There's nothing like the smell of bacon and coffee when you come inside from the cold just after sun up. Though it's early, it seems as if half the town is already there, tucking into their eggs and toast.
The waitress, and old Al behind the counter, know you by name and probably know what you'll have, though they may try to sell you on a different kind of omelet or a new muffin they're trying out this week.
You sit at the worn, Formica, counter, give your order and spread the newspaper out before you, grabbing a headline or two as the coffee is poured. When you leave, you'll drop the paper in the basket by the door, left there so the next guy will get the news for free. It's tradition.
You nod and exchange a few words with the others at the counter. You know them, they are loggers, or lobstermen, or they have shop in town. They're headed to work after breakfast, so the meal must be filling.
If it's later in the morning, the patrons coming in will be couples, and groups of older women catching up. You'll know most people in the room by sight and some may stop to greet you as they head over to their tables.
The food is coming, placed in front of you with a satisfying plunk, and a gentle warning about the temperature of the plate. The waitress tours the room, coffee pot in hand, looking for a mug in need.
The din is louder now. Silverware clatters as it's cleared and set. Seats emptied, table wiped, then filled again. The papers in the basket have been broken up into sections, and one article or another has started conversation; taxes, or the town manager, or someone's grandchild in the school play. There may be two or four at your table, but you are really a party of forty-five. It's hard not to overhear, turn around, check in, ask a question, share a joke or condolence.
In spite of the warmth of the room, women hunch, fingers curled around the heavy, white, stoneware, sweater sleeves pulled up to their thumbs, clutching their mugs as a reliable source of heat. The coffee keeps flowing.
Breakfast never takes long. Patrons come and go; in and out like a life force pumping through the heart of town. Check paid, tip left, you're out the door and ready to start the day.
I wrote this because the image of the diner mug popped into my head and wouldn't leave. The scene is an amalgam of two diners in New Hampshire (one has people arriving via snowmobile in the winter), and a breakfast place here in town. Going out to breakfast is one of my favorite simple pleasures. For breakfast, I find that small town diners are better than regular restaurants or pancake chains. They may be the happiest places on Earth.