Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Let's talk about diners. We'll start with the chains, I guess, though to my mind these are not technicall diners but rather a marketing masquerade: these are the ubiquitous casual restaurants that you visit every time you go on a cross-country trip (it was always Waffle House for my family, since we lived in Missouri and made most of our sojourns either to St. Louis or to points further south). First, there's the fact that the Mason-Dixon line could easily be called the IHOP-Waffle House line. Waffle Houses, which serve not only waffles but other quintessential diner food--greasy eggs, greasy sausages, and somehow--only God and the Waffle House people know how-- greasy grits. Not much vegetarian food. None at all if you consider that everything is presumably cooked on the same griddle, subatomic particles of bacon finding their way into my grilled cheese sandwich. But, when needs must, one reverts to being six years old and makes do with such options. It is a fact that when my grandfather died and we drove to St. Louis for the funeral I ate nothing but grilled cheese sandwiches during the three days of our trip, at various Shake-n-Steaks (how far does the Shake-n-Steak empire reach?) and Waffle Houses. It is also a fact that, when I drove myself to school my sophomore year (all 1200 miles, most of it with my Iowan friend Amy) my mother drove with me up to the Waffle House near the Kansas City airport, north of the Missouri River. We had breakfast there and said our tearful goodbyes; then I jumped in the car, consulted the map, lit a cigarette and headed for Lenox, Iowa. So we have established that Waffle Houses are special places indeed.
Later there will be more--about the IHOP where I spent most of the summer before my freshman year of college, and where my friend R. met a slew of unsuitable boyfriends (ranging from the simply boorish and unmotivated to one who was a bonafide ex-con drug dealer). About the Corner Restaurant in Westport where I met my friends over Christmas my freshman year, and told them that I had been raped at school. About Winstead's, a Kansas City tradition, where there are chocolate "Skyscraper" malts that easily serve three (not to mention a smoking section that my clearly-underage friends and I were allowed to sit in late at night when no one else was in the restaurant), and damn fine grilled cheese sandwiches, too. About Nichols' 24 Hour Diner, on Southwest Trafficway, where my first girlfriend and I went for a late-night snack one snowy winter's night and where I was sure, for the first time, that I was really in love; we were served tater tots with cheese sauce by a transvestite waitress (Nichols' is right next to a drag bar). And more. All these secrets, all these memories, summoned up by the smell of hash browns and extra-strength coffee, a waitress who calls you "hon," a Formica tabletop.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments about Waffle House--Indigestion Franchise--and I-HOP, marginally better. I knew someone who ate 'vegetarian' who thought that the bean burrito at Taco Bell was a reasonable dinner. I thought the flour tortilla was made with LARD! Maybe she didn't know what lard is? And how can a true vegetarian be fat? She was.
Glad you've arrived.
Aunt Susie

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments about Waffle House--Indigestion Franchise--and I-HOP, marginally better. I knew someone who ate 'vegetarian' who thought that the bean burrito at Taco Bell was a reasonable dinner. I thought the flour tortilla was made with LARD! Maybe she didn't know what lard is? And how can a true vegetarian be fat? She was.
Glad you've arrived.
Aunt Susie