One of the guilty pleasures I enjoy is going to the diner for breakfast, especially at the shore. Who feels like going through all the fuss of cooking breakfast for yourself when it’s much easier just to sit down at the counter and hear someone say “the usual?”
I wake up very early for some reason. That seems to be a more recent phenomenon in my life. I just wake up, usually around 5, and surrender to the rising sun. Once I get going, the body quickly says, “Coffee...pancakes...diner!” And off I go.
Down the shore, where I spend a good part of the summer, I have a favorite breakfast spot. It’s like “déjà vu,” walking into a place that time forgot. The floor tiles and counter are vintage 1950s, with silverware and napkins already neatly arranged and waiting for the next customer.
Usually the clientele at that early hour consists of a handful of older guys scattered around the place, either solo or sitting with a buddy. They all seem to know each other, however, waving or yelling their “good mornin’s” without hesitation as they pass through the aging screen door. It’s funny watching them vie for the attention of the young college girls home for the summer and making a few bucks waiting tables.
No need to eavesdrop here. Actually, you couldn’t NOT hear the conversations since “indoor voices” don’t seem to be allowed. Joe, Mikey, John, Bernie are among the “regulars,” pontificating about everything from last night’s game and the traffic in town and the summer shore crowds to the latest crisis on the world stage and what our country should be doing about it. I mean, these guys are experts on everything! I learn about their grandchildren and how much money their sons-in-laws are making. Why do I have the sense that they aren’t really listening to one another as they wave the waitress over for more coffee with a politically incorrect “hey, hon” or “sweetheart?” And you know what? The girls don’t seem to mind at all.
Yes, a place that time forgot.
It’s kind of fun observing the back-and-forth, repeated almost every time I’m there, as though scripted for a TV sitcom. I sit there, incognito (at least, I think nobody recognizes the Bishop), enjoying my pancakes (with sugar-free syrup!) and thinking about the day ahead.
The old guys linger, in dated cargo shorts, tee shirts advertising some bar in Florida or their grandkid’s college and velcro-closed sneakers, welcoming late comers – at 6:45! – to the friendly mix as though they hadn’t seen one another in months although actually they had seen one another yesterday. Ah, this is a slice of life at the shore, life in America, that I wouldn’t trade for any other place in the world.
The waitress walks over, hands me the check with a cheerful “have a nice day,” and goes back to her other “regulars,” coffee pot in her hand. Pulling out my wallet, I rise in my own dated cargo shorts and one of my many tee shirts advertising our Catholic schools and adjust the velcro on my sneaker. Suddenly, it dawns on me ... I have become one of these old guys! How did that happen? I remember the 1950s!
Where did time go?
The nostalgic scene then quickly disappears as I glance down at my iPhone to check the first emails of the day.
It’s a great life!