Saturday, June 29, 2013

There's more to tipping than just money.

I recently read a story where a man went to a diner for a meal of burger and fries. Before he left, he gave his server a tip of $10,000. Yep, ten grand. He overheard how this person's son was diagnosed with cancer. He had recently won the lottery and wanted to spread the wealth where and when he could.

This is the perfect example of how anything can happen in a diner. You won't hear stories like this happening in McDonald's. Not in my opinion. In my experience, the workers in fast food are kept too separate from the customers to ever be in receipt of such kindness.

But just as such joy can happen in a diner, there may also occur frustration.

Case in point.

This happened while I was working at Pee Wee's Diner in '87 or '88. A couple of jocks walked in one afternoon. They were dressed like they'd just finished playing basketball, I think. Or maybe tennis. They wanted to eat hot dogs. But not just any hot dogs. They asked the cook if she could make bacon cheese hot dogs.

Well, we didn't have anything like that on the menu. Apparently, some other place in the area did. So the cook shrugged and tried to make what they wanted. Cooked up the hot dogs, sliced 'em open, put cheese inside, and wrapped 'em in bacon. The guys ate four of the things between 'em.

They also drank two 32 ounce lemonades apiece. All this while they sat around for over an hour talking about sports.

When they were done, they thanked us for the food and paid their bill. I distinctly remember the total being $9.91. They paid with a ten and left the tip on the counter.

A grand total of nine cents.

I'll stop here because I still can't bring myself to publicly say what I think of those two guys.

Good writing . . . and good dinering.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Make me believe it.

I've been asked if it's okay to set the diner stories in different time periods. Diners themselves go back to the late 19th century, when they started as portable lunch carts. Their boom time was really in the years from the Jazz age to the 1950's. As fast food franchises popped up from the late 50's and on, diners were fighting a slow battle for existence.

These days, diners are almost a dying breed. A lot of mom and pop shops are going strong out of pure force of personality. It's also up to the people to keep these places alive. Your story should bring such a place to life no matter when or where it is set.

If you're going to set your diner in a particular era, I suggest you do your research. I don't expect a thesis, but believability is key.

Now suppose you're writing a fantasy about a diner in ancient Egypt. Fair enough. I did say no restriction on genre. So make me believe it. Or at least, make me suspend my disbelief. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to reading submissions.

Believe that.

Good writing . . . and good dinering.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer 1987

That was one of the hottest summers on record. I remember temperatures were routinely at or above 100 degrees. During that time, I worked at Pee Wee's Diner. A family owned restaurant ran by my uncle. Grandma ran it back in the post WW2 era.

There was no green grass anywhere. It was all brown and brittle. It was like walking on hay. We had an air conditioner that was a creaky old box that sat in a back window. Looked really old, but it blew a jet stream of arctic chill that was unparalleled anywhere for its heatstroke relieving qualities.

I stood in front of that window at every break. At every moment in between customers. The table by that window was really the cleanest table of any diner ever. I went from sopping with sweat before I stood by the AC to sopping with sweat after I went back to work. But two minutes in that air flow gave me strength to keep working.

Some interesting things happened during that summer at. I encountered a couple of redneck racists. Saw a woman almost pass out from dehydration. Got the worst tip ever from a couple of jocks who made me, and the cook, work our butts off making something NOT on the menu. And I met an old man who set me on the path I would travel as a writer. I'll talk about them all at some point.

The summer of '87 was the hardest I ever had to work in my life. Not just to earn money, but to ensure the trust my uncle put in me to work there. Because of that back-breaking summer, I learned exactly what in life I could take for granted: NOTHING!

Monday, June 24, 2013

My first diners.

So how did I get into writing about diners? It didn't start overnight. My passion for diners developed over years and years. See, both sets of grandparents lived 500 miles away from where I grew up. A few times a year, my family and I would take that long road trip just to visit them. Along the way, we stopped at various diners, restaurants, and eateries. Some were good. Some were bad. Others were fantastic.

Some of these places almost seemed like they were traveling to see me. Like I was their rest stop. Parts of them have never left me. Just like parts of me are still in them. Even in the places that aren't there anymore.

My folks and I still take more or less the same road to visit family. Some of those places are gone for various reasons: closing down, burning down, or being bought out. But I still know where they were. In my mind, even though my body passes them by, I am still sitting in them indulging in my favorite meal.

Some of the family we visit is gone as well. But I know where they are, too. Just like the diners, they're all inside me.

Good writing . . . and good dining.

Submit to "Diner Stories"!

Hello, this is my very first blog. I'm pleased to announce that I will be editing a collection of stories soon to come out from Mountain State Press. The collection is tentatively titled "Diner Stories", but that may change.

I thought I'd start out by putting out the guidelines for submission. Please, read them and see if you have something to contribute.

Guidelines for "Diner Stories"
1. Story length: up to 5,000 words.
2. Genre: Any. Including literary fiction, non-fiction, memoir, or flash fiction.
3. Payment: 2 copies per author.
4. Submission period: July 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013.
5. Submit stories to: in RTF (Rich Text Format).
6. Double space manuscripts in size 12 Times New Roman font.
7. Publish date: Summer or Fall 2014.
8. Please no excessive profanity. Also, no gratuitous sex or violence.
9. Please include name, address, and e-mail at the top of your manuscript.
10. Please do not check on submission status until at least March 1, 2014.
I am looking for stories that take place in diner or revolve around them. Diners resonate with people in a way that fast food chains and franchises can not. They have shaped American culture and given a mystique to the road and those that travel upon it.
Good diners have unique characteristics. Parts of them stay with people after they leave. Your diners should be as much a character in your story as the people. They're not just places to eat. They are refuges, gathering places, and watering holes.
That said, please no stories about McDonald's, Shoney's, Bob Evans, or other such places. I'm after tales that evoke the mystique of the mom and pop shop. I recommend spending some time in a diner to absorb the sound and conversations that pervade the atmosphere. But don't be invisible. Get to know the people there. Inspiration may just come from a strange corner.
For further inspiration, feel free to check out the facebook page for Diner Poems. There are photos and albums of various types of diners and eateries for you to view. If you have any questions about these guidelines or anything about the collection, please post here or send me an e-mail at the above address. I look forward to seeing what comes from your pen.
Good writing and good dining,
Daniel McTaggart