A Dying Tradition
August 1, 2013
“Everything is homemade,” the waitress assured me as I glanced down at the menu.
“If you want lots of hash browns, this is the place to be,” a patron informed me as I placed my order of biscuits and gravy.
Over a week ago, at sunrise as I descended (after several ascents) into Blair, NE, I was hungry. Again. And in spite of the good company I knew I would always find, I was tired of convenience food. I was ready for a good Sunday morning breakfast. A really big one, and I knew from my childhood that local diners were the best place to find what I needed.
I don’t often look to Yelp since they are the competitors to the travel app for which I occasionally write, but this morning, as I typed in “Restaurants Blair NE” on my GPS, Yelp reared its head, informing me that the food was great and the helpings were generous. Just what I had been seeking.
The review added it was among a dying tradition.
As I waited outside the restaurant, which hadn’t opened for the morning, a couple joined me on the bench, informing me that the breakfast special was not only good but also affordable. “There is no way you can eat it all,” he challenged.
He was wrong.
“How was the sale, Tommy?” the next wave of patrons asked as they entered the door of the diner in Brady.
The group followed upon the tail of a motley pair, a woman and a scraggly-looking, duffle-toting man. As she hugged the waitress, she told her, “Get him whatever he would like. It is on me,” interestingly the same thing the waitress had just heard from Tommy regarding my breakfast.
The conversation at the other table wandered as aimlessly and picturesquely as most of the bike trails I have encountered: through talk of weather; prices of antiques, corn, hogs and cattle; mutilations from machinery that happened over two decades ago; how the local saloons handled the traffic when the “Hawgs” passed through; plans for the next family cruise and the daughter’s wedding. The types of conversations upon which love, life, death and business were built upon in the hard soil of America’s heartland.
“I had to get down on my hands and knees to get it done,” echoed from the other table. “I couldn’t even send a postcard to get him to help me,” he added, as the rest of the table broke out into laughter. Bits and pieces of broken gossip meant to unite and amuse whatever listener happened to be eavesdropping on the conversation.
“Most business in a small town is done over morning coffee,” my father-in-law informed my ex husband when we first moved into what had become my children’s home town, the small rural community where I taught art and literature for ten years.
He was right. Too bad I preferred my coffee in the privacy of my own patio accompanied by yet another book on art history. I am realizing I had missed out on years of news, business, camaraderie.
In the larger towns along the way, the diners have given way to superstores with Starbucks in one corner, deli in another with tables placed somewhere in between.
The chatter is the same, but the atmosphere is different.
The uniformed cashier calls out the same types of greetings, “How are you today?” adding the cliché, “We are all still vertical. That’s all that matters,” throwing in the assurance, “We have spill insurance” as the customer apologizes for the coffee that had toppled from the tray she was carrying.
As my waitress in Brady passes by with the carafe, weaving her way through the meandering conversations and laughter, asking me if I would care for some more coffee, I smile and nod, thankful that my hands have finally adapted enough to the strain of shifting and braking to be able to hold a fork again.
Nearly home, and my overtaxed muscles are just beginning to adapt to the strain of the road. As I swallow the last bit of coffee, I idly wonder what tomorrow’s conversation at the diner will be?