Diners are much more than simply eating establishments — they’re eating establishments with really good souvlaki, matzah ball soup, and a permanent stench of slowly shattering dreams. Between the giddy 17 year-old couple who are on the verge of a big decision, the blue collar workers who’ve “had it” with the union boss, and the old guy watching it all unfold between glances at a two days old newspaper, diners are an amazing cross of human authenticity, vulnerability, and a crazy-man’s version of tranquility.
All in all, diners are a home away from home — only with much cooler French Onion Soup crock pots.
So, if you want to be a true diner champion, consider these essential bucket list items. Or don’t, and just dive into that awesome-looking ice cream waffle thing.
1. Breakfast for dinner
This is a given, and is only on the list because you can’t make a list about things to do at diners and not include breakfast for dinner — that would be like making a list about coolest-named scandals in history and not including the Teapot Dome.
2. Get one of those giant, oversized muffins.
A good game to play at your local diner is “guess how much the giant danish costs.” Given that it’s now socially acceptable to sell coconut juice for $19, you may be like me and grossly overestimate the cost of a toasted, buttered, oversized blueberry muffin straight from the lunch counter. What you think runs for $7 might end up being $2.50. There might be some good in the world after all.
3. Order the $20+ seafood entree (and finish the whole thing)
This observation is best summed up through this truly inspirational salute to diners, but the fact remains clear — is it even possible to order the $24 seared halibut? Or is it more of a dare? Make good on the dare.
4. Go between 2-6 am
Best if it’s closer to sunrise, with some weird bloodied scratch on your forehead, in your mangled clothes from the night before. As cliche as possible.
5. Emphatically slam down your cup of coffee and talk about being fed up
There are few better places to vent than at a diner. Best to do it in the corner booth, whilst slamming your cup of black coffee — splashing it slightly so that some coffee finds its way onto the diner seat, which now requires a daily dose of caffeine in order to maintain its firmness.
Don’t be afraid of people overhearing you — you’ll overhear them one day, and it’s all part of the experience.
6. Go alone, read an entire newspaper
I’m pretty sure that diners are singlehandedly keeping print newspapers alive. There is no better ode to your grandparents than hitting up the diner, ordering something you could very easily make at home, and leafing through the jukebox as if you’re actually gonna play something.
Also, bringing a tablet to a diner is a borderline criminal offense. If I was on a jury and it was unclear as to whether you were guilty or innocent, finding out that you once brought a kindle to the diner would make the decision quite easy.
7. Eat at the lunch counter
Treat yourself to a 30 minute staring contest with those random boxes of Frosted Flakes and Raisin Bran. Talk exasperatedly about how Jimmy Carter really needs to get his shit together.
8. Overhear a murder plot
There’s this scene in the latest season of Louie where Louie and his companion are sitting at a coffee shop-type establishment, catching up with a dear friend. After a conversational lull, they become paralyzed by the conversation at the next table over, in which two dudes are discussing some barely disguised mafia-type “I’ll take care of him” situation. It’s one of the most magical scenes in a show filled with many.
9. Have a major life event occur to you at the diner
Diners have long been the destination for after-major-event celebrations. Be it graduations, junior proms, or concerts, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll “celebrate” by getting a cheeseburger deluxe with that one giant leaf of somewhat stale lettuce.
Even better than the post-event stamp is making the diner the backdrop of a major life moment. If I were a ballsier person than I am, I would most certainly propose at a diner. The jukebox, in this case, would be queued and ready to go.
10. Have a booth that’s “your booth.”
You don’t have to get all Groundhog Day about it. But once you’ve got your booth, you’re a local legend. Technically.