People who know me are aware that I didn't get this opulent corpus by allowing my fork to sit idly by the plate. Like Pavlov's famous dog, I salivate when the subject turns to food.
Case in point: a letter from my friend Richard Daly. He sent a photo of a roadside diner from the 1950s that he said was located "less than two hours north of Manhattan, off the Taconic Parkway, on Route 82 in Ancram, N.Y." Richard wrote, "It used to be a favorite of mine … got sick there two years ago. I know it was the pie."
The picture, taken during its heyday, started my mental and digestive juices flowing freely as I recalled all the diners I have known and loved. Perhaps you can come up with a few of your own. How many can you name?
When I was growing up, my dad was a poor preacher so we had little or no spendable income. During WWII, my father was a professional blood donor. He would get paid by the Grasslands Hospital for a pint of his "universal type O negative." He was a big, strong guy and offered blood far more often than was healthy; but, hey, it was a welcome supplement to his meager church salary.
Each time he came home with his "blood money," we would be able to afford meat on our table or a visit to a nearby diner. It was nirvana for me, and I would always order my favorite dish — a western egg sandwich. I have fond memories of all the diners in Westchester County, Carthage, Massena and Malone as the Little family moved until I left for college in the mid-1950s.
And, after that, I always managed to find a so-called "greasy spoon" wherever I visited or lived. It's still true today, although most of the diners I visit now would take umbrage at that designation.
When I use the word "diner," what image comes to your mind? For me, it's specific — not just a small restaurant. A true diner for you purists is generally some kind of prefabricated structure, built at a factory, transported to a location and put together there. The early diners were actual trolley or railroad cars. I can remember several of that ilk. Few remain anywhere in the country. However, the prefab diners, made to approximate the old railroad dining cars, were plentiful during my youth.
The diners I knew and loved involved long structures with a counter running the entire length. Along the counter were stools where you sat to order and eat your meal. In some diners, there were a few tables or booths. Some had jukeboxes where you could hear your favorite song for a nickel. Coffee was generally 5 cents, and a piece of pie was a quarter. You could get a wonderfully greasy breakfast any time of the day or night, and most diners were open 24 hours a day for night owls like me.
The Malone Diner was a special hangout for my friends and me during the early 1950s. I'm sure if any of the proprietors are still alive, they have stories to tell about "those Moira kids." It was the place to go after a movie or anytime at all.
For the most part, diners aren't the same anymore.
The size and shape are different, along with the food. As I age, so does the dining landscape. I, for one, hope for a revival of the iconic old-style diner.
If you've never seen an authentic diner, I would urge you to take a tour of the Champlain Valley Transportation Museum on the former base in Plattsburgh. The old Bill Gates Diner from Bolton Landing spent many of its retirement years at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake and is now in Plattsburgh for all to see.
Many thanks to my friends for sharing names of their favorite diners, hither and thither. I've thoroughly enjoyed this trip down memory lane.
Have a great day, pass the cherry pie, and please, drive carefully.
Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the "Our Little Corner" television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.