Breakfast at the Diner — #52

Kirstin says good morning as I open the door, and I say it too, zeroing in on the the stool I want. There's only one empty seat at the counter where there's also an empty seat beside it, and — now there's none.

The diner is busy for a few minutes past six — fifteen people or so, and most are the same regulars I see here every Friday. Maurice says hi, but I’m groggier than usual, so I reply only by smiling and bouncing my head.

Kirstin pours me a cup of coffee and tells me the daily special, but I’d rather have something edible than a spinach omelet, so I order my usual. A nice guy would ask her where she's been the past couple of weeks, but I'm distracted by ongoing chatter from all directions, about something big that’s happened at the diner.

“I can’t believe Bob went for it,” says a vaguely familiar husky-looking 50-something white guy at the counter.

“Just a few years ago he said he'd never allow it," Kirstin says, "so I can’t believe it myself.”

After a sip of damned fine coffee, I ask, “What can’t you believe?”

She says, “There's an ATM in the back now,” and I wonder how long my mouth hung open. "Installed yesterday," she adds.

An automated teller machine? This diner is retro, and it’s not fake retro like one of those shiny chrome yuppie diners. Bob's is authentic. 80 years in the same building, with all the original stools, original tables. Cash only. No website. The register still goes “ca-ching.” Almost nothing has changed here, ever. Adding a cash machine is revolutionary. Biggest news since the diner was a grocery store.

“There’s no ATM sign outside,” Maurice says, and Kirstin explains that Bob thought a sign would be an invitation to burglars.

"He thinks they’d throw a rock through the front window, climb in and steal the machine, whenever the diner was closed and empty." 

"Well, the diner is only open seven hours a day," says Phil, stating the obvious. He's good at that.

Curiosity compels me like the power of Christ in The Exorcist, so I leave my coffee, and walk toward the back of the diner. On the right side, just before the men's room door, there’s a small indentation in the wall. A pay phone was there when I first started coming to the diner, but the phone has been gone for at least ten years.

Now there’s an ATM, hanging on the wall. You don’t often see ATMs on a wall, but this one’s small, barely bigger than a milk crate. It's an ATM, though. The late 1970s have arrived at the diner.

As I return from marveling at that newfangled contraption, sitting at my stool again, I cynically say, “Is Bob getting a cut of the fees?”

“Nope,” Kirstin says. “He’s not getting anything. No fees, no leasing for the space.”

Maurice says, “He’ll sell some extra breakfasts,” and that's indisputable.

It's so routine I've maybe never mentioned it, but Kirstin or Harvey are always explaining to another would-be customer that the diner only takes cash. Some of those customers simply leave. Others listen as someone gives driving directions to the nearest ATM. I’ll bet even the listeners often leave and don’t come back, and instead eat breakfast somewhere else.

Yeah, Bob doesn't need ATM fees. He'll sell a few more breakfasts every morning.

♦ ♦ ♦

Big Hat swirls in, scatting as she goes, but also saying hello to the other customers. “Skeep de beep, biddily bop de beep, good morning Maurice, good morning Phil.” I can’t help smiling, and when she passes me she says, “Skeetle de beep, skeetle de bop, good morning, you,” and pats me on top of my head.

“Good morning, you,” I say, and “Skeetle.” She's a crazy dame. We've never said two dozen words to each other, but she's comfortable patting my head — and I liked it, must admit.

On her way to one of the back tables, she stops, seeing the ATM. She drops to one knee in front of it, and says softly, “All Hail the Dollar, ruler of us all.”

Then she rises, tosses a biddily bop to an East Asian gent at a table near the cash machine, and sits at the diner's farthest back-wall table, where she usually sits. Kirstin is immediately there with a pot of coffee, says good morning, and Big Hat says "Hello, hello." She orders "Only toast and coffee, thanks," and waves at me when she sees I’m still watching.

Is Big Hat’s red hat extra red this morning? Maybe she’s re-dyed it or something? For a moment I thought so, but no, it’s only extra colorful, like Big Hat herself, when compared to a drab day out the window or in the world.

♦ ♦ ♦

A 50-something white woman comes, sits alone at one of the front tables. She orders coffee, looks at a menu — and I’ve seen her before. She’s unforgettable, because she bears a slight resemblance to my late wife, especially when she smiles.

She smiles as Kirstin pours the coffee.

A gentleman shouldn't stare at an attractive woman, but it’s twice as difficult abiding by that rule when she looks quite so much like the only lady I’ve ever especially loved.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kirstin to Maurice: “More coffee?”

Maurice: “No thanks, I’m about finished here.”

Phil: “I’ll take his refill, right here.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Kirstin to Sudden Urge: “Good morning, sweetie.”

Sudden Urge: “I love it when you call me ‘sweetie’.”

Kirstin: “I tried 'snookums' for a while, but it just didn't work."

♦ ♦ ♦

After eating hundreds of hotcakes and eggs here, how is it possible for someone I’ve never seen before to walk into the diner, and a dozen people say, “Hi, Paul!”?

He's just another middle aged white guy, not at all familiar to me, but Kirstin says, “Hi, Paul!”, and Phil says it, Husky White Guy says it, Sudden Urge says it, and Big Hat says, “Skiddily biddily bop de beep, good morning, Paul!”

The lady who looks a little like my wife smiles at him, and Paul sits next to her. And, oh, now I recognize ‘Paul’. My mistake, I've seen him before but forgotten him. Never caught his name until today, but he’s the rat bastard who’s married to the woman who looks like my wife.

♦ ♦ ♦

ManBun and Lady ManBun step into the diner, and Big Hat waves enthusiastically, from way at the back. I’d take that wave as an invitation, and the ManBuns accept. They're headed for a table near Big Hat, and as they pass me at the counter, Lady ManBun smiles, and ManBun says, “G'morning, Domingo.”

There are, I’ve heard, cultures where your name is believed to hold mystical power, so you keep at least part of it secret, only for those you trust with that power. I have no complaints about ManBun except his silly hair, but when he asked me once, I didn’t trust him with the power of my name. I am not in the witness protection program or anything, but every time he calls me Domingo, I smile.

♦ ♦ ♦

Bouffant-Walker is here, saying hello to all the regulars, including “Hi, Paul!” Everybody loves Paul.

When Bouffant gets to me, I say “Hi,” and he says, “Good morning, and I love your hippie look.” He carefully bends himself out of his walker and into a chair, while I look at myself. Guess he’s talking about my tie-dye windbreaker — same windbreaker I've worn for years, every morning in the summertime, until it gets too hot by mid-morning.

After placing his order, Bouffant picks up his walker, turns it sideways, and starts running his hands over it. “She’s squeaking too much,” he says. Then he's pushing and pulling at the walker, until he asks the diner, “Does anyone have a Phillips-head screwdriver?”

There's a Phillips-head on my keychain, but I remain silent, and let everyone else mumble 'nope' or nothing and ignore the guy. The answer is a unanimous no, though, so I sigh and reach into my pocket, wordlessly walk to Bouffant’s table, unclip the tiny screwdriver off my keychain, and hand it to him.

“Thank you, kindly,” he says, and he twists and tightens a screw while I watch. Then he gently shakes the walker, and says, “Do ya hear that?”

“I don’t hear anything,” I said.

“Exactly! Thank you again!” He hands me the tiny screwdriver, and I clip it again to my keychain, return to my seat, resume eating my breakfast. Bouffant is soon oohing and aahing at the ATM, and then talking to the diner. After a few minutes of words nobody's listening to, he semi-shouts at me, “Thanks again for being screwy!”

I smile, and nod, and pretend my mouth is full. The diner’s phone rings, and Bouffant says, “Saved by the bell!” That’s a joke he tells every two or three weeks.

♦ ♦ ♦

All morning long, the diner's conversation keeps coming back to the ATM. Bouffant says, "It’s like Gomer Pyle seeing a touch-tone phone for the first time — 'Golly, Sgt Carter!'"

Kirstin says to someone, “The man installing it tried to show Bob how it works, but he wasn’t interested. Bob has never used an ATM in his life.”

And of course, everyone has an opinion on that, same as everyone at the diner has an opinion on everything. But do you know who’s participating in the conversation? No, not me, silly. It’s Hangover Harry, who does not seem to be hung over this morning.

I didn’t see him come in, so I guess he was here when I got here? I wouldn’t have recognized him — never before have I seen Harry not hungover. His eyes are normal human eyes, not so neon bloodshot red that they flag you down from a distance, and he’s not holding his head in pain. No sir, he’s smiling, laughing, talking to Big Hat and the East Asian guy.

Should I tell Harry he’s looking good this morning? Congratulate him on riding the wagon instead of falling off? Well, it's too late now, he’s paid and left.

With cash under my coffee cup, I wave and nod to a few of the diner’s denizens, say thanks to Kirstin, and then I've left, too. I belch under my breath on the way out the door. Breakfast is over, damn it. Almost always, it’s the best 45 minutes of my week.

I'm a grumpy old man who lives alone and has few friends — basically a hermit. Once a week I have breakfast at my favorite diner. Most weeks it's my only in-person interaction with other humans, which is not my strong suit.

Yeah, I'm aware of the coronavirus, so I go to the diner at dawn, before it gets busy. I wash my hands before and after, cough into my elbow, spray Lysol on my food, pay at my plate, tell the waitress to keep the change, and hold my breath while leaving until I'm outside. It's a little more dangerous than staying at home, but life would suck without breakfast at the diner, so get off my lawn.

And remember, decent people leave a generous tip.

Breakfast at the Diner  

← PREVIOUS          NEXT →


  1. Buffaunt Walker is my favorite character in these but I wonder how daffy he is.

    I love these stories. Are you still planing to end them? Say no!

    1. Sorry, yeah, I'm still planning to end it. There isn't much to tell that I haven't told already. I mean, how many times do you want to read (or I want to write) "That's damned good coffee."

      After doing these stories for a year, it's taking me three weeks, maybe four weeks of notes to squeeze out a story.


🚨🚨 If you have problems posting a comment, please click here for help. 🚨🚨