The Star-Herald

A diner’s cure for cabin fever

The snow keeps falling and the wind howls. It is typical March. Cabin fever cases are reaching abnormal highs with every inch of white powder. Where to put it? A typical Mainer will offer many suggestions, not all fit for mixed company. Spring is around the corner and people are itching to get out — get out of the house and, if possible, get out of the snow.

This is where the local diner works miracles. Snow falls overnight. Get in the plow truck and push it aside. Still the snow falls. Time to fill up the tank. Drive into town to the gas station. Watch as your truck slurps up gas like it’s water in the desert. Wash the windshield and pour gallons of the blue, purple and orange fluid into the reservoir. Join the chorus singing the blues as yet another gallon of fluid goes out the sprayer. Full tank, clean windshield and exhaustion sets in. Time for coffee.

The diner is a forgiving place. Here one finds all the characters a town needs. There is the mayor, the baker, the fryer and the other friar. Everyone is there to take a break from battling the flakes. Large and small, it does not matter. At the moment in time when the snow forces appear to be winning and that second cousin twice removed from the wife’s third husband is coming to the house, the diner is a refuge. Let it snow. Let the snow tower over the phone lines. The diner is that little patch of peace and humor on a dark day.

A good diner anticipates the customer. When they see one coming, the coffee is poured. The only thing to do is pick a seat and sit down. It helps to have old jokes and smart comments by the bucketful to heave about when entering such establishments. “Cold enough for ya?” “When did you start driving that Ford?” “You know what Ford means? Found on Road Dead!” “Is that your new Chevy? I thought that was your mother-in-law!” Swearing is not allowed at the diner.

Other jobs have it easy. The diner staff need to be able to get you the coffee and grab the order before you have had time to cough up that lung from the dust. They are menu advisers, hair stylists, psychoanalysts and, if necessary, doctors and morticians. Feed the ravenous hordes and keep the coffee coming.

The diner is a fine eats establishment without airs — eggs done as asked, bacon by the pound. Try stirring your coffee with a crispy strip. Sausage, flat or round, and hash browns complete with a double helping of onions. Those with more sensitive palates can curl a lip over a stack of flapjacks or a bowl of oatmeal. The food is guaranteed to stick to your ribs — and if it does not, drink more coffee

Diner coffee is not for the squeamish. This is put-hair-on-your-chest, he-man beverage stuff. It should be strong enough to stiffen the back and hot enough to burn the house down. There is no such thing as a latte at the diner. If you want lots of milk with your coffee, get a cow. That fancy espresso? Drain the crankcase.  It’s all mud in your eye. And sweet suffering sugar cubes, If the sugar well on the table is half full it’s time to yell for the manager.

Coffee at the diner is fortifying. It has all the vitamins needed and can be used as anesthesia for that heart operation. It also will strip paint off the kitchen walls and keeps the flies calm. It is not for wimps or ne’er-do-wells.

In the unending pile of whiteness, the diner stands as a bulwark against the ordinary. What happens there stays there, and after a coffee, a donut, three eggs, hot buttered toast and jam and three more cups of coffee, one is ready to meet the world. The world should put on its running shoes.

Orpheus Allison is a photojournalist living in The County who graduated from UMPI and earned a master of liberal arts degree from the University of North Carolina. He began his journalism career at WAGM television later working in many different areas of the US. After 20 years of television he changed careers and taught in China and Korea.

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