Once Upon a Diner

by Peter Brav

Today Newsday emailed me that “LI’s oldest diner closes, another victim of COVID—-The spot has served its last order of eggs over easy with rye toast and well-done home fries”. I grew up on Long Island and have had more than my share of eggs over, rye toast and well-done home fries. I feel for those folks, the owners, the employees and the regulars like the Riverhead woman in the article who explained why she became a regular. “They see me walk in and they pour my coffee. Look, I can make breakfast at home — I’m a pretty good cook. But I like connecting with my community, and that’s why I go to Sunny’s. Every town needs a diner.”

Maybe two or three.

I remember the Sherwood Diner on Rockaway Turnpike where I grew up. It’s still there thankfully just as it was for my parents one night a week and for me at one in the morning after another night of doing what young people do in the preceding three or four hours. Eggs are more reliable than most things in life.

I remember the Rosebud Diner in downtown Ithaca. It’s closed now but it was just 77 cents in ‘77 for two eggs, toast, home fries, and coffee. We were there every Friday and Saturday night because Ithaca had a regrettable curfew for bars. We were young, not that tired and hungry. And I remember Hal’s Deli downtown too. Yes, not technically a diner, but it had that same feel. I remember owner Sandy greeting us as if she were everyone’s mother. She is much more memorable for me than most of my professors. Motherly, with great sandwiches in 1977, and still going strong until 2017. You can’t teach that.

And I remember that diner at the northeast corner of First Avenue and 79th Street too in the early ‘80s. Every single time I went in, I saw the same two quiet elderly ladies at the first table to the right. There was never anything on that table but bottomless cups of coffee and an ashtray full of their chain-smoking remains. On one occasion, the owner lamented to me at the register that “those two are in their nineties, all they do is smoke cigarettes and drink coffee all morning long and they’re going to live forever.” He had a gleam in his eye and I knew then that he would have been crushed if they weren’t around to occupy that table. I’m sure if I walk in there this morning, they will still be there, sipping away, smoking without knowledge of laws that may have changed in the interim, in my mind’s eye anyway. Community’s like that.

Peter Brav is the author of the novels Sneaking In, The Other Side of Losing, Zappy I'm Not, and 331 Innings. He lives in New Jersey and makes it to one diner or another two or three days a week.

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