A Paean to a City

The seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic has shredded municipal budgets and tax bases. A regular cycle of news stories darkly speculate as to the health of the American city. Essential services–mass transit, public parks, schools–seem imperiled. The current presidential administration and its conservative allies delight at the situation. At best, the future of our cites seem uncertain. At worst, grim. Continue reading

A Love Affair with Diners

With Fourth of July upon us, many denizens of the Garden State and America will hit the road for a deserved vacation, a weekend trip to the shore, or a visit to someplace novel and new. Along the way, they’re likely to pull off the road and find a place to eat. For many famished vacationers and day trippers, that establishment will be a diner.

Diners are integral to the identity of New Jersey. Arguably, diners–real diners with all-day breakfast, twenty-four-seven service, and a menu as thick as the Long Island phone book–shape and define America’s cultural and culinary identity itself.

In The History of Diners in New Jersey, Michael C. Gabriele wrote:

“Diners host the ultimate American egalitarian dining experience for saints and sinners. No reservations are required, and none are accepted. There’s a both and a stool for everyone. A diner is a place where wayfarers from any socioeconomic demographic can walk in and grab a bite to eat.”

Gabriele characterized diners are leveling institutions, where guests are treated equally and served dishes from the same menu. A boisterous, salty longshoreman might sit alongside a man wearing a pin-striped suit and engrossed in the Wall Street Journal. A gaggle of teenagers might shriek in a corner booth. A family might relish a lumberjack breakfast after Sunday mass.

Nighthawks
Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942 (Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago). Several years ago, I had the good fortune of seeing this painting at a Hopper exhibit at the Whitney Museum. This work captures the mystery and allure of diners.

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