Diner Culture

My friend Michele and I at the Marlton Diner on our last day of high school.

It’s 3am, and you and your friends realize you are all super hungry.  Maybe you know a pizza place that’s still open.  Maybe your Taco Bell has a 24hr drive thru.  Maybe you attempt to make some ridiculous concoction with whatever is in the fridge.

If you live in Jersey, you go to the diner.

There’s a classic list of “you know you’re from South Jersey” -isms that has been floating around the internet for a few years now, and one of them (near the top of the list, of course) is “if you wonder why there aren’t more 24-hour diners everywhere else in the country.”  The diner isn’t just a place to eat, it’s a place for friends to come together.  It’s a place for memories.

There are a few rules that basically classify an authentic diner.  First, it must be open for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  If the diner has “hours,” it’s not a real diner.  Second, the entire menu has to be available all day.  The best part of going to the diner is having waffles and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Third, it has to look like a diner.  Stainless steel, vinyl, and neon signs are a must.

I can think of at least ten diners that are less than ten minutes away from me, all of which have their own memories.  I usually don’t associate specific memories with restaurants, but diners are different.  There is something about the culture of the diner that makes you feel like everything that happens there is significant.  My friends and I piled into The Marlton Diner after graduation practice on our last day of high school for a celebratory brunch.  My dad took my brother and I to a diner after our first Eagles game and we sat at our own table and ordered milkshakes instead of dinner food.  I’ve had first dates at the diner, breakups at the diner, and celebrations at the diner.  When my friends and I were at Warped Tour last week, it was cold and we were tired and hungry, and as we sat listening to the last few bands, all I could think about was the short stack of chocolate chip pancakes that was waiting for me at The Cherry Hill diner on the way home.

I’m sure there are plenty of diners elsewhere in the country, but for some reason, whenever I think of my hometown, the diner is one of the first things on the list of things associated (mostly because I think about how much I don’t like the Marlton Diner; I prefer Medport).

The most important thing I’ve learned about diners is: it’s never just about eating breakfast or dinner.  It’s about eating breakfast for dinner.

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