Garden State Diners

[Originally written on this date in 2005]

My mission for the day was to locate a thrift shop as I could use a few new garments since things that used to fit are now baggy and there are some items I have had for far too long which could be replaced.  When I was in grade school the other kids made fun of me on Tag Day – that was when we all paid a dollar to not wear our uniforms for a day, part of the joy of having attended a Catholic school.  Anyway, they had wealthy parents who bought them name brand clothes while my sister and I got ours from a thrift shop in a church basement.

There irony is that people are doing it now to save money or to be trendy or whatever, but I never had any shame in shopping there.  As much as I enjoyed frivolously spending cash in NYC at places like Trash and Vaudeville or Religious Sex, I also figured out that stuffing a bag full of clothes for a sawbuck and being able to wear them to more places than just the club was a wise investment.  Besides, the quality has seriously declined so if I can get something they sell at the GAP for a third of the price, I know it will last me for a while.

If I want to customize something to suit my tastes more, it’s not that difficult and in the end will cost less than buying mass-produced shit that a hundred other people are going to have.  Then again, I suppose that sense of pride which comes along with going the DIY route has always been a motivating factor in such decisions.  On one hand I get the point of buying quality, but when you can’t afford that you make due with what you have and sometimes you decorate it with studs, paint or lace.

Anyway, earlier today I was rolling down 130 South and passed the usual plethora of useless shopping complexes, sleazy motels [ah, did that bring back memories] and a few diners.  Sensing that I would not be coming across any thrift shops down there [except for that one, but it was long closed], I stopped at the beautiful USA Diner instead.  It’s kind of awesome how I have come across more chrome diners in the past nine months than I discovered all of last year.  No complaints here though, as I am constantly coming in contact with beautiful structures that are a true representation of Americana, and there is just something about them I greatly adore.  There is definitely a list of diners I want to visit that I have encountered during my many travels of New Jersey’s highways, but I seem to get distracted and forget the mission I started a few years ago.

There are around 600 diners in the Garden State, though I am willing to bet that less than half of them are chrome and that’s a shame.  Yes, it is personal preference but I find nothing appealing or attractive about a cement cube that dares to call itself a diner.  They are usually full of tacky, outdated decor that is far from kitschy and might make you a big queasy, the waitresses are slow and in my experience, the food is pretty terrible.  Meanwhile, every chrome joint I have been to put a smile on my face, good grub in my belly and has a special place in my memory.

At the USA Diner, style oozed inside and out to the point that even the bathrooms had chrome in them.  Sitting alone was weird, but I ordered myself a massive garden salad with grilled chicken.  It might be difficult for some people to imagine something that seems so simple could be incredibly delicious, the freshness of the vegetables melding with the warm chicken and creamy dressing.  Then again it was the only thing I had to eat all day and still I could not finish the whole plate, which is rare when I am hungry.

On the drive back I thought about all of the times Jon and I had sat in vinyl booths sharing conversation over plates filled with food, something many other people did and yet every moment we spent together was special.  Even though it felt selfish, I wished that no matter where he was or what he was doing, somehow he would know I was thinking of him.  Not in the usual way either, but more of an earnest desire that he was aware of how much I appreciated everything he was to me.  Where would I be without him?  What kind of person would I be?  Would I even be writing this?

While I am certainly an individual pursuing their own evolution, it is also undeniable that I draw my inspiration from a number of sources and he just happens to be an integral part of who I am today.  Without him I am a ship lost at sea, tossed among angry waves while seeking land but never finding it.  Perhaps that is a bit melodramatic, but there is already a weight on my heart that will not lift until he returns yet I have to continue with life as usual.

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One comment on “Garden State Diners

  1. Lanny Waters says:

    Until the Great Depression , most diner manufacturers and their customers were located in the Northeast. Diner manufacturing suffered with other industries in the Depression, though not as much as others, as people still had to eat, and the diner offered a less expensive way of getting into the restaurant business as well as less expensive food than more formal establishments. After World War II , as the economy returned to civilian production and the suburbs boomed, diners were an attractive small business opportunity. During this period, diners spread beyond their original urban and small town market to highway strips in the suburbs, even reaching the Midwest , with manufacturers such as Valentine.

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