The Great American Diner
Few institutions in the American experience have contributed more to the public harmony and neighborliness than has the Diner. It is strictly an American contrivance by design and by definition (you won’t find a Diner in Europe). The old diner is a stand-alone structure. One story tall and usually longer than wider, they often look like an abandoned railroad car or trolley (which some are). The traditional Diner is constructed primarily of stainless steel, chrome, and pressed tin and bountiful love. Contrary to belief, Diners were not deposed railroad dining cars seeking permanence someplace else. During the 1920s and 30s, manufactures designed them to look like sleek cool trains. They are called diners because it is a short version for dining car. They were prefabricated in factories in the image of dining cars or rollers, and shipped in sections to popular locations and assembled to move only if need be.
Talk about love, workers applied their special skills with artistry. Crews created the interiors with sturdy twenty-gauge steel. Plumbers and electricians moved in just before the tinsmiths and carpenters. These artisans took great pride in their creations, and it shows every time. When these craftsmen went their historic way in the early 1960s a slice of Americana vanished forever. It wasn’t meant to be plush, posh, or socially stuffy. A Diner is simply an eatery where you can enjoy piping hot home-cooked food at a fair price and served in a hurry without fanfare or garnish.
There isn’t a lot of room in a Diner to roam around in and seek privacy, and that’s the way it’s meant to be. Diners play a pivotal role in what America was like. They’re a place for the community to come together. Mostly, though, Diners are places where you can go and eat a great meal while chatting with the guy in a booth behind you, because friendliness takes up most of the space in a Diner to begin with. They’re a dependable place to stop when you’re traveling. You don’t have to put on airs in a Diner. There’s never any need to.
In the peak years, the late 1940s and 50s, it was the Diner more than any other institution that welcomed travelers on the thousands of miles of new highways, built by and for the restless heroes who came home from World War II determined to thoroughly enjoy all they had fought for.