Time ceases to exist here. It is after-hours and before hours. There was no planning to arrive; one simply shows up. No one has a name, but everyone is recognizable. You sense a familiarity, but that does not afford you the right to strike up conversation. And don’t take a seat with anyone outside of your circle. This place is both seedy and safe. You have entered a shared private place that is still trying to maintain secrecy.
The night is over, and you are wide awake. There is only one place to go. Your drive is navigable by a few streetlights. You take a long, mindless avenue towards downtown. Neighborhoods flash on either side until you have reached a dark and black nothingness; a tunnel with no end. The disorientation is part of the thrill. Had this been your first time, you would’ve turned around. Keep going. A neon light flickers -an old diner sign is half broken and half your saving grace. The now-greyed, white brick building is beat down and weathered and sitting on uneven foundation. You pull your car around the back and park in a lot that looks like it was once setup as a carhop. No one would come out to greet you now.
You enter through the backdoor and step back in time. Welcome to the Café. It is a 24-hour diner run by old, blue-hairs still sporting 50’s beehive hairdos, with at least one pencil buried in their buns. The waitresses are possibly in their sixties, but frozen around the age. They are short and squatty and donning aprons around their plump waste. They scowl and take no shit. You think there’d be some charm or cheer since plastic cake stands line the bar, but have you ever actually seen a freshly baked cake? You are in a place of biding time and neglect. The carpet is so thinned, it’s almost hardwood again. Chairs scratch when pulled back from tables. Pleather booths in the very back have torn and frayed and begun exposing the white polyester fluff cushioning. You are gentle in falling into them and shoving yourself towards the weathered wall, so your friends can pile in beside you. On the walls, there are tiny scratch marks of people’s names, of puppy loves with hearts and arrows, and a running list of local vendettas or public swipes. The tables themselves are almost pristine, constantly wiped down. The waitstaff drew a line somewhere, do not mark-up the tables. They will not abide! Otherwise, you are seated amongst fifty years of accumulated graffiti and grime. If you were to order food, it would be greasy spoon, diner fare from a menu not updated since its first iteration.
Who else is here, besides a few haggard, old-men-regulars at the bar? These fellows in overalls are part of the backdrop, providing running commentary to the waitresses about their lives. Same shit, different day. The other patrons are consistently the same but of varying tribes. The seating is not designated but may as well be. There are late-night shift workers in need of no conversation; stoners in need of cheeseburgers; high school crushes needing a change of scenery from making out in cars; moody, emo-types needing a table to write poetry and get away from self-despair; juvenile delinquents who have bored themselves from their own self-destruction. There is a congregation and isolation happening simultaneously.
We all come here to hide from sleep. Our conversations are held in whispers, if at all, amongst the few we sit with. Everyone drinks the coffee served in stodgy, off-white mugs. And the coffee may be the only thing any can afford. That’s why this is the landing station, not advertised to anyone, but for everyone. And you, my dear, are a teenager on an allowance. People here don’t abide by curfews. You keep yourself to yourself. If you were with your high school boyfriend, and he was paying, you’d be at IHOP eating pancakes.