Thursday, October 2, 2008
Diners I Have Known #2
In the mythic recesses of my earlier life is the time from the summer of 1984 to the summer of 1989 when I lived in Charlottesville, VA. It was a heady time in a heady place—trees seemed to be in bloom constantly, & not just the ubiquitous & lemony magnolias. & of course as befits a place built on red clay, it seemed as though everything third building was made of brick—not to mention the walkways.
Ah well, the world was a trifle younger then, & we were all centuries younger—because for the most part, my memories of Charlottesville revolve around the graduate English Department at the University of Virginia, & especially the MFA writing program that was part of said department, & most especially the poetry program within said writing program, because that’s where I was deeply involved in poebiz for two of those five years (& really, all of the five, even after I had “an advanced degree” in 86).
But what, you say, does this have to do with diners? On Main St in Charlottesville was—& is, as I’ve discovered—the Blue Moon Diner. Now, just in case anyone came here by virtue of our good friends at Google (the hosts of this particular potluck), this is not a review of the restaurant as it currently exists; I last ate at the Blue Moon Diner sometime in 89; was back in Charlottesville for a few days in 1996, but didn’t eat there, & for that matter 96 is 12 years ago—yikes! I understand the place closed for a bit & re-opened. Looking around online, it does seem people still like it, tho….
But returning to the mid to late 1980’s for a few more paragraphs, it was the place for poets to breakfast on weekends—or whenever we could find time in our “busy” (heh, heh, heh) schedules. When you’re on a fellowship at an MFA program (at least this was my experience) you’ve got lots of time to go out & concoct grist for the mill of future poems & stories. Having thought about this little article for a bit, I do recall that we also breakfasted from time to time at the Howard Johnson’s—whatever happened to Howard Johnson’s? I’ll have to write about that sometime—& actually at least a couple of my more memorable Charlottesville breakfasts took place in the blue & orange eatery; & of course, there was also the very delicious Spudnuts in my own Belmont neighborhood (best doughnuts ever! & glad to see it’s still around) but still, when I think of breakfasts in Charlottesville, I think of the Blue Moon Diner. I know two regular readers of this blog, Eberle & Audrey probably have their own memories of the Blue Moon, since they also lived in the Charlottesville dreamworld.
The Blue Moon Diner was a small place—grill up front—a counter, I believe; but we always ate in the wooden booths to the side. I notice the reviews of the current restaurant talk about the service being “brusque”; can’t say I remember this, but it also seems (of course, tinged with 20 plus years of re-written memory) that there was so much going on during any visit to the Blue Moon Diner, that this would have been a minor consideration; also, again thru the lens of mythologized history, it seemed like every visit there lasted for days—not because of the service, but because there was so much to talk about, & the poetic life for folks of our ages was such a grand & dramatic adventure. Time was different then. Nor were visits to the Blue Moon always “fun”; I think my emotions while sitting in those booths ran a full spectrum, from great elation to abysmal despair—again, this was a time of poetry, & poetry for me has always involved a raw nerve or two—or two or three dozen—even when I didn’t have the technical savvy to really put that across.
One memorable moment at the Blue Moon Diner: there were three of us at a table for breakfast. A woman & I on one side of the booth—we were “just pals,” but quite good pals; a man on the other side, singing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” to the woman, but not in a romantic way—in fact, he’s being rather disingenuous. The woman douses him with a full cup of coffee—since we’d been there for a while, fortunately the coffee was lukewarm—but the cup was full. I won’t reveal the man’s identity, but the woman was my good poebiz pal Brittany Newmark—she’s the one who actually coined the word “poebiz” (Brittany’s phrase, in re MFA programs: “You’ve heard of showbiz…. this is poebiz”) which I’ve completely co-opted—sorry, Brittany. Last I knew she’d married the love of her life, a guy from the Israeli equivalent of the Green Berets (which I think means he’s a pretty serious dude), & was living in Houston (where she was Hakeem Olajuwon’s composition teacher at the University of)…. oh, well between her love life & her place of residence, she was batting .500. Brittany was (& I hope & expect, still is) a very good poet, & was a good pal—just don’t get her riled when she’s holding a cuppa Joe.
So other than coffee & cigarettes (lots of both, & mostly Camel straights in terms of the latter) what was the fare? As I recall, the food was good, but in all honesty, I can only ever remember eating breakfast there (I’m sure I was there for other meals, but that’s a blank to me), & can only remember having French Toast & bacon. My memory tells me it was quite good—not that French Toast & bacon isn’t almost always good (it’s basically a perfect meal—the fluffy sweetness of the French Toast combined with the smoky, meaty crispness of bacon), but that it was particularly good. I see people still are fans of bacon from the Blue Moon diner….
So of course, like a lot of stuff I write these days, this is about memory—not much of a restaurant review. It was long ago & far away, but I can still see the plate of French Toast & bacon & the bright Virginia sunlight coming through the window & glinting off the maple syrup, I can still see the faces from those days in my mind. It’s the past, now, which belongs exclusively in memory….