Breakfast at the Diner — #1

OMG, I ate breakfast
          — in a restaurant
                    — and survived!

Once a week for a long long time, I've had a huge and unhealthy breakfast at my favorite diner. Lately, though, the diner has been closed by the coronavirus, not even taking "to-go" orders, so I've been doing without — and doing without has been awful. I want my omelet and pancakes and a bottomless cup of coffee. Doing without breakfast at the diner has been the pandemic's biggest impact on my lousy life, unless you count working from home, and a friend's hospitalization, and the death of an old man I'd known since I was a kid.

A couple of weeks into the apocalypse, I happened to be driving past the diner one afternoon. The windows were dark, of course, the building deserted. On a sudden whim, I pulled my car into the empty parking lot. Rooting through the back seat, I found an index card, and scribbled a note: "I miss the breakfasts. Call me when you're open or doing carry-out, and I'll be your first customer." Added my phone number, and slipped the note under the diner's door.

Two months later my phone rang — at 6:05 on a Monday morning. I didn't answer, of course. Nobody ever calls except telemarketers and bill collectors, so I almost never answer the phone. At that early hour, I thought maybe it was a death in the family, and that's news that could definitely wait, so I listened as the answering machine answered:

"This is Bob at Bob's Diner. We're open again. Ordinary hours, 6 to 1." <click>

The diner is about ten minutes from home, and I was there in eleven minutes. The extra minute is how long it took me to put on pants and shoes. My breakfast was perfect, but was I worried? You're damned right, I was worried. That's why I ordered my omelet and hotcakes to go, and wore a mask all the time I was inside, waiting.

Then I came home, washed my hands, and microwaved my breakfast to get it piping hot again. As I ate it, I realized — it wasn't just breakfast I'd been missing. It was the diner itself. And the coffee refills.

If you live your life entirely without risk, that ain't much of a life, is it? So this morning I'm going to risk it. I'm going back to the diner, coronavirus be damned, and I'm going to eat breakfast there. I'll arrive early, before any crowd of customers shows up, and I'm hoping it will seem safe ... or safe enough.

♦ ♦ ♦

And so, here I am for breakfast at the diner, just like before the virus, a few months ago, and just like years and years before that. The waitress smiles and says hello. Suddenly, there's coffee. A few minutes later, there's food. There aren't many customers, which is good, I guess. Less chance of infection, and less of the ordinary annoyance of strangers talking about their lives and breakfasts and coffee. Less talking, which might be good or might not, depending on what's overheard. I love listening in.

The owner says "Hi" to me and doesn't wait for an answer, so I don't answer. He's a gruff, no-nonsense, gravelly-voiced guy — and maybe the kind of man who'd poo-poo the pandemic precautions? The closest he's come to discussing politics with me was when he once brusquely said, "I don't like to discuss politics," so I'm a little concerned about how the diner might handle the pandemic.

Happy to report, though, that they're doing everything safe and smart. The staff wears masks. The tables are devoid of condiments, because the virus could lurk on a ketchup container, so I have to ask for salt and pepper and cream for my coffee. Everything is wiped with a bleachy solution before it's placed on the counter. The waitress, always masked, comes within six feet only when passing by, or when pouring my coffee. When I finish my meal, she takes the menu that had been near me and gives it a thorough wipe-down, even though I hadn't touched it. I hadn't touched it because, in a diner like this, regular customers order "the usual."

Everything about breakfast feels safer than my visit to the Post Office a few weeks ago, and less risky than shopping in a grocery store or going to my workplace, so I'll be back next week. Breakfast at the diner has been my habit for a long time, once a week every week, and I want that habit back.

Key to having a worry-free restaurant experience during the apocalypse, though, is to go during off-peak hours. Google has a helpful feature that shows how busy a restaurant usually is at any given time, and I did my research before coming in this morning. The diner opens at 6AM, but on weekdays it's never busy until a little before 7, says Google and says my memory, and indeed, there was one other customer when I arrived, and one other when I left at 6:45, and for about twenty minutes in between it was only me.

I was more worried about the dangers of eating inside a restaurant before eating inside the restaurant, than afterwards. So, bottom line and TL/DR, if you choose a well-run business and avoid their busiest times, you don't have to wait until the pandemic is over, to enjoy a restaurant meal inside a restaurant. Or at least, I don't have to.

Also, decent people leave a generous tip.


Breakfast at the Diner

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