Monday, February 05, 2007

Scenes from a diner

Time sits still
Pompano Beach, Florida, December 2006 [Click all images to enlarge]

The diner is as classic a component of American culture as you're ever likely to find. Even though these places pay homage to a time that existed long before my wife and I were born, our kids somehow connect with the diner experience. They come by it honestly: When we first moved to London, we found a place called the Five and Diner on a cold and lonely night in a lonely new town. Our then-two-year-old son made himself at home that night and never quite let go of the place.

After a few years, the restaurant closed and eventually reopened as a high-end Italian eatery. Our burg no longer has anything like it, and our now-12-year-old son still looks back at the vanished diner with fondness. Some things you just never forget.

So when we had an opportunity to go to a diner, Ronnie B's Taste of the 50s, with my in-laws, we jumped at the chance. We knew the kids would love being there, and it would be one of those simple experiences that they'd be able to hold onto long after the warmth of their time in Florida had faded.

I quietly took pictures as we waited for our meals to arrive. Joy was our server, and I'll remember her for her near-militant insistence that adding fluoride to municipal water systems is the work of the devil. I forget how we ended up on the topic, but before long she was bringing a binder full of research to the table for us to read. Weird, I know, but in an endearing way. Would you ever have such an experience at a Burger King? Didn't think so.

As I snapped away, I tried to capture the feel, the soul of the place. Diners are all about colors and textures that are no longer part of the modern palette, and I often wonder what it is about this particular era that drives these powerful and long-lived images. Between the pastel-colored vinyl seats, brushed chrome chairs and formica-topped tables, curved and frosted glasses, ubiquitous neon and endless posters on the walls, it was difficult to tear my eyes away from this unique place. I guess I've got a nostalgic soul, because it seemed comforting - this despite the fact that I never experienced the era in the first place.

Maybe we all wish we could go back to a seemingly simpler time. Maybe we view places like this as oases from a world that seems to become more frenetic with each passing day. Where we can return for a simple meal in a homey place, and friendly service from folks we won't soon forget.

Whatever the draw is, I can't wait to go back. Neither can our little folks.

Your turn: '50s nostalgia. Please discuss.


Peter said...

Certainly were calmer times Carmi.
Thanks for the visit and comment at peters pictures.

Begered said...

Mmm...this post is making me crave a juicy burger, fries and milkshake!

rosemary said...

Thank you for visiting...I have had you on my blog roll for a long time and really enjoy your photography...I feel a bit intimidated about leaving comments because my take sometimes seems too simple...but I can relate to the diner. I am of an age to remember Leo's soda shop in the town where I grew booths with the seat and back never quite together, two straws in my malt, I wouldn't sit at the counter because I couldn't see who came in and now it is a real estate office. I also remember drive in restaurants! Now that's dating myself!

Raggedy said...

I still remember fondly my meals at various diners. I have not been to one in a long time.
Out east in my mum's area there are still many.
A wonderful moment I had not thought of in a long time crept into my mind when I read your post.
Joe was about 3 and loved to play with shaving cream in the tub. It was great fun smearing it all over.
We went to the Gap diner and he ordered pie for dessert. The woman set down the pie and was holding the whipped cream can. She sprayed the cream on the pie and the look of shock that came over his face was priceless. He turned to me and said: "Momma why did her spway soap on my pie?"
Have a wonderful day!

Bobkat said...

The diner is certainly a very iconic American symbol. We never really had anything like it in the UK to the best of my knowledge. Your pics really do seem to capture the 'diner experience' adn I love the red of the glass bricks in teh first photo. Your photos have transported me back to when I was in NYC last year. T

here was a great little diner opposite the hotel so I went there everyday for breakfast. There was something about sitting in a booth and ordering OJ and waffles that isn't the same in McDonalds as you point out. And it isn't just that the waitress and waiters are more friendly - it feels like eating out at home if you knop what I mean?

Thanks for your nice comments on my blog :-)

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Love these pictures of that Diner....They so evoke a certain time and certain places that I remember well, and looking at these pictures brought back some memories I had completely forgotten, too! I did live through the 30's, 40's, and 50's Diners and still wish that these places were around to inspire new generations to do just what you did. Document them with your Camera!
Thanks Carmi....Going down Menory Lane because of some pictures of a place I've never seen was GREAT!

Anonymous said...

My mom's "restaurant" is actually more of a diner. It's what I grew up's where we'd meet at supper time and eat as a family in one of the booths. I had to work there from the time I could reach the tables and ended up hating it while in high school. But she is trying to sell it now due to her poor health and I'll miss it when she no longer owns it. It's been a part of my life.

Carli N. Wendell said...

If I could choose any decade to visit, it would be the fifties. And Fonzie better freaking be there. Laverne and Shirley, too. Because I'm sure the fifties were JUST like that. :0

Still, it would be nice to see I LOVE LUCY first run. Not that I'd have any choice, with 4 TV stations. And no Internet. And no wide-spectrum antibiotics. I think I'll stay here.

That's a very pretty diner. I hope the food was tasty, too.

Living in a town without a diner? Youch.

Anna said...

Thanks for your comment Carmi about the shopping carts. I will check out your link also!

Love the diner pics...especially the first one. I am always up for it if it involves a big hand dipped chocolate milkshake! YUM.

kenju said...

Carmi, I see evidence nearly everywhere that people are pining for simpler times - even when they don't realize that's what their unrest stems from. Diners are indeed a throwback to a simpler life, and perhaps that is why they appeal to so many of us. Plus, the food is usually good!

Anonymous said...

Those types of Coke glasses are the best... love them. Good to visit again!

Anonymous said...

I grew up with diners...they always seemed to have the best food. And there's still a few in Salem, home town. They've hung on and have surpassed the test of time. Guess that says something about them.
Ah...the 50's...I was only 10 yr. old in '57, but it was definitely a slower pace, kinder, more gentle time.

Vickie said...

Carmi, thank you for the time you took to visit and comment at my place.

Oh the simple things in life---calmer times---could you please just hand me that ice cold coke in the short glass bottle....or the local pharmacy that you could also order the best ice cream float and just talk for hours with your friend after school....

Oh the memories.....

Anonymous said...

This is a great post with wonderful pics (as usual) to go with it -- I recall fondly my first time in a true diner! So gritty and genuine in comparison to the benign, typcial fast food restaurants.

I still feel that local "joints" have so much more to offer and serve up better food than a chain or a higher end restaurant -- everything is simpler and there's nothing added or gimmicky.

Anonymous said...

There was a wonderful similarity to the diners, but each had its own distinctive personality. Not like the cookie cutter, false ambience of today's chain restaurants and fast food places. Thanks for the memories.

srp said...

I was born in the 50's. When my mom was about seven months pregnant with me she had a craving for seafood. Dad was working two jobs to make ends meet and it was 2AM. She dressed and drove ten miles to an all night diner that served all the shrimp you could eat for $1.50. That was a lot of money for them and for the time. Only two other customers were there, two truck drivers in the back corner. There she sat at 2AM in the booth, alone, eating shrimp to her heart's desire.

Anonymous said...

You set out to capture the soul of the diner and with both words and photos you have accomplished just that.

Someday, I hope you will find the same joy in Cruising. I would love to see your photos of the big ships.

Anonymous said...

Carmi the 50's was a time I wasn't even a spark in my parent's eyes yet, but I still feel a connection wth that time.

Thanks for the pics. I realy like the frosted coke glass.