Category Archives: The Diner

A Tale of Two Diners

After a weekend of enjoying Michael’s company and working hard to get the house ready for spring, I drove into the city on Sunday. (I must point out here that, once all the planters were out, the grill brought up on the deck, the porch semi-organized, and the fireplace cleaned out and wood put away, we got about 2 inches of snow! Jay, from Homer’s Construction, blamed me for the snow having jinxed the weather by taking planters out of the shed!)
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Back to the diners. On Monday morning early I drove to Brooklyn to spend the day with Rachel and Riley, found parking and got a text from Dave to meet them at “their diner.” I went to the 5th Avenue Diner in Park Slope, had a cup of coffee while I waited, and watched as regulars came in to the much smaller space than “my diner.” I found it interesting and revealing that we so quickly take ownership of a diner moreso than a restaurant — Rachel and I do not consider DuJour “our coffee shop” even though we go there frequently. I reflected on the personal nature of diners. The waitress at 5th Avenue Diner was friendly, knew all the orders for her regulars, and kept my coffee cup filled. Never once did I feel like she was concerned with how long I sat there. Once Dave, Rachel and Riley arrived, she was accommodating of the stroller, interacted with Riley, and made us feel very comfortable. I can see why Dave considers this a place worthy of being labeled “our diner.”

This morning I went into Milford to my diner — The Milford Diner. I was greeted by name by the waitress, Carol, who knows all the local gossip, who’s doing what for Easter weekend, and any other information that she comes across by visiting all the tables. Then one of the owners came out from the back and also said “Hello, Pat, how’s everything?” Carol assured me that Judy, who usually sits in the first booth, would stop by and visit in a little while. I had my breakfast, Freddy kept my coffee cup filled, and I thought how much like the other diner this was. Diner food has always been one of my favorites — when I was in high school, somehow on Friday nights, many of us ended up at the Plainview Diner (or Sandy’s but that’s another story). No cell phones, texts, emails, or IMs and miraculously we all ended up at the diner late-ish (not too late) on a Friday night. I suppose it’s a matter of comfort; where one feels free to talk, laugh, take one’s time, and no one judges.

I have a theory that diner waitresses are different from restaurant waitresses. Diner patrons are different from restaurant patrons. There’s an atmosphere in a diner that caters to regulars, tourists, kids on a day off from school, and occasional truckers and others passing through. I guess that’s why so many of us like them. Diner menus are definitely interesting, too. I wonder how they can offer pages and pages of options but that requires a lot more research and reflection. If you are traveling soon, or are in a small town, go to the diner — make sure you talk to your waitress!

Changes at the Diner

dinerFor no particular reason, I went to the diner three times this week — Monday, Thursday, and Friday. It was a slow week in Lord’s Valley! When I arrived on Monday, Susie served me (I had met her before) although she didn’t know what I typically ordered. “Where is Nancy?” I asked. “She’s gone. Yesterday was her last day.” Everyone was talking about it but she had mentioned for some time getting a job closer to her family. Apparently Nancy had been at The Milford Diner for 13 years becoming close friends with many of the regulars and with the owners as well. The consensus was that things just won’t be the same without Nancy. My reaction, as a newbie, was one of happiness for Nancy who apparently is going to be purchasing manager at a company where family members work. If that makes her happy, then it’s a good thing. I like Susie and was comfortable with her although there were a few people who felt that they might not be able to keep coming to the diner now that Nancy’s gone. We all know, however, that this is an idle threat to add to the drama of the morning.

By the time I went back on Thursday, however, my attitude had changed a bit. And today, someone I had never seen before waited on me and I must admit to feeling a little uncomfortable and not quite as welcome as usual. Of course, people said hello, I had a short conversation with Judy, and sat and read my book without worrying about how long I sat there (not long). It was quite crowded this morning since it’s the start of the Milford Music Festival, also billed by the Dimmick Inn as Brooklyn Day. There doesn’t seem to be any direct connection with Brooklyn at all except for a game of stickball scheduled for tomorrow morning; stickball being a city street game. The festival looks like fun with bands playing at different venues around town culminating in a performance by Pete Seeger (sold out!) at the Milford Theatre. So, the diner was full today but it often is on Fridays during spring and summer when tourists and seasonal people return. (Do I sound like a native now that I refer to outsiders as tourists and seasonal people?!)

Yesterday, the “Thursday Boys” were at their usual tables in the back, so there didn’t seem to be any mass movement to leave because Nancy was no longer serving. I will certainly keep driving the 12 miles down the interstate for breakfast. Yesterday, I convinced Judy to open her store so I could buy some candles so the diner experience was enhanced by shopping all before 10:00 AM. I wish Nancy all the best but I, too, miss her and miss the easy conversation which I do not expect happening with any of the other waitresses. Freddie still brought my coffee but I must agree with the other diner regulars, it just wasn’t the same.

More on Technology

On a dreary morning, I decided to go into the diner before shopping mostly because I knew that there would be someone there to talk to or that would say hello and start my day on a positive note! Besides, it’s on the way to Price Chopper. It’s no Publix, but it is a big store with fabulous produce. I was surprised to see Greg sitting with Judy trying to convince her to look at phones in a new way and upgrade to a smartphone or IPhone. Considering my comments the other day about the lack of technological know-how, I started thinking about some comments from friends and relatives on this subject. Three specific things happened this morning leading me to analyze this small amount of data on use of technology!

First, the sight of Greg showing Judy how to pinch a photo that he had taken to make it bigger. I am fortunate to have family that is beyond the typical as far as understanding all sorts of technological wonders — not just computers or IPhones, but IPads, website development, video editing, creation of all things using computers, and programming. So, I am a bit smug although my children will chuckle when they read this because as far as they are concerned I am pretty much a dinosaur. Or at least a mastodon!

Second, my sister-in-law, Jill, sent me a very long email that included her comments about people in her area and in her immediate circle of friends and acquaintances who would not even consider having a computer, much less communicating via computer. Her contention is that, once we retire, we lose the something that encourages us to learn new skills but I hope that’s not true. However, according to my data so far it’s looking grim and looking like she might be on to something. Jill was, of course, responding to my blog not just sending random thoughts on use of technology. I must say that she texts regularly with her daughter overseas and uses email every day and, given the limitations of her service provider in Australia, it is pretty amazing.

Third, in trying to complete my task of sending an e-vite for our high school reunion, I am updating the spreadsheet and receiving information by email that will help me create the invitation to be sent to my graduating class (year intentional omitted). This morning, Wendy emailed that she spoke with one of our classmates who said she doesn’t have email and couldn’t we please mail printed invitations! I am always stunned when I hear that people do not have email accounts since it is such an important part of my life. Instead of wondering and worrying how I will create an electronic invitation, I am not stressing over how to mail them out and who to mail them to. Do we mail to only those for whom we do not have email addresses? What about the people with only phone numbers and who didn’t return calls? Do we mail print invitations and the email one? Why does it seem like it’s more complicated than it should be?!

And last, Sharon commented on my blog that she thinks there is something about our work that provided the vehicle through which we learned how to communicate long distance and how to use technology to make our jobs easier (at least that’s how I interpreted her comments). But, and this is an important but, she also said that the idea of being technology free is somehow appealing and maybe she would be one of those people I mentioned who found the idea of having a computer totally foreign. I doubt it. I think once we are hooked on technology we are bound to it forever!

All of these things taken together spurred me to my computer to blog. I admit that I sleep with my IPhone and IPad on the nightstand; that I updated all of my electronics before I moved because I was worried about being out of touch; and that I am already thinking about my next computer, new IPhone, and next IPad! Before 7:00 AM today I had communicated with two dear friends and by 8:30 AM had heard from Australia. It was a comfort!

Monday Morning at the Diner

After my walk this morning, I decided to drive into Milford to the diner for breakfast. Last Friday I was there for lunch and noticed that the atmosphere was not the same in the afternoon. Different wait staff, different seating, and a different vibe. It was enjoyable nonetheless and it provided the impetus for me to do some serious thinking about the diner and the people who go there. This morning, in spite of the empty stools in this photo, there were the regulars. Judy, owner of a home decor shop in Milford; George, an owner; Greg, Judy’s friend; another George; and the guy with the toupee. Nancy, my waitress was there of course, and a second waitress who is very friendly but I don’t know her name.
counter Judy invited me to join her, which seemed to create a bit of confusion for others because there is always someone sitting at her booth usually for short periods of time. It was nice to have the company and our conversation led me to consider the way I assume that everyone I meet understands technology, social media, and the varied way websites are used for personal and business purposes. So, I left my booth empty (the second placemat is subtly removed by Freddie when I walk in the door). booth

As I’ve mentioned before, business is off in Milford. The town has a number eclectic shops from Fretta’s Italian Deli, a sweet shop, the patisserie, and a few restaurants, to the pottery at Blue Stone Studio, the used bookstore, and several specialty shops and photo galleries. One of these shops is Judy’s, with a mix of antiques and collectibles and small decorator items for the home. It is thoughtfully laid out and very inviting. Business, however, is not what it used to be and, according to Judy, this is because of the recession. When I mentioned the possible creation of a website to better market her shop and items in it, we discussed how Upriver Home has an active web-based business in addition to the store in Milford. As we talked I realized that my assumption that everyone understands how computers work, how the internet can be used (ironic — coming from me with a limited understanding of all this!), is a false assumption. Some people I meet at the diner and elsewhere do not own computers and use cell phones only for phone calls. If one doesn’t own a computer at all then having a website, especially one through which you sell merchandise, probably won’t work! It never ceases to surprise me that the concept of blogging is one that is foreign to people, not to mention the idea of apps that provide access to all sorts of information. Forget Facebook and email altogether.

What this brings to mind is the fact that talking face to face is a most effective means of communicating with a limited number of people. That’s why the diner is such a great place to pick up the local gossip, opinions on what’s going on in the world (although since the election political commentary has been sparse), what everyone is doing on a particular day. “What are you doing today? Working? Where?” I think but am not entirely sure that people who come to the diner leave with a sense of belonging because conversation is short but there are people there who care what you are doing that day. As I left and paid my bill, George asked me if I would be in tomorrow because he was going home and he wanted to make sure Judy had company. Not sure I’ll drive in again tomorrow, but I liked the idea that it might make a difference.

Politics at the Diner

Several things have been going on at the diner lately. Last Friday, I went because I hadn’t been there in a while. Judy and I have gotten into the habit of having a conversation booth-to-booth and occasionally sit together for a bit. I was determined to find a Costco nearby so asked for directions to Route 15 which is just over the Delaware in New Jersey. By the time we finished discussing best ways to get to Costco, Judy and her 81-year-old mother, Sylvia, decided to come along. I was very happy for the company and for the navigator!! It turns out that it couldn’t be easier. Instead of making a right turn to the emergency vet in Newton, keep going straight until Costco magically appears some 45 minutes later. We went through a lovely little town with lots of antique shops and then past a beautiful lake and state park so I learned a lot about the area and where I might take visitors. Obviously I need to get out more.

Sylvia is amazing and doesn’t look or act a bit like 81 years old. If I knew her better I’d ask her secret and maybe at some other point I will. She and Judy are very close so it’s lovely to hear about their working together in Judy’s shop and their plans for projects. Yesterday I went to the diner again, determined to get out of the house. The usual group of counter men were there. One new to me started talking about Apple Valley which, according to my son, has the worst food in the universe. He complained bitterly about his steak, uncooked vegetables, and lack of potatoes. The story went on and on and I wondered why, if it was so awful, did it merit all this talk. I really thought the conversation this morning would be about same-sex marriage or gun control. As I finished my breakfast, Kenny came in and sat with Judy and I got up and stood by the little booth for a while. Kenny said that he thought I’d like to get into some of the political conversations but was reluctant to. “Sure,” I said, “but my views are significantly different from some of the people who come in here!” Kenny indicated that he and I shared some more liberal views and it looks like we can agree to disagree — perfect.

We had an interesting chat about gun control and how people up here feel about the government. I expressed my astonishment that people really thought the government was going to raid their homes or attack Americans. There’s a difference, we agreed, between big government and a tyrannical government that resulted in the second amendment to the Constitution. Guns are a big part of the culture in the Poconos. Hunting is an economic factor in many counties, but there are a lot of people here that firmly and fervently believe that they must protect themselves and their families from a government run amok. Kenny provided me with some insight into the way people think up here, lowered his voice when talking about some things, and I may be less hesitant to join the conversation after this. After months of complaining that there is no one here with whom I can have a meaningful political conversation (unless I Skype with friends from Tallahassee), I am encouraged that there may be like-minded people here after all.

Breakfast at the Diner…

Yesterday morning I was waved to “my booth” at the diner and greeted by Judy in her usual place. Freddie had coffee on the table before I ever got my jacket off and Nancy had my order in just as quickly. Kenny offered to get up and sit at the counter if I wanted to visit with Judy but we decided to chat later. In the meantime, I noticed four men sitting at the counter. There was quite a bit of banter and Judy turned around to tell me that the Friday morning crowd was different from other days. One of the men, George, was described to me as “a character” and he was. I noticed that he had a cotton ball in one ear and was having trouble hearing his friends. There was a lot of yelling! The phone rang and, after a long conversation, the waitress who answered it called out, “George, it’s for you.” It took a lot of help from his friends for George to realize what she was saying and when he picked up the phone he put it to the ear with the cotton in it even though the waitress was trying to tell him to use the other ear! Naturally,George exclaimed that he couldn’t hear anything and who was on the phone anyway?! It was all ridiculous and at this point everyone was laughing, the waitress took the phone back and talked some more and then motioned for George to go outside and she would tell him what was said. George returned to his seat at the counter giving two thumbs up so whatever was said it was a good thing. Everyone at this point was laughing not at George but at the circumstances. How lovely that George could (1) get a call at the diner, (2) that someone would take the message for him, (3) that the waitress would think to take him outside so when she shouted the message everyone wouldn’t hear it! The owner came over to me, patted me on the shoulder and declared once again that “George is quite a character!”

Before I left there was time to chat with Judy so I brought my coffee to her booth and sat down. It’s always interesting to get the perspective of someone who lives in the town and she has a lot of good information to share with me. Judy was going shopping after breakfast so talked a lot about recipes and seasonal vegetables. Then she said, “You’re Italian, right?” “Yes,” I replied, deciding that providing more information wasn’t necessary. “Why,” I asked? “Then you know what broccoli rabe is.” At that point she told me of a wonderful dinner she made with pasta and broccoli rabe. When I left I started to wonder what the connection was between being Italian and broccoli rabe, not that it’s important at all, but it puzzled me a bit. Funny that I didn’t think anything of it really. Conversations at the diner just kind of are like that. Obviously I’m still thinking about it a day later, but that happens I guess since I’m snowbound again! Glad I got to the diner, had a lot of laughs about George’s hearing, enjoyed talking veggies with Judy, and now am stuck inside again watching huge snowflakes cover everything.

Meanwhile, back at the diner…

Since I had not been to the diner in a week or so, I went yesterday for breakfast. It was mostly quiet but everyone was in their “assigned” seats. No one really pays much attention when I walk in anymore — I just take a seat in the area that is waited on by Nancy and watch the action from there. Nancy always has something to talk about that is interesting. There is a steady stream of locals who say good morning and many of them sit down with Judy at the first one or two-person booth. I am not the only one who is ready for spring and the talk was about the weather and impending snow. More talk among retail shop owners about the lack of shoppers and so I ate the usual and left soon after. As I was leaving, Judy asked if I’d be in this morning (Tuesday) so I said, “Of course.”

On the way to the diner I decided that, instead of my obsession with weather.com, I’d ask the regulars what they thought the weather was going to be like for the next few days. I am totally convinced that the information gathered at the diner is accurate and well researched; research includes many years of living in this area. When I entered, Judy invited me to sit with her — the first time I’ve been asked. Delighted to have company I sat down and ordered breakfast. We talked about many things and as we did, people walked by that usually sat down with Judy so I felt a bit of an interloper. I learned a lot about how the diner works and about Milford. First of all, rarely does a cell phone ring. Mine did on Monday and everyone looked around with several people asking, “Whose phone?” When I confessed it was mine, there was laughter (I’m not sure why) and I knew to cut the conversation as short as possible.

This morning, the men who walked by the booth saw me sitting there and moved on to the counter. All very friendly and lots of smiles but still, I felt a bit odd. We sat for about 45 minutes during which I learned that the public library is moving to a new building and might be hiring part-time workers (sounds appealing) and that might be a good fit; that Rite-Aid is a good place to go for part-time work because the people are very nice; and that retail business in Milford is not what it used to be. Apparently restaurants are doing quite well but the people who are coming to eat are not continuing on to Broad Street shops to browse and buy. It’s a commentary of what has gone on in the country I think. People are not willing to spend like they used to. Judy informed me that 2002-2005 was good for business and I suspect we can find parallels in plenty of towns like Milford that are dependent on tourists. There are regulars, apparently, but that business has dropped off as well. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that. The difference in Milford between 2008 when Adrian and I first came here and now is obvious. Some businesses have closed, some have relocated to smaller spaces, and some just carry on. Upriver Home depends on web-based sales and I think the used bookstore does some online business as well. The diner seems to have weathered the situation well and is always busy when I get there at around 8:30 AM.

I finally got around to asking about the weather and the consensus is that Milford will get between 1 and 3 inches of snow and I will probably get more. When I left Judy said — “well, we won’t see you for a couple of days.” I got up to leave, my seat was quickly filled, and everything was as it should be!

Back to the Diner

drivetodiner2 This morning I awoke to a beautiful soft covering of snow. It was soft enough to cling to every branch and leaf; it seemed as if it was still snowing, but the light dusting was falling from the trees without any discernible wind. The sun came out and it is a glorious day. The temptation was to stay inside and admire the beautiful view but I decided to check out the local roads and go into the Milford Diner. My drive in was beautiful as you can see from the photo and I was glad to get out as I renavigate being on my own. After over 2 weeks of constant company it is very quiet. But, I have lots to blog about, many photos of friends to share, and my new hobby — gardening!

Back to the diner … yesterday before I drove Beth to meet her son who lives in Connecticut, we went into the diner. Honestly I was a bit worried that I’d have to start all over again but, to the contrary, I got a big welcome — hugs, enthusiastic greetings, and promises to “catch up.” When I arrived this morning for breakfast, Freddie took me to one of Nancy’s tables and poured my coffee even before I sat down. Nancy visited for a little while although she can’t stay in one place for very long — lots of tables to take care of and she is VERY good at what she does. One of the things I love about this place is that Nancy and the other waitresses are not discouraged from talking with customers, establishing relationships, and making it a place you want to go to. I’ve been in diners and restaurants where there is such a focus on table turnover that there is no civility, no kindness. The Milford Diner is quite the opposite and the service is wonderful and never seems to suffer even though people take the time to make you feel special.

When I finished breakfast I sat with Judy for a while — just talking and catching up. There always seems to be someone in the seat opposite Judy — her brother, her friend Greg, others that I’ve yet to meet — in fact, when I got ready to leave, Greg was waiting for my seat!! We laughed about that and it was a nice feeling that this type of interaction happens again and again and is always welcomed. Rather than feeling too much on my own, I felt a part of something that for a small part of the day makes a big difference. My good friends were concerned that my trip to Tallahassee might elicit some regrets about moving north. While it was wonderful to be there and be with friends, I have no regrets and am determined to make a life here in Lords Valley. The weather is lovely, I have my blog and a fire set and ready to be lit. I think I’ll go to the diner again tomorrow morning.

(Re)Finding Our Footing

sydwhouse Since starting this blog, I find myself thinking in metaphors. As I watched Sydney renegotiate the yard now that much of the snow has melted, I thought about how quickly she got used to walking, running, sniffing, and otherwise being a dog in deep snow. Since the “January thaw,” however, Sydney has been tentative and, as many dogs do, must sniff each and every square inch of the yard. For some reason I found this disconcerting. I just got used to the freezing temperatures (soon to return), the snow, the house and yard in the snow and ice, and now we’re back to being able to see dry land! There is a distinct possibility that my driveway will actually be usable for a day or two!

I started thinking about my quiet simple life and how easily one can slip and slide over the difficult terrain of living alone. Obviously I HAD to get out of the house. The diner beckoned. I went to find the “usual” small booths all taken so I was directed to a table in the back. “What are you doing all the way back there?” asked Judy and Kenny who were sitting at their usual front booth for two. “The usual was taken,” I replied, which started a conversation that we finished when I was on my way out. The owner came over and said good morning, Doug Dilworth, the local State Farm Insurance Agent sat at his usual stool at the counter, and Freddy brought me my morning coffee. Yes, this is better, I thought. The single act of driving into Milford to have breakfast seemed to bring me back on solid ground.

After the diner, I took my car to S&T Auto. For $48 they changed the oil, checked all fluids, checked the tires and brakes and pronounced my car ready for my trip south at the end of the month. We chatted since the owner and I are going to be in Florida for the same week — he’s flying, I’m driving. I assisted with two crossword puzzle clues and was on my way to the Weis market to pick up a few things for Rachel’s visit tomorrow. From there to the mail room to find some “important tax documents” and a card from my friend Beth. Order has been restored.

sydsniffing When I finished unpacking groceries, opening mail, doing a few things, I took Sydney outside to play a game in the yard. She was totally engrossed once again in rediscovering her world, just as I was this morning. Watching Sydney reminded me that finding our footing is something we do every day. We just don’t usually have the time to think about it. Retirement has given me that luxury — to find pleasure in small things like rediscovering how to enjoy quiet times and like taking time to have conversations with not quite strangers. It’s a challenging new world.

More From the Diner

My first trip to the Milford Diner for 2013 turned out to be a very important one. I walked in, sat down in the small booth where I usually sit and Freddy provided a lovely cup of hot coffee. I wrapped both my hands around it since it is VERY cold — it hadn’t reached 20 by the time I went to the diner this morning and is not expected to go above freezing until next week, but that’s another story. It was quiet for a few minutes and then I was quickly engaged in conversation about my blog. Kenny and Judy (we have now been formally introduced) sit at the same small booth every day so I wished them a Happy New Year before I sat down. Somehow we got to the fact that I am “the letter writer.” Judy said it had driven her crazy and she even asked the owner to view the surveillance tapes. The reason they thought this would work is because (1) they needed to settle the argument of whether the writer was a woman or a man; and (2) the conversation about generators made in the USA I reported on in an earlier blogpost was their very conversation! Judy owns a local home decor shop, aptly named Judy’s. She said she used all of her detective skills (very Nancy Drew!) to try to figure it out. Nancy didn’t tell anyone even though she knew well before Christmas, which I thought was fabulous but somehow we got to it this morning. I learned a lot today!

Kenny said that the diner is the place where you get all the news, who’s sick, who’s doing what because the same people come in every day pretty much at the same time too. “It is like this in diners anywhere,” he said. This is what makes them so special in towns like Milford. Apparently I am now part of the diner culture whether I want to or not! We talked for awhile about the nature of the diner and the nature of blogging. It really made me think about the difference between blogging a good story and invading someone’s privacy. I mentioned this to Judy and Kenny and they both agreed that most conversations in the diner were for general consumption and there was no real expectation of privacy. Even so….

Nancy sat down (now I really feel included!) and talked with me for a few minutes. We tried to figure out how she realized that it was me that “wrote the letter!” I think it had something to do with Beth and her mother-in-law being a waitress, but I’m not sure anymore. Nancy and I discussed the idea of wanting people to read the blog and I told everyone within earshot that the comments had been overwhelmingly positive and that my friends want to come visit. Most of the people I talked with this morning, however, don’t own computers. Perhaps that’s one reason the diner is such an important part of life here. The owner came over and chatted for a moment or two and the lovely young woman behind the cash register waved. It was a red-letter morning for sure!

I think that pretty soon they may want to know more about me. Already I know a lot about some of them. Kenny used to work for Hemlock Farms and he and his sister Judy are lifelong Milford residents. It is a perfect example of small town living at its best — people caring about one another on many levels, being comfortable with asking personal questions that showed their concern, and being friendly enough to begin to include a total stranger from Florida. Judy asked me if she’d see me tomorrow morning and I guess she will. Maybe this is just the thing I need to get me focused for the new year and move forward with my life in the mountains. Tomorrow I’m going to ask them if it’s okay to take a few photos.