I know that “kids these days”have the universe all figured out and are quite sure that old people simply have no clue about how things work. I also know the “youngsters” never admit, out loud anyway, that we old-schoolers ever did anything right despite sometimes pretending to invent things (like the plaid bell bottoms and platform patent leather blue suede shoes I had to give up kicking and screaming) and label them “Retro Chic.”
Most of us just chuckle quietly to ourselves, and a few of us shake our heads in wonder at their seemingly limitless capacity to fuck up perfectly wonderful things just so they can claim they invented them. “Kids will be kids,” as they say, but they will never be able to take the “old” out of old school, no matter how many different ways they reinvent words or horribly warp and mutate their originally intended meaning.
Proudly proclaiming my status as an old schooler, humbly admitting to being a sucker for old-school diners, I had breakfast the other day in one of my regularly-frequented establishments where something I’d never seen before happened six feet away from me.
This place first opened its doors in 1922, and when you first step in the doorway, looking straight ahead, aside from being punched in the face by all the glorious smells of the different plates of food wafting toward you as you try to take in the sights and sounds and general ambiance of the place, is the incredible old school long counter and swivel seat stools, along with the blinding neon lights and the terribly bad God-awful old school music playing on an AM transistor radio down at the old school ice cream parlor milkshake-machine at the far end. Looking 90° to your right, stroke-inducing Neon Lights drowning a four-booth dining area, you can’t help the feeling you’re looking inside a time capsule to a long lost glorious (to old schoolers at least) past era of simpler times and better days.
You have to wait to be seated, and it is a rare moment when you get to pick which booth you’re going to sit in. Unsurprisingly, these are the standard old-school booth styles with the high backs and the seat pads that you literally feel like you’re sinking into when you sit down. I especially love plopping your fat ass down and sliding all the way up, pushing yourself against the wall so that a couple more people can push in so tightly you can barely cut your food, collect it up with a fork worth about five cents, and try to steer your food into your mouth. You literally have no elbow room and, for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure the bottomless coffee in ancient coffee cups is every Diner operator’s way of apologizing for being so popular there’s a line out the door and up the block for people waiting to get in for breakfast. And you better hurry up and eat, then leave before a fight breaks out on the sidewalk between a bunch of “hangry” people ready to box with anyone that tries to cut in line.
There are signs covering every inch of the walls, listing the names of all the famous people that have ever been there. From presidential candidates to famous local politicians to celebrities in movie stars, everybody that’s been anybody has eaten in this Diner, and the descendants of the original owner proudly display this information for the world to see. It is well known to us locals that Adam Sandler, who grew up here, pops in whenever he gets the chance and yucks it up with the locals over breakfast.
I come here with my granddaughters as often as possible, every time schedules allow, and on this particular day, I was with my oldest granddaughter, who brought along her brother (my 18-year-old grandson, up visiting from Texas, where he still lives). He’d never been to this Diner before, so we filled him in on everything we knew about the place while stuffing our faces and catching up, generally, about the goings on of our respective lives.
As I was putting my finishing touches on the chocolate chip pancakes, out of nowhere, the lady at the cash register reached up and grabbed the Rope of a big metal bell and started clanging it and yelling out for the entire clientele (probably the kitchen staff as well) telling all of us to give a warm welcome to the newest “Red Arrow Virgins” sitting diagonally across from me, and the whole place blew up with a monstrous round of applause and a boisterous “welcome to ManchVegas” that echoed through the whole Diner. I’m sure they could have done without having all that attention drawn to them, but I’m even more sure they will never forget having gone there for breakfast before heading out to whatever tourist attraction they had planned as part of their trip to the state. And as cool as I thought the whole thing was, watching my grandson react to the whole affair made me realize he had at least survived being lumped together, publicly, with that group of virgins, but he had nonetheless lost his own Red Arrow virginity at the same time.
And just like that, and all at once, the “old” in Old School once more proves its ability to refuse to be replaced.