A bell rings when I walk through the door. A coat rack sits to my left and I slide out of my stupidly puffy jacket and hang on the highest hook. Immediately, I'm hit with smells - coffee, maple syrup, grease, and bleach. This is paradise.
I know that if I'm seated at the bar, I'll have a full view of the kitchen, behind the counter, and most importantly, the coffee station. But this time i'm interested in a corner booth to cocoon myself and have a full view of the place.
When the waitress approaches she says, "What'll it be" instead of a 'Good evening' or 'Hi, how ya doin'.. These are all the things i'm missing quite a bit right now.
There's two different types of hospitality: The first genre is the old timey, untouched, same staff, same menu, no upgrades, no bullshit vibe. Then there's the new age diner: an establishment that's TRYING to be a diner. The items on the menu are not greasy enough. The coffee is a little too tried, a little too perfect. The decor is too organized and minimalist. I want random photos of celebrities, first dollar bills in frames, and old records on the walls. Not monsteras and minimalist art. The staff are pleasant and chatty. And for the love of god, please no iPads for tills. We need registers and dockets please.
Take me back to the sticky laminate booths that somehow still smell of Clorox. The seats look like bowling balls, glittering with old retro color. I'm in need of the gum-chewing waitress that quietly comes over, places a mug in front of me, and fills it to the brim with black coffee without even asking. A laminated menu the size of my upper body is placed alongside it. Not a word is spoken, and i'm left in peace to make my decision.
Obviously, the go-to choice is always a short stack for me. It's criminal but I also do enjoy a side of hashbrowns and eggs over easy. Typically, the eggs and hashys come on their own plate, while the short stack needs its own platform. The decision is made, as it always is. There's no point looking at the menu as most Diner menus are the same. This is the beauty of a traditional American diner. We don't need to dissect and decode what each dish is.
The waitress comes back, her name is Dotti and she's got pink lipstick on that I would imagine has been the go-to lippy for a decade. "What can I getcha?" She looks down at me with a hand on her hip and a coffee pot in the other hand. This isn't a look of annoyance or of anything negative. This is a woman who has worked at this same diner for the past 10 years. Her co-workers have worked here with her for nearly the same amount of time. She's sleepy, unamused, and everything is done by muscle memory. "I'll have the short stack please, with a side of hashbrowns and eggs over easy."
She nods, takes the menu, and walks back behind the bar. This is the best part about the whole experience. Left to my own devices, I can now tune into the faint Peggy Lee song playing in the background. I can browse the faces of each patron and make up a life story inside my head on how they wound up here. I had been driving through the night and was just about to break my 6th hour on the road. Driving from Florida to LA was a bit of a mission, and I was planning to hit every diner I possibly could to ensure i'm continuing my mission on finding the best pancakes in America.
I was just outside of Trinidad, CO and snow was definitely on the horizon. This particular diner had an assortment of visitors. There was a table of 4 musicians who I imagined we're on tour, two ranchers sitting up at the bar, a mother with three small children directly to my left, and then the odd lone rangers seated in corner booths. Where were they all going? Who were they? Focusing back on the coffee, how good is this mug? Hearty, heavy, and an off-white color that appears to be stained from years worth of coffee. Something catches my eye. A faint pink lip stain on the brim of my mug. Im puzzled for a split moment. For once i'm not wearing lipstick, and I wouldn't be caught dead in anything but a deep red. I laugh softly once the realisation hits me. It's for sure Dotti's.
Thoughts are then disrupted by two extremely large plates placed in front of my face. A short stack of piping hot pancakes that are the size of plates. My coffee is refilled. Before I can look up to thank Dotti, she's already swaying back to the bar. There's a slab of butter perfectly squared and placed in the middle which has started to melt into itself. A butter sauna. Reaching for the syrup, i've noticed we've got an array of choice here. This place is really splashing out. Maple syrup, blueberry syrup, and raspberry. Maple is always the way.
How magical are diners? Truly, I can't think of a better place to be. This is the space I like to be in to turn the noise off, and focus on whats around me. Concentrate on the coffee, the pancakes, the weather outside. Forever wondering about the waitress and who she is. What does she do when she's not working? Who's in the kitchen? Who are these people? Do they always come here or is this just a passing through spot?
After breakfast for dinner and downing my coffee, i'm asked if I'd like another top up in a to-go cup. Bless this establishment. I also have a bad habit of purchasing mugs from any diner that sells them. I buy a mug, smile at the waitress who doesn't change her facial expression, and get back on the road.
Onto the next diner!