Diners

I just landed at JFK and as I’m making my way out of the airport, I see a diner.

I’ve always had a fascination with diners. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe I’ve tried really hard to assimilate into life in America. Maybe I’ve just watched Gilmore Girls too many times. I’m not sure, but I’ve always been drawn to diners.

High-end restaurants have their place with some people, but for me, it’s diners that are special in how simple they are.

Diners aren’t pretending to be something else. In fact, many of them are the same, no matter where you go.

They serve the same basic food on an enlarged menu, sometimes with pictures. The servers are friendly (sometimes too friendly), but they’re raw at the same time. (It may be my next project to just ask servers in diners about their lives. They’re hidden in plain sight.) There’s always a set of regular customers that have built some sort of rapport with the servers–sometimes by ordering the same thing every time.

Diners kinda feel like home but unfamiliar too. I’m not sure how.

I used to go to a diner near my apartment sometimes. Usually, I needed to think something through. Sometimes I needed to break down. Often I didn’t want to go home quite just yet.

There, I would order something and think. Finally, whenever I would break down, to distract myself, I observed the diners: what they were eating, what they talked about, how they reacted when someone walked through the door, especially in the dead of winter.

It’s a habit I still have: to lose myself in sonder, the realization that each person around you is living a life as complex as your own.

Thinking about someone else’s life, someone else’s problems always puts things in perspective for me. And for some reason, a diner is one of the best places to do just that.

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