I like diners. I may have mentioned it before, but they are one of my favourite things about America. Fast, efficient service offering a good, hearty breakfast, any time of the day. It’s genius. I like the food, and I also like the atmosphere of quiet efficiency. In particular I like scruffy, older diners. I can’t imagine anything bad happening there, or at least nothing that the pragmatic, cynically friendly waitresses couldn’t sort out with an eye roll and a smart quip.
Alas, our local diner, The New Colony, closed for renovations about 18 months ago and then never reopened. Every time we drive past we stare hopefully at it, silently willing there to be signs of life. Sometimes we wave. By now, the building is beginning to slip into a decline and even the sign has developed a bit of a lean. Still, we have not quite given up believing that one day, it will reopen, restored to life in all its former shabby glory.
In desperation meanwhile, we turned to the other nearby diners (and let us interpret nearby loosely, because there is really nothing near my town. So let us say, within a 10 mile radius). So, there was The Four Daughters, a painful diner experience in which it took well over an hour to get food, there were too many people in too little space, getting in each other’s way and generally creating an air of subdued chaos. It has just closed down. There’s the Bluebird Diner, which sells itself as a bit upscale, meaning a more limited menu, for more money, but worse service. Last time I was there it took an hour to get food too. Perhaps we were being left time to bask in the olde worlde country diner experience.
Most recently there was the Rustic Grille. Ah, where to start? Perhaps with the 10-15 minute wait, during which time no one acknowledged our presence at all. A queue built up behind us and a table for six sat empty and a couple of other tables sat uncleared. Out of curiosity, I asked about the table for six (constructed of three tables for two pulled together) and was told that they couldn’t break it apart because what if a party of six came in? And, ‘That’s the way we do things here.’ During the entire time we were there, those six seats sat empty, shortly to be joined by another six seats and all the while, the queue of people in twos, threes and fours stayed at the door, waiting for smaller tables.
Mike worked in a kitchen for a while and both of us have horror of inefficiency, so we were rather mesmerised. This was not a well-oiled machine. This was a machine that had not seen oil in some time, had been left overnight in the rain and was rather clogged up with sand. It was obvious that they were short staffed that day and even if it hadn’t been, one of the waitresses made damn sure everyone knew how put upon she was. As Mike put it (and he is not one given to making judgements), you got the impression she was a bitch with a veneer of civility.
They ran out of coffee. That, to me, is like Victoria’s Secret running out of slutty lingerie. You do not run out of the thing that is your raison d’etre. If you’re a diner you particularly do not run out of that thing at 10.30 on Sunday morning. We were promised refills when there was more coffee, but we both had work on Monday and didn’t think we could stick around for it.
And that is how the Rustic Grille became the Rusty Grill.