I'm Sure It Was There
A Long Way To Go
As I picked up the hire car, I began to wish that I had booked a hotel for the night. The flight had been slightly delayed and I felt that I needed a good nights sleep.
The car had sat nav, so at least I did not have to worry about getting lost and I estimated it would take me about four hours to drive to Anchor Bay. The thought of meeting up with friends for the once a year break made the thought of the journey a little less daunting.
I started off straight away, rather than have something to eat or drink and decided it would be best to make use of the light that was left. There are plenty of service stations and late night stores so I could pick something up on the way.
I started off brightly and soon the endless stream of cars around me dwindled and it was a novelty to see another driver. All the old memories came flooding back as I drove along the familiar roads. Landmarks came and went and after a couple of hours, I realised that I was starting to feel hungry.
About 10 miles away there was a diner where I had stopped a couple of times. It was OK but I wished there was somewhere else nearby. And with that the sign advertising the new diner appeared.
"The Stop By Diner" the sign said. "Fill yourself and fill your car" Not a very subtle marketing ploy, but the nearer I got to the turn off two miles away, the more I was looking forward to it.
I turned off at the next sign, and saw the weirdest shaped tree I have ever seen as I drove down the small leafy lane. Every so often I could see lights in the distance and within minutes I entered the small car park. There were a couple of cars already there, and through the large glass front I could see people sitting at the counter. This was just how I had always seen American diners on television, and I was pleased to be visiting one at last.
I walked in and was a bit dismayed that it was a themed diner. Pictures of Elvis Presley were all around the walls, and "Love Me Tender" was being played.
"Please God don't let the menu include Hound dog Burgers or In The Ghetto Stew" I thought, and fortunately judging by the specials board they were not offered.
The staff were dressed in 50's clothes, and there was denim everywhere. I sat down and was approached by a waitress called Sue. I ordered omelette and fries, with a coffee and sat back to people watch.
A couple of men at the counter were clearly farm hands. They were talking about the falling price of livestock, and how they saw a bad couple of years ahead. A couple of students sat in a booth, and called out to Sue "Mom, can we have more Coke?" An older couple sat in silence and finished the remainder of their pie. The only other person was a young man at the till.
I wondered how the diner survived if this was a normal evening, and glanced at the menu to check I had made a good decision when I ordered. I was surprised to see the low prices, but thought if locals were struggling they would be glad to have someone cheap and cheerful to eat.
My food arrived and I ate it much more quickly than i intended. The youngsters looked on as if to say "You can eat again later if you want".
To escape their disgust, I knocked back my coffee, refused the free refill and visited the restroom. At the till I handed over my $1.20 for the food and drink, and left a $2 tip which caused strange looks from the farmhands who saw it. How could they continue with those prices. I will never know.
As I left a police car pulled up. Could this be any more of a stereo type I thought, and felt guilty for a previous thought that the food and drink might be a front for more profitable activities. One of the officers carried a large pink teddy bear, and I smiled to see his badge number was 999 - the emergency number back home.
I finished the journey without thinking of the diner again, and spent an amazing week eating, drinking and catching up on every-ones lives. We all said as we did every time that we should do this more than once a year but in reality the logistics of getting us from all over the world more than once a year was out of the question.
The week soon passes and we were all packing up to leave. Paul had rented a car and as it was a shed, he gave it back to the local branch rather than risk drive it back to the airport. We were on the same flight for the first leg of his journey home so he came with me.
I told him about the diner, and we agreed to stop there again as he blatantly disbelieved the prices. I nearly missed the turn off as the sign that way was no where near as noticeable. We drove past the tree and I knew we were on the right lane. The lights could not be seen, and I wondered if they only opened of an evening. We reached the car park and Paul gave me one of his special "You're an idiot" looks."
We had arrived at a clearing with nothing at all. It could have been a parking lot, but for what? We got out of the car to stretch our legs more than anything else. and walked around a little. Paul said "There is no point staying here, lets just go and stop at the next place we find." We walked back to the car, and something glinted in the sun. I bent down to pick it up and stopped in shock. It was a police badge - number 999.
Paul talked all about how hungry he was and how he he was dreading going back to work, but all I could think about was the diner and the people who had been there.
I got home and went straight onto the Internet and put " The Stop By Diner" into Google images. Up came the diner I had visited complete with a police car outside. I followed a link to the story and read how it had burnt down in the summer of 1957.
Sue had recently become a grandmother and her son in law was a police officer. He had bought the teddy for his new daughter, and rather than risk the ribbing of taking it to the station he had taken it to his mother in law to take home.
While he and his partner took their break, there was an almighty explosion. The diner was a fire ball within minutes, and no one got out.
Sue, her son in law and his partner, Sues children, the elderly couple, the till clerk and both farm hands were left there for eternity.