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jimgoad.net :: let's do the time warp
Let's Do the Time Warp
Enjoying Slow Death at a Rural Pennsylvania Diner
Everyone here is SO FUCKING OLD. It’s like this is the place they send you when you get too old for the nursing home.
As I yell into a white-haired man’s hearing aid to ask if it’s OK to take his picture, it occurs to me that all the patrons except for us were probably alive when Coolidge was president. I’m no spring chicken, but this place makes me feel like a Cub Scout. I’m almost afraid that if I wander into the wrong room, I’ll suddenly enter the afterlife.
If the Grim Reaper was a dentist, this diner in rural Pennsylvania would be his waiting room. It sits only 35 miles NW of Philadelphia, but the terra firma here is rural rather than suburban: rolling farmlands, one-lane bridges, burbling creeks, and the fresh, inviting scent of horse manure. Everythingexcept the two giant nuclear towers that spew reputedly non-toxic steam over the skyline all day and nightreeks of country mouse rather than city mouse.
And yet it is close enough to Philly that you can still order “scrapple,” an indigenous breakfast meat composed of pig droppings and vomit. The patrons constantly talk of the Phillies and “Iggles” in that caustic, retarded-sounding Philly accent.
The style, too, is unmistakably East Coast Geriatric Gaudy: perfume so strong it leaves a film on your teeth...balding old cow-ladies with gemstone-encrusted eyeglasses and overprocessed hair burnt down to the color and texture of cheese doodles...brittle old men in Bermuda shorts, white socks, and dress shoes...giant rhino asses and varicose veins.
It’s as if everyone has been trapped inside here since 1956, when the diner was built over a swamp. The food, too, is 1956, and so are the pricesten bucks will buy breakfast for two, including coffee and tip, but they only take cash.
This place is an unholy collision of Pennsylvania Dutch and Rocky. Culturally, it is unlike anywhere else on earth. And that culture is dying, but not quickly enough to forbid me the pleasure of watching.
“Times have changed,” muses the 87-year-old man who hovers over our table. He consistently avoids my request for him to elaborate. Instead, he wistfully recalls World War II and when you could ride the trolley for a nickel. He lives “right down the road” like his family has for five generations. His three sons all live within a mile of him.
But there’s a Wal-Mart nearby now and tract houses are sprouting up like beige dandelions all over the farmlands and soon everyone in the world will have the same boring accent and scrapple will no longer exist. Soon, no one will know who Mario Lanza, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and Jerry Blavat were. We’ll all become tiny dots on the giant Jumbotron screen of modern culture.
And that blows.
Technology isn’t bringing diversity, it’s bringing monotony. In a world where everything is rapidly becoming the same, you need to dig deep in the past to find something new. For now, I savor these waning moments far away from the cutting edge.