Essay: Fair Oaks Diner

A guest essay by Christopher Chambers
exterior of Fair Oaks

Photo by Erica Mueller

By Christopher Chambers

This story begins with a rusting white sign on a brick building spelling the word EAT in red neon, and as I’m driving past, the gravitational pull of it causes me to parallel park my truck out front. Also, it’s snowing.

This story is an acquaintance of a story called American Flag Decal by Richard Brautigan, though that story would likely deny this if the two stories would happen to meet in a perfectly ordinary diner like this one where an old radiator is battling winter like a punch drunk boxer who won’t stay down.

I order coffee and eggs and toast and hash browns. I’ve driven past this diner more times than I can count, resisting the sign, but now here I am at the counter drinking black coffee and waiting on my order. I heard an old friend’s sister-in-law owns this place and I think how I might say to her, Hey, I knew your sister-in-law twenty-five years ago in St. Paul. But the only person behind the counter is a guy who looks like a junior heavyweight who’s intently wishing he were someplace else, like maybe San Diego. I can’t see who’s in the kitchen so I content myself with the coffee and waiting and yesterday’s newspaper.

The only other characters are two retired guys at a table, regulars I guess, since the junior heavyweight knows their names. I picture another story, yet unwritten, where I’m an old sportswriter who comes in every morning and they all know my name and stories.

Behind the counter a WINSTON SALEM display for packs of cigarettes sits sad and empty, the space inside like a small museum of the days when you could smoke in gymnasiums and in diners with your coffee while you waited for your order to come up. There are two different clocks on the wall, each with its own different version of time.

Finally here it comes, the junior heavyweight carries a plate piled with eggs and toast and hash browns. He sets down the plate and refills my coffee. The story ends as I dig in and begin to eat. It’s not the best eggs and toast and hash browns I’ve ever had but there’s plenty, and there’s hot sauce. As I eat I see through the window the red glow from the sign on the falling snow and on my truck waiting patiently for the page to turn.

Christopher Chambers is a writer, editor and bartender. Find more of his work at christopherchambers.net.

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