Sunday, June 2, 2013

Where Everyone Knows Your Name...

Not long ago, one of my favorite restaurants unexpectedly shut its doors. This wasn’t a high-end place by any means; rather, a sort of neighborhood diner that had been around for decades. The food, service, and atmosphere were basic but the place was a perfect distance from my house. My husband and I could walk there, have a light breakfast or coffee, and then walk home.
            One day, when we arrived at the diner, the doors were forever closed. Although we were disappointed, we knew that for some of the regulars, this change would be devastating. Some folks seemed to literally live at the diner; it was a place where everyone knew your name (and if they didn’t know your actual name, they knew whether you liked milk with your decaf, or rye toast).
            As the weeks and months passed, my husband and I found a new place to frequent for a quick breakfast or lunch. Again, we noticed that certain people seemed to be at this diner all the time. They ordered the same fare. They engaged in the same variety of banter. This was another home away from home for many who wanted to get away from their kitchens and their troubles for a while.
            I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying different types of foods, but there’s something comforting about a local restaurant where things never change. 
            Well, long story short, the other day when we were out walking we came upon a reincarnation of the first restaurant mentioned. Apparently, several of the former employees have opened up a new place just down the block (with a little help from some investors, I suspect). Inside, the tables are brighter, the place is smaller, but the menu is much the same. Sitting inside were the same folks I used to see at the first incarnation, ordering the same fare, visibly relieved and delighted. In fact, things are going so well at the new location that customers (many regulars at the first venue) had lined up out the door and around the corner to get in.
            As I sipped my decaf, waited upon by the very same waiters (who welcomed me like a long lost cousin), I got to thinking about why we human beings like to be known (or at least, some of us do). Having once lived in a small town where I was a newspaper reporter I enjoyed the fact that a lot of the townspeople knew me by name, but I also remember feeling annoyed that I couldn’t seem to go anywhere anonymously, and when I later moved to Manhattan I rather relished the fact that no one knew who I was.
           The bottom line is, I guess we need a little of both. Sometimes it’s good to dine in an exotic location, among people you will likely never see again. But it’s also somehow rewarding to enter a place and be greeted with, “The usual?" Though anonymity has its benefits, "the usual" can be a very fine thing indeed. After all, the usual doesn't have to be a cup of coffee; it could be an embrace, a smile, or a glance that says, "I know exactly what you need."

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