Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All of us have had our lives touched in some way by the disease of addiction. Be it a loved one, friend, family member or even ourselves no one is immune to the impact of this devastating illness. This story is dedicated to all of those people, especially the ones who have found recovery through the 12 step fellowship.
On route 104, out near the casino, there's a building shaped like an air hanger. It's a perfect example of the kind of thing they used to make at the iron factory when it was in full-scale operation. The long, half cylinder catches the sunlight as it rises over the hill behind and tends to blind drivers as they make their way down the crowded road during rush hour. Like most of the buildings in the area, this one has a story.
Back in the day, as people usually start the story, the place was a hole in the wall. The owner Al believed in good old fashioned food and none of the glitz and glamor that so-called "trendy chains" touted. Items on the menu had simple names like "eggs and grits" or "burger" or "coffee". It was open for breakfast and lunch, never dinner. And for the most part the only people who went there were the ones who worked at the factory.
The diner was part of a bustling industry back then, providing food to the workers who got up at the crack of dawn and exited at the whistle blow to return to their simple homes. Some sentimental idiot would probably describe it as a history lesson in Americana. But the real history was better told by an economist.
In the factory's heyday, business was good. Things were simple, or so everybody liked to claim. The American identity etched in time cards punched and receipts given. But the world changed while the factory remained, a pillar of old values that would be worn away by the turning tide.
At first it was just small rumblings of fear. Questions about foreign markets picking back up in the years since the war had ended. Then raised voices and arguments about pensions bleeding the paychecks of those still working. Panic inducing words like 'Restructuring'. And finally, the inevitable shut-down. In the end, silence.
With its patronage cut-off the diner, like the rest of the town, was dying. A random stranger wandering in to ask directions on the way to a living town. Holes in the drop ceiling with brown stains on the edges from leaky plumbing overhead went unrepaired. Food orders going uneaten and the menu whittling down to almost nothing. When the old electrical wiring caught fire and burned down half the building a lot of people assumed Al had torched the place himself, just to collect on the insurance.
For years the site was empty, a burned out hunk of metal in a desolate landscape. And then, like it always does, change came. Some big investors bought the old factory, knocked down the blast furnaces, and built a casino there. Then the outlets came. And the concert hall. And the streets surrounding it started featuring all those trendy little shops that Al would have hated so much if he had still been around.
Some big business bought the burnt-out piece of metal. And, like they had with the factory, left the outside intact while completely rebuilding the interior. By time the "All American Diner" opened up in the mid 2000's it served as s replica of oh-so-many chains sprouting up all over the country. Posters of Rosie the riveter and airplane propellers on the wall. An old jukebox that loud little kids poured quarters into while asking their parents who the heck "Tommy Dorsey" was. A Bethlehem Steel sign over the back door, almost as if the whole thing was a cruel joke.
Those old enough to remember when the towers still billowed steam hated the place and angrily spat at it as they walked by on their way to the clubhouse. But there simply weren't that many places around to buy a cheap cup of coffee anymore, and life was just too damned hard to drive 5 blocks to the Dunkin' Donuts.
So they called in "Al's American" to pay homage to the old man and on Sundays after morning sanity the old heads filed in to sip their mud and talk patience. And it was here that Ted Wilson sat, with Stew and Eric and the new guy Scott, waiting for a miracle.