Diner Revisited 2020

Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” Art Institute of Chicago

“A poet could write volumes about diners because they’re so beautiful. They’re brightly lit, with chrome and booths and Naugahyde and great waitresses.” David Lynch (Interview with Brian Hiatt in “Food and Wine,” March 2015)

Josef Stalin once said that a single death is a tragedy, while a million are a statistic. I thought of that this week when I read that New York City restaurants are suing the city for two billion dollars due to the losses incurred by the COVID restrictions and shutdowns. Estimates are that forty-five to fifty percent of restaurants here on Aquidneck Island will not be able to reopen when the dust settles over the corona demolition explosion imposed, necessarily or excessively, by a flourishing bureaucracy. Months, maybe years, and much analysis may determine eventually the wisdom of all the moves. Lives and businesses are holed and many shipwrecked by the torpedoing; some will recover and heal over time. Some will not.

We also heard recently that Reidy’s Family Restaurant in Portsmouth, which closed temporarily in March when the state shut down restaurant dining, will not reopen. Two years ago I posted on this blog a piece titled simply “Diner” on our first visit to Reidy’s and our affection for all good diners. We enjoyed quite a few breakfasts there, especially after Mass on Sunday, so their demise is a bit personal, as it is even more to many others. Crowded, hectic, friendly with a special regard for military veterans and with a crew of regular servers and customers.

While not a ‘regular’ daily visitor as some were for morning coffee and muffin and reading the Newport Daily News, a closed restaurant leaves a hole, especially for the owners, but also for the customers who frequent them and build a stop into their routine. Conversations with other first name regulars, sharing intimacies sometimes not even shared with family. Some of the NYC restaurants signed on for the lawsuit are large corporate affairs, but many are not. However, a place like a fifty something year old local diner has neither the resources nor wherewithal for such legal strategies.

Each such enterprise has an ambiance, carefully designed, or evolved; a vision, someone’s dream and fruit of long, exhausting days and nights. A neighborhood gathering place. Exhilarating days with a collapse into bed afterwards. Hopes rewarded. Years of challenges, disappointments and recoveries, victories, anxiety, and obstacles overcome; persistence rewarded. Friends made with familiar faces. The nearby Dunkin Donuts has a group of its own regulars, who while they cannot yet go inside to their accustomed booth, still gather every morning for an hour or so outside in the parking lot sitting in lawn chairs they haul over in their cars. Reidy’s familiars do not have that option. There is no facility or room for a drive through to sell their great coffee to go. So, what was a large part of a schedule, for some a lonely schedule living alone, is no longer.

As ol’ Joe said, each death is someone’s tragedy, and I wonder today, if with more prudent management and attention to some of the collateral damage from a state bureaucracy and progressive governor,[i] how many of these little deaths were essential to public safety.

“I just feel like the most important conversations I’ve had in my life have been at a diner counter.” Ramy Youssef

[i] The state of Rhode Island despite hour upon hour of public relations daily press conferences is fifth in COVID mortality in the country and worst in the country with over 80% of COVID deaths taking place in nursing homes or assisted living facilities among its most vulnerable when 94% of COVID deaths occur with those having one or more comorbidity factors. All the sanctimonious posturing notwithstanding, the state remains the only state in the northeast still on other area state’s mandatory quarantine list. Meanwhile, so many local businesses are shuttered. It seems the governor paid attention to the wrong vulnerabilities, both among its businesses and citizens.

3 Comments

Filed under Personal and family life, Politics and government

3 responses to “Diner Revisited 2020

  1. I remember your “Diner” piece and loved it…so sorry about it now!

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  2. kevin J mccarthy

    The total failure of Donald J. Trump to contain the virus at the onset has resulted in the disaster we have today. Tens of thousands of people were allowed to fly into the US from China and Italy and other places well past the date that they should have been stopped. The WHO and CDC warnings were ignored by Trump when the right action could have prevented the scale of damage now realized. I know Trump will take zero responsibility for the poor job he has done but don’t waste your time looking for other scape goats to blame. The truth is the truth. It is what it is!!!

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    • Always good to hear from you, Kevin. Are you still in Maine or back in Punta Gorda by now? Haven’t been up to Maine this summer with the Maine quarantine restrictions on Rhode Island visitors. As you know, we are the only state in the Northeast who’s residents must quarantine in Maine and Massachusetts. Must be because COVID has been so well managed here in RI.

      Because we are federalist form of government, the individual states have great leeway in their response, and RI blew their attempt, especially in nursing homes with the most vulnerable citizens having multiple comorbidities.

      No, Trump’s response and changing story didn’t help, especially at the beginning, but without draconian federal measures tantamount to martial law, for which he would have been condemned roundly by all the MSM, he had to work with the governors. Some did well, some didn’t. Our’s didn’t.

      The Chinese travel restrictions were put in pretty early at the end of January, which wasn’t real late, but wasn’t real early either. Even then he was excoriated by the New York Times, the unions and the World Health Organization. Some Democrats called it racist. Others, including Joe Biden, called the travel restrictions xenophobic. He says he didn’t, the left leaning fact check outfits say he didn’t, but I invite you to look at the quote given right by forgetful Joe right after the travel restrictions were announced on 1/31. Trump called it a travel ban, but it wasn’t. American citizens and their families could still return from China. A complicated situation. As you said, a lot got through before they understood asymptomatic virus spread well enough. Didn’t help as much as it could have.

      I think it will be a long time before we ultimately know where the fault lies, and there will be plenty of candidates. But it’s simplistic to say it’s that damn Trump as always. He’s just evil.

      For more on the general performance of our governor, I invite you to read a letter with all the links to the data that the Newport Daily News ran after I sent it in a couple of weeks ago. In addition to the abysmal COVID performance, we are eighth in total tax burden, fiftieth (yup, dead last) in business friendly environment and the same in infrastructure. Something like 45th in unfunded tax liabilities and 46th in unemployment. We’ve got a real good team here. https://www.newportri.com/opinion/20200819/letters-to-editor-itrsquos-time-rhode-islanders-elect-new-team I used one of your favorites, Bill Belichick as a comparison. ;^)

      Anyway, I think I’ve gone and lost your phone and current email addresses when I switched out phones. If you could email them to me, maybe we can make arrangements to continue this discussion over a beer or cup of coffee at some point. I miss our talks. Or how about a Zoom meeting? We’ve gotten good at those unfortunately.

      Thanks for taking the time to weigh into the discussion.

      Best always, j

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