A couple of weeks ago I was told by my supervisor that I had some vacation days I needed to burn by the end of the year and the time-off calendar was filling up fast, so I best get to it.
I got to it today, as a full-fledged Road Geek, doing research for my roads web site.
There were a couple of highlights of the trip as I traveled through the Hudson Valley, including lunch with an on-line acquaintenance (see, the internet can be a safe place to socialize if you do it properly) and supper at a wonderful diner outside of Albany.
My stomach was grumbling on the “free” (non-Thruway) stretch of Interstate 90 in Rensselaer County. It was supper time and my body was ready to be fed *now*. I could have held out until the first service area once I was back on the Thruway, but since HoJo’s left the Thruway over a decade ago, it just hasn’t been the same.
The “FOOD – EXIT 10” sign loomed ahead, announcing a smattering of fast food joints and one little gem – The East Greenbush Diner. I took the cue, exited the interstate and followed the signs to hungry happiness.
As I pulled up to the diner, it was your typical mid to late 1970s place. It looked harmless enough with a moderate number of cars in the parking lot, so I parked the Acura and went in. Traveling alone, I opted to skip a booth or a table and instead I joined “the guys” at the counter across the back. I followed the predetermined etiquette of skipping a chair or two between patrons as I sat down; a pleasant enough young waitress gave me the obligatory small glass of water, a place setting and a menu.
I took a gander around and noticed beer steins from everywhere displayed just about everywhere against the dark, dark paneling. There were other knick knacks and doo-dads displayed in a haphazard manner and the overall effect was rather friendly. The atmosphere was “homey” and for some reason I was reminded of my city grandmother’s basement, without the washing machine spinning.
Chatter at the counter had simmered down as I approached my seat.. I was an outsider. Not only was I wearing a pair of camoflauge shorts and my black “enforcer” boots, I had never been in the diner before and they knew it. A little bit of eavesdropping clued me in that the one closest to me was “Norm” (or Norm-y, depending on the waitress) and the one at the end of the counter was “Frank”. Norm was waiting for his food, Frank had just announced “the usual” as I was arriving. Apparently, these two men, both in their mid to late 50s I would guess, frequented the East Greenbush Diner frequently and were friendly with the staff. I couldn’t determine if they were widowers or somehow single otherwise, on their way home from work or perhaps in the doghouse with a wife at home refusing to cook. Whatever the reason, it must have come up often because there they were, seemingly *again*.
After my food was served, and I broke the ice with a “This veggie burger is well-done, eh?” (damn that Canadian speech coach in college) to the waitress, who smiled approvingly, the other guys continued eating and the waitresses debated how to properly make another batch of iced tea. The “fresh brewed iced-tea” somehow involved powder, a pitcher of cold water and thankfully a spoon instead of an elbow to stir it, but no one could decide how much powder to put in. After a discussion, they dumped a sizeable portion of the mix into the pitcher and made the best of it.
Norm said, “It looks like tar. And it’s gonna taste like it too.”
The waitress responded, “Just add more water, that’ll thin it out a little bit.”
Norm said, “No, once it’s bitter there’s no going back.”
The waitress nodded in my direction and said, “He’s drinking the last batch we made the same way”, then to me, “How’s it taste?”
All eyes were focused on me. I responded, “It tastes great.”
They smiled approvingly.
“And damn, it doubled the amount of hair on my chest too!”
The waitress smiled weakly and the two guys sitting at the counter laugh approvingly and nodded in my direction.
The new guy at the counter was now one of the guys.