December 16, 2008
A Light in the Dark
I somehow love eating at diners late at night, especially during a long drive along the interstate. I'm not talking about some soulless fast-food stop, but some semi-soulless sit-down place like a Waffle House. First off, the service is usually excellent since there's likely to be few, if any, other patrons. Secondly, the food always seems to be amazing, and I attribute this to the fact that only the exceptionally hungry bother with going to a restaurant at two in the morning. Most everyone ignores their palate's whisperings while their stomach is roaring like a lion.
As important as the food and the service are, they are still just the tip of the icerberg. What really gets me, and I'm not sure exactly why, is the experience. The first thing I usually notice is that, except for anyone that's been drinking, the mood is always melancholic and serious. I can understand that the workers really don't want to be there, but an entire shift without smiling once? There has to be something more. Even the other people eating seem somehow sad, as they sit hunched over their food speaking in low voices and waiting for the sun to come up again. In fact, everyone seems to be speaking more quietly than normal, like they're afraid of waking up the rest of the world. That is, if anyone's speaking at all.
It seems to me that most are simply too tired to be anything other than somber and quiet. The physical tiredness is self-explanatory. But I think it's the mental fatigue that does it, especially the patrons, who've likely been driving or otherwise awake for a good long while. After several tired hours in a vehicle, it can be difficult to get up the energy to talk. The cooks and waitstaff just lean on the counter and quietly discuss the patrons of their own relatively clean and well-lit diner, seemingly in a hurry to get home, as if they could close down the twenty-four-hour cafe if everyone were to leave.
Me, I just sit and observe the people around me while I wait for my meal. I try to be as polite and pleasant as possible and maybe lift the gloom for a moment, or at the least, not add anger to the mix. I've found that the best people can still smile on their own late at night when they're feeling tired and somber, and so I try to keep an eye out for those people. And if anyone else is doing the same, I try to put on that particular mask, so as not to disappoint. I like to think of it as my little way of making the world a brighter place, at least until the next sunrise.