Wow, I knew I hadn’t update this space for quite some time, but I hadn’t the slightest idea it was six months’ worth of neglect. Shameful, considering, you know, I pay for the real estate.
I’ll be writing a lot more on this space in the future, as my other paid gig is coming to a halt. I’ll probably continue to do snotty sports-related writing here, particularly when the baseball season returns, and proceed to make highly unreliable NFL picks. But there will be my usual complaints about Life and The Human Condition. And of course, there will be lots of potty mouth.
But now, because Halloween is almost upon us, I share with you a terrifying artifact from my youth (although I think the majority of childhood is terrifying, but that’s a topic for a different post):
The Phantom Diner.
The Phantom Diner was a nickname for an eatery whose true name I never knew, a curious piece of real estate on Route 94, on the outskirts of Washingtonville (if a town as tiny as Washingtonville can truly have outskirts). It was situated on the side of a hill–not a very steep one, but just slanty enough to make the structure look askew. It was an extremely transparent building, with every wall featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. It had a flat roof, extending slightly beyond the front door, held aloft by iron girders, so it had the vague look of an old-school McDonalds. At the edge of its small parking lot stood a lit-up sign, perhaps two stories tall, advertising its wares: HAMBURGERS SOUP COFFEE.
And no one ever went there.
This is not hyperbole. I don’t mean it was rarely visited, or you were unlikely to see someone at the lunch counter. I mean, NO ONE EVER WENT THERE. I never once saw a car in its tiny parking lot, and its glass walls made it easy to see the complete lack of life inside. You could practically see the cobwebs from the road. But the big sign outside was always lit up, as were the neon signs in the windows advertising coffee and Coke and whatnot. So it was open for business, evidently, but no one was buying.
I don’t know who first pointed out the weirdness of a diner that no one patronized; it’s hard to observe something not happening. But I seem to recall that some time when I was junior high, it suddenly dawned on all the kids at once: What was the deal with that place?
The road where the Phantom Diner sat wasn’t one that people would walk down. At that point, route 94 was basically a long semi-rural stretch between one small town and another. If you were walking alongside the Phantom Diner, it either meant you’d run out of gas or you’d been left in a ditch for dead and had to find your way back home. So you couldn’t really pass by and try to sneak a peek inside. In order to find out anything close to the truth about the Phantom Diner, you’d have to actually go there. And no one was even remotely interested in doing that.
There were rumors, of course. Most of them believed that the joint was owned by some wizened old woman who was either too cheap or too crazy to maintain the place properly. Unless you believed the whispers that the Old Crone had been slapped with some horrendous health code violation–something so hideous that not even Orange County could stomach it–and was no longer allowed to serve food to humans. But she kept it open and sold little knickknacks and whatnots.
But as I said, no one ever found out what the deal was with The Phantom Diner because nobody went there. Obviously, if no one went to the place, there had to be a perfectly good reason–or a perfectly evil reason–and no one was willing to discover on their own what that reason was. It was like a carton of milk sitting at the back of the fridge. It’s been in there for so long that it has to have gone bad, but you don’t wanna be the one to pick it up and give it the sniff test because surely it will smell like Death.
Last weekend I went upstate and passed by the Phantom Diner on my way to my mother’s house. I was going to point it out to The Wife, but lo and behold, the place was boarded up. After how many damn years of being ignored, someone had finally taken notice of it one way or another. Housing prices being what they are, it was only a matter of time before someone saw the Phantom Diner and imagined another housing development in its place.
And in retrospect, I think people really were afraid to go to the Phantom Diner, but not because they thought something truly evil was going on there. Those rumors of monstrosities were just a cover. What people were really afraid of was showing up to the Phantom Diner and being the first people to go there in who knows how long, to face some lonely and desperate proprietor, eager to sell god knows what. And at that point, you could either turn tail and awkwardly leave, or you’d have to stick around and feel uncomfortable and choke down whatever the place had to offer.
That’s probably the scariest thing of all, because it’s real.