Thoughts: Lessons from the Diner


It is Tuesday, and my favorite diner is closed on Tuesdays. I am in a little place in the next town over. The food is not as good. The music isn’t even close. And they don’t have internet. Still, it’s a place to get away and write.

The people here are louder. I can hear the conversations throughout the diner without trying. There are complaints – about jobs, about spouses, about the weather, about the government. Anyone who was sitting here would think that complaining was all people do here.

Or at least part of all. There’s a drunk at the counter. An artist who, it appears, doesn’t do art. He is talking to an older woman. If we were a Raymond Chandler novel, we’d call her a floozy, a generation or two past her prime. The two are flirting and lying to each other over eggs and hash. I know just enough about each of them to recognize the lies. But they are happy, laughing at each other’s jokes. You’d swear, watching them, that was a bar in the wee hours of the morning instead of a diner at breakfast.

There are two young men. Maybe twenty. Construction workers if their t-shirts, bulging with muscles, are telling the truth. They eat like hungry animals. Eggs. Bacon. Sausage. Ham. Toast. Potatoes. Pancakes. Seconds. How they manage to eat so ferociously and talk at the same time is some sort of minor miracle. Their life, it seems, is full of stupid supervisors, demanding wives and more demanding children. Not a positive word passes their lips. Ten minutes in, pretty much everyone in the diner knows their woes. I can’t help thinking that if any of the other patrons know either their supervisors or wives, these guys are in for a rough tomorrow. It’s a small town.

At the far end of the one-room diner is a middle-aged couple. Evidently, they are mad at their church, which has done them the discourtesy of not believing exactly as they do on some minor point of theology. As a part-time pastor myself, I have to smile. I have yet to know a church that believed exactly as anyone in the congregation. Life and faith are too complex. All we can do is find a place where we feel loved and cared for, and where we can worship. The couple is loud as they wave their arms and give a running litany of the flaws of all the churches they have been part of for at least a decade. Normally, when I overhear people looking for a church, I insert myself into the conversation and invite them to Rupert Methodist. Today, I am quiet. If people can churn through so many churches in that short a time, I’d just be another stopover point.

There’s a young woman halfway across the room. Early thirties maybe. She is talking to her baby about her baby daddy, and he has, it seems, no redeeming social value. The baby is small and cannot possibly understand what she is saying. But he will.

There is another older couple at the counter. They don’t like the food. It is, they say, greasy. And they are right. They mutter about it throughout their meal, finish and pay their bill. As they leave they call out to the waitress “See you tomorrow!”

There’s a bearskin on one wall, complete with bear head. There’s chatsky (I am sure I spelled that wrong) on a shelf over the counter. Old faded vases. Old faded plastic flowers. Wires drape over the 1950’s pine board walls for speakers and lights. Homemade wiring abounds.

Just across the aisle from me is a man about my age. He is recovering from a recent heart attack. For a moment, I feel my own mortality. And then I rejoice in my relatively good health. For all the stuff that is not working quite right in my sixty-two-year-old flesh, most of it works admirably. Nothing holds me back physically.

And that is how I leave the place. Rejoicing. My life has the normal amount of full-fledged screwiness and less than perfectness. I could, if I was inclined, have joined the chorus of complaints. I’d fit right in. But my life also has a lot of wonder and joy in it.

Do I have more of that good stuff than most people? I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t think so. I think it’s a matter of focus.

I am sure I was the aberration. Most of the crowd were obviously regulars. The waitress called them all by name as they came and went. And me, I sat at the back corner table. A stranger. Quiet. A little smile of gratitude on my face. I thanked her for the coffee. Complimented the food and the good service (and the service was indeed good.). And then off to start my day.

I didn’t end up writing all I expected this morning. All the noise got in the way. Too much. Too loud. But I got a lesson in gratitude and that was worth the break in the routine.

Oh, and the hash was good.

Be well. Travel wisely,


PS – The picture is not of the diner I visited today. I didn’t want to give away the location of the place and town. The picture is of the Trolley Stop in Poultney, Vermont, a place I have previously referred to as the relentlessly cheerful diner. If you go there, get the chicken and gravy. It’s to die for.

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