I'm having a huge bash. You should stop by and hell, bring some friends even.. I mean, I have a twelve pack. The more, the merrier.".
So I go up the stairs, walk in the door, proceed to put on some music, crack open a beer and start the process of straightening up my apartment. I pretty much tend to keep my apartment like I keep myself... If other people are coming over.. I try and make it as neat as possible and give off the impression that it's always that way. If it's just me alone, I have no problem living in squallor and rolling around in my own filth.
So I clean up my apartment, put a couple of beers down, go online and chat with B for a little bit and by that time, I've successfully killed the time waiting for Mike to show up. We sit around catching up on what each other has been up to in life and partake in such intellectual conversations as:
Dave: "How come I can hear Def Leppard's "Armageddon It" for the first time in like a year and remember the exact part where he goes, "C'mon Steve!".. yet can't remember offhand one single thing I did at work today."
Mike: "I know exactly what you mean."
My other friend Dan shows up.. and being that we're going to a concert and in a music state of mind... the topic of conversation eventually becomes how much better music was back when we were in college in the mid-90's. This in turn leads to the obligatory Nirvana conversation and subsequent playing of the Unplugged album just before we get ready to head out.
We go to the show and while the concert itself was pretty good, I was more entertained by watching the guy in front of us (who was perhaps the biggest Our Lady Peace fan on the planet) convulse and shimmy to the music. He also had a head of hair on him that could have been classified as a living organism separate from the rest of his body.
By the time the concert was three quarers over with... my lack of dinner finally hit me and the hunger set in. Now to paraphrase the leader of the River Bottom Nightmare Band in Emmitt Otter's Jugband Christmas.. I wasn't hungry.. I was huuuunnnngrrraaaayyy.
Dan wanted to stay at the concert still, so Mike and I bid him adieu and ended up hopping in a cab and beginning the food decision making process. All of a sudden, the file in my mind of things to remember came to the forefront... and the hundreds of times I've passed by the diner that's six blocks from my apartment, yet have never eaten at.. finally registered.
The whole plan was almost thrown a monkeywrench as we passed by Smith and Wollensky's steakhouse... and the hankering for a good steak and the blatant disresepct I have for the credit card in my wallet, almost made me call the audible and tell the cab driver to stop right there.
We decided against it and continued on our path to the diner. We enter the place and the obligatory Greek guy tells us we can sit anywhere we want. As we sit down in the booth I couldn't help but notice that none of the tables in the joint had an ashtray on it. Upon noticing this I couldn't help but exclaim, "No smoking?? This isn't a fuckin diner.". On that note... welcome to The Main Topic of the Article
The Main Topic of the Article is partially inspired today by njdiners.com. I would have been more shocked if I didn't come across a website dedicated to New Jersey diners.
It's funny.. When it comes to after hours eating, people tend to have their own favorite late night spot. Now living in Manhattan, people have their 24 hour corner delis where it's possible to get pretty much anything you want at anytime. It's amazing the abundance and variety of products these little corner shops manage to fit into their limited space. You can't beat it though. Where else can you step out of your apartment, walk ten feet, and proceed to buy beer, get a deli sandwich made, and pick up a box of Depends for grandma at three in the morning? Okay so maybe the Depends aren't for grandma... Maybe you're just like me and don't want to feel hassled by having to get up off the couch to go to the bathroom a few times on a Sunday afternoon.
The whole corner deli situation is the reason why I had never been to that diner six blocks up from my apartment. Six blocks vs. ten feet, while drunk at three in the morning, might as well be six miles.
Things are different though when living in New Jersey. There's no 24 hour delis within walking distance.. and sure you could always just drive to the nearest 7-11.. but since you're in a car already anyway.. there's only one place to go.. the diner.
The funny thing about New Jersey diners is that in essence they are all exactly the same... yet people are very territorial about their own personal favorite...and overhearing arguments about which diner has the best cheese fries with gravy occurs more often than you would think.
I think it's mandated somewhere in the New Jersey law books that for each high school a town has.. there shall be at least that many, if not more diners within the town's borders. My town had three high schools.. and four diners. Our personal one was the King George Diner or the KGD as it is more popularly known.
KGD... In all of it's artist renditioned glory.
I remember when I went away to college down at Villanova in Pennsylvania... there was the Villanova Diner located on the main strip within walking distance from campus. It was like my second weekend during my freshman year, when I and a bunch of fellow Jerseyans I had become friends with excitedly decided to go there after leaving a party. As we got closer, we couldn't help but notice that the lights weren't on in the place. "How can this be?", we wondered. As we got to the door and looked at the operating hours of the establishment, we couldn't help but be bewildered that a building that clearly had the word "Diner" hanging above it closed at 10 pm?!?! Everybody's reaction was the same.. "This isn't a fuckin diner.".
Diner.. my ass!!
So what exactly makes a diner a diner?
Well first off, upon walking into the place, there has to be a mini-lobby type area tat leads to the inner doors. Within this area, there is usually at least one video game... usually something you have never even heard of... and from the looks of the people playing it.. they haven't either. There is also usually a cigarette machine and a fancy gumball machine that has either some huge swirly plastic track underneath it that makes getting the gumball a two minute experience.. or some of the gumballs themselves have "You Won" written on them for no apparent reason.
Upon entering the inner doors, you will be greeted by a host. Even if you walk in at four in the morning, there will be a tuxedoed or at least bow-tied Greek man ready to seat you. He will ask you whether you want, "Smoking" or "Non Smoking"? If you choose "Smoking" you will be escorted to the room that also houses the main counter and rows of booths. At the counter, there will be either a cop enjoying a cup of coffee.. and/or some old guy that looks like he has given up on living. If you choose "Non Smoking" you will be escorted to the main dining room area with free standing tables. Chances are at this time of night you will be the only ones in there... because let's face it, who the hell goes to a diner at four in the morning and doesn't have at least one person in their party that isn't ready to sit down and polish off a half a pack of cigarettes while they're there?
While you are following the host to your table, chances are if it's the town you grew up in.. you will have to stop at least at two different tables to say hello to people you haven't seen since, well, probably since the last time you were at this diner.
Upon sitting down, there will always be at least one person that doesn't even open up the menu... because he already knows what he wants. (It's usually the cheeseburger deluxe). This is usually the guy, who since he has nothing to look at, will be the first to start flipping through the jukebox selections located in the antiquated box, that somehow still works, at your table. This will immediately cause everybody else at your table to totally stop looking at their menu and start looking at the song selections.
While you are looking at what songs to pick... a little immigrant will slither out of nowhere and fill up your glasses with water. You will never see him again.
Now while you have been too busy concentrating on what songs to pick instead of what you're going to order.. the waiter or waitress will come by and you'll have to say, "Can you give us a few more minutes?", while the cheeseburger deluxe guy now regrets looking at the jukebox, because he could have ordered by now if he didn't distract everybody. In the meantime, you order a plate of cheese fries with gravy... just because it's assumed you were going to order one anyway.
Now, speaking of the waiter or the waitress. If it's a waiter, chances are he will be really friendly and look like an out of work gay porn star. If it's a waitress, it most likely will be a woman in her late thirties - early forties who will be every bit as surly as a woman dealing with drunk people at four in the morning should be.
Getting back to what music to select, the first thing you will do is listen to the current selection playing and try to play detective and figure out which table chose it. Then when making your own selections, chances are you will go with one cheesy eighties selection along the lines of Nena's "99 Luftballoons"; one hair band selection.. possibly Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls"; and just for good measure a Bruce song.. most likely "Born to Run".
Now if you have me sitting at your table and "Girls, Girls, Girls" is on.. it's chances are pretty good that I will gleefully blurt out "Hey, Tommy check that out, man.... "What Vince, where?" during that part of the song.
Now when the waitress or waiter comes back to take your order, it's almost guaranteed that the following occurs:
-- One person orders something that makes everybody else at the table give a "WTF?!" type of look. ie. Meatloaf or egg salad.
-- One person will order a milkshake which will immediately sound like the best idea in the world to somebody else at the table, causing him to order one as well.
--Despite the oncoming cheese fries with gravy.. whoever orders the cheeseburger will still get the "deluxe" regardless... just because extra fries never hurt anybody.
While you are waiting for your food and even after the food arrives... you and your friends will sit there and have the best conversation that you'll never remember the next day. These conversations can range anywhere from twenty minutes to three hours.
Once the food arrives, there will be only one person at the table who actually eats the little serving of coleslaw that they bring out with everybody's plate. This will give the rest of the table, who are non-coleslaw eaters the green light to send their portions his way. He will not eat any of them.
When the meal is done and it's time for the check to arrive, the majority of the people at the table will mysteriously only have a $20 bill. The one that has bills smaller than a twenty will usually have just enough to cover his meal. This will cause the decision to be made of whether or not somebody wants to go up to the counter to break one of the twenties or whether or not one of the $20 bearers just wants to say "Fuck it.. You'll get me back later.".
Upon walking out, you will either grab a toothpick or mint from the counter while sticking a quarter into the little ASPCA container that has the same picture of that rail thin dog that they've been using forever. Now if one of your party has to go to the bathroom before leaving, chances are you'll be drawn to the video game in the lobby area and people just entering the diner will look at you, the same way you looked at the people that were playing the game when you first arrived. The cycle is now complete.
End of Main Topic of the Article
So to get back to the story at hand... I walked into this "diner" on Monday night with my friend Mike. Now first of all, there was no tuxedoed Greek man. Only some guy in a seventies style button down shirt who told us to sit wherever we wanted. That's a no-no. Then it was learned that there was "no smoking" in the entire place. That's a no-no. Looking over to see no jukebox. No-no. When we ordered cheese fries with gravy.. the guy (same guy who seated us, waited on us. No-no.) asked, "What kind of cheese?". No-no. It should just be assumed to be mozzarella. Then we had to explain to the guy the concept of gravy with french fries. No-no.
Now granted the food was really good. In addition to the cheese fries with gravy, we ordered onion rings as well... and Mike went with the Turkey Melt, while I had the BBQ burger. We put on an eating display that was for all accounts pretty impressive.... but the thing is, the next morning as I was getting out of the shower, I booted it all out. That's a no-no. Throwing up and then having to get dressed and ready for work just isn't fun.
The moral of the story is... if you want to go to a "diner" in the tri-state area... go to New Jersey.