Coffee with the Crew Cuts

It’s late, and I’m missing the diners of New York. Seattle doesn’t have quite the same experience, although I’ve been seeking it. The all-night places here are more bars than breakfast, temples to gin rather than to caffeine. I’ve been searching for the real magilla, but I have yet to find it. The closest we have is IHOP, and as much as I love their pancakes, the ambiance leaves something to be desired.

Were I back home, I’d probably be sitting in a booth somewhere looking through a fourteen-page menu. An endless ceramic cup of coffee would be sitting in front of me, and I’d be listening to the babble of other night owls as we shared our temporary aviary. Perhaps I’d just sit and watch the pies rotate in their little glass case on the counter. You can hear some pretty strange conversations at 3 a.m. while you’re licking the backlava off your fingers.

Maybe I’d go to a smaller diner, entering a so-called tin can to admire the pressed metal backsplash and chrome stools. I’d throw a few quarters into the tabletop jukebox to listen to some late-night Elvis. The waitress would snap her gum as she took my order. There are a couple of places in Seattle that stay open all night, but they are the darker cousins to this bright shiny vision. The waitresses all look like Betty Page, and the lighting is generally dim. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that, too, but not tonight.

It’s the visual splendor I miss most about these little tin can diners. When I really need that I take myself out to Johnny Rockets. It’s a chain, and it’s not open late, but I enjoy the atmosphere. Where else can you drink coffee in the 1950s? The wait staff wears little paper hats, there’s black and white tile on the floors, and chrome is abundant. Did I mention the music? It’s hard to be in a downbeat mood with such an upbeat soundtrack. They’ve already got my Elvis on when I enter the doors, and the doo-wop starts up as I take my seat. It’s not quite New York, but it’ll do for now. Life could be a dream, sh-boom, if I could take you up in paradise up above, sh-boom. . . .

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

38. Is there something you’ve been missing? Can you identify a replacement that might give you a similar feeling? If so, go do that.

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