This must be the place: Scribbled notebooks and wild typewritten pages for your own joy
Sliding into the booth at Waffle House, I cracked open Larry McMurtry’s novel All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers. Taking a sip of my coffee, I dove into the world of Danny Deck and his life in Houston, Texas, and greater America in the early 1970s.
That scene itself is something held closely to my heart. The notion of sitting alone in a diner booth, with book and strong coffee in hand, and reading in one’s own time, not a place to be or a person to be seen until I decide to leave the booth and reenter society.
My genuine love and passion for diners comes directly from my father. As far back as I can remember, he would and still does (every single day) wake up early, go buy The New York Times and read it in the local diner in my Upstate New York hometown. It’s like clockwork, really.
And, when I was a kid or when I’m back home now as an adult, he and I would go to the diner together. We’d either talk a little or both be reading, picking away at a plate full of breakfast foods and drinking endless cups of coffee. There’s something serene and poignant about silently reading in the organized chaos of a diner in the morning light — a swirling magic of people, food and silent reading that has never left me.
That urge to head to a diner and read or pull off the highway to do so really pushed itself into my daily life when I was in college in the mid-2000s. Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Connecticut) was some six hours or so from my hometown. So, when I would drive back and forth during holiday breaks, I would stop at many of those picturesque and quaint New England diners — a break from the open road, a chance to read and clear my head.
This was also the same time when I decided to become a writer. A college flame at the time had given me a set of pristine Moleskin notebooks. “If you want to be a writer you have to start writing,” she said.
So, I would leave the notebooks in my truck at all times, just on the off-chance I end up in a diner between classes and on the weekends, tucked away in some corner booth scribbling away every thought felt or conversation overhead — just writing for the sake of writing, you know?
Excerpt from Dec. 14, 2006, journal entry (Christmas break senior year): Lilly’s Diner. Exit B-3 on I-90. With $10 in my pocket, I knew the only place I could get my money’s worth for breakfast from New Haven to Albany would Lilly’s. I gazed at the moon. It lit the way to the roadside culinary establishment. The silhouettes of the Berkshire Mountains hovered in the distance. I stared out the window. My face reflected off the brightly lit glass. I was on the New York/Massachusetts border. Far from home, but close to graduating. Most are scared shitless of post-graduation. I like the fact I have no idea what’s going to happen and where I’m going to end up. My destination is in my hands. My fate is left to those above who watch me like a movie with popcorn in their hands and a twinkle in their eyes in anticipation of my next move. Winter is creeping in. The miles tick away towards home.
Those hundreds of journal entries were made in diners following college and that first summer back home in the North Country, all while trying to land my first journalism gig. They were made in dusty breakfast nooks amid the Wild West when I was a 23-year-old living and working at a small newspaper in the Grand Teton mountains of Eastern Idaho and Wyoming.
They were made in diners across the lower 48 states following the economic recession (of 2008 onward) where I found myself crisscrossing the country as a traveling freelance writer. They were also conjured in breakfast establishments throughout the Southeast as I tried to navigate my new home in Western North Carolina some seven years ago.
Nowadays, seeing as I’m constantly writing for work and such, my diner time is solely for reading. I wake up and meander over to my overflowing bookshelf. What do I feel like reading today, eh? Reread a Kerouac or Bukowski classic? Maybe finally dive into that collection of great American short stories? What about that book on tips for backcountry camping and hiking?
And it’s in those moments where I’m hunkered down in that booth, in that town somewhere, with breakfast and book in front of me (smart phone left in the truck), where I truly find a sense of peace in an often overwhelming and noisy 21st century existence we’re all trying our best to wrap our heads and arms around.
There’s always time to read, even if a few pages a day. There’s also always time for coffee, best served alongside your book, whether or not you’re waiting on someone to join you. Don’t forget, the center of universe is a conversation over coffee with an old friend, one where thoughts never drift to what time it is and if you need to be somewhere for something.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The annual “Week of Rock” will take place June 28-July 6 at Nantahala Brewing in downtown Bryson City.
2 Billingsley (rock) will perform as part of the “Brews & News” series at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 29, in The Gem downstairs taproom at Boojum Brewing in Waynesville.
3 “Stecoah Arts & Crafts Drive About Tour” will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 28-29 in Bryson City, Stecoah and Robbinsville.
4 Medieval, renaissance, baroque and contemporary music will be performed on early and folk instruments at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 4, in the recital hall the Coulter Building at Western Carolina University.
5 The 30th annual Mountain Artisans “Summertime“ Arts & Crafts Show will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 29-30 in the Ramsey Center at Western Carolina University.