Both Denny’s and our local diner are gathering places where friends meet for breakfast and lunch, community groups hold meetings and neighbors run into each other and share coffee and gossip. But the vibe at Duke’s oozes authenticity, while Denny’s gives off the distinct aura of kitsch. After all, it is a national chain. And as much as Denny’s aspires to the genuine, it can never be anything more than a poseur.
Case in point: Denny’s has begun to decorate its restaurants with wallpaper silk screened with not-so-pithy aphorisms that approach the boundaries of idiocy. Here’s what I mean:
- “A diner is a restaurant with its shirt untucked.” (Thank goodness for that. Here in rural northern California, I was getting tired of dressing up in suit and tie for dinner at Lutèce every night.)
- “Bacon and eggs: All in a day’s work for the chicken, a lifetime commitment for the pig.” (Please don’t insult my intelligence. Disneyland is thataway.)
Then there are the sayings that focus less on the restaurant itself and more on its customers.
- “A diner booth is the world’s smallest neighborhood.”
- “A diner is the original social network.”
I get the message that Denny’s is attempting to conjure up an old-timey feel that probably didn’t exist back then and certainly doesn’t exist now. The irony of using the phrase “social network” in creating an image of yesteryear is not lost on me.
But today I discovered that it’s all a lie. It simply isn’t true that a diner is the world’s smallest neighborhood or the original social network.
The doctor’s office is.
Early this morning, I accompanied Pastor Mom to her cardiologist appointment, where she had radioactive dye pumped into her veins and her motor revved up way beyond the legal speed limit. Last time, the procedure made her ill, so we wanted to be sure that she wouldn’t have to drive home. Armed with my book, my phone and my water bottle, I spent two hours ensconced upon a leather couch in the doctor’s waiting room.
The first thing I noticed was that Pastor Mom was by far the youngest patient there. She was called in right away and I had plenty of time to bury my face in my book while I surreptitiously eavesdropped on the conversations going on all around me. And there were plenty of those, the cooking show demonstrating the preparation of eggs benedict and hash brown potatoes on the wall-mounted TV being universally ignored.
The two elderly gentlemen seated behind me were discussing the relative comedic merits of Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason. The two old ladies seated on the couch catty-corner to my own were lamenting the departure of Jay Leno from The Tonight Show, agreeing that the new guy, Jimmy Fallon, is strictly for the younger crowd. Who can even understand the references that these young guys make? Then the topic moved on to the Olympics, how spectacular the Opening Ceremonies were, and whether it’s better to stay up late to watch all the action or to record it and play it back early in the morning.
One patient using an oxygen tank waited her turn in a wheelchair; another came through the door using a cane and being supported by the arm of his wife. Most were in the eighties or beyond. I saw no iPads or PCs, few cell phones and plenty of old-fashioned, hard copy books.
Some of the patients appeared to know each other. They inquired after the health of family members, catching up on who had moved out of town and who had died. Perhaps they had met in this very waiting room on other occasions, or perhaps they knew each other from around town.
But what quickly became clear to me was that many of the grandmas and grandpas with whom I shared the waiting room had simply sat down and began conversations with their neighbors, taking advantage of serendipity and time to kill to make friendly connections with others who they may or may not ever see again.
So suck it, Denny’s. You are not the world’s smallest neighborhood nor yet the original social network.
The cardiologist’s office is.