An old man is arguing with a waitress – something about ten top ups not being covered by the free refill declaration on the menu. He looks irate and unplussed. At 7 bucks an hour plus tips, she looks bored. She looks distinctly Sunday afternoon, and today happens to be Friday. The two finally settle up after some heated haggling, but I don’t think the old codger gave up a tip because I hear the waitress swear under her hairsprayed ponytail as she cleans the table. The Elvis print on the wall looks on with forgiving eyes.
Mitch Ryder is on the stereo now and it might be a little loud, but who cares it’s Friday night. The fat-pour milkshakes are trickling, the 7-Up floats are sparkling white, the onion rings are double-bore dunking and the fries, well, the fries are singing Good Golly Miss Molly and shaking a tail feather into a tub of day-old gravy. Pics and representations of rock and roll luminaries hang on the walls. Buddy Holly. Ritchie Valens. And Elvis Presley, whose portrait looks downright holy in this place, this almost-50’s diner.
Man and adult daughter in a booth by the window. Her a ponytailed philly with hair the color of ranch posts; him a middle aged suit in his Friday casuals, 24 pack hanging over a pair of Dockers khaki shorts. He seems genuinely happy for this time; the smile never slides from his otherwise smug face. Her brun hair tumbles out of a ribbed elastic and falls to her not-so-young shoulder, swishes a nail-sized mole on her upper back. They both order the meatloaf – an excellent choice – and he gets a Bud while she drinks ginger ale. For desert, they split a piece of cheesecake, strawberry I believe, and dad picks up the tab to the protest of the daughter.
Group of four sitting over in the corner. Two couples it looks like – all of them wearing sweats. Unhip they may be, but they are laughing, they are drinking, and they are a happy little group. One woman has a roaring laugh, the kind that inspires laughter. The Molson Dry and the brown gravy are flowing slick and fast, the men are swearing and the women are laughing, the night is escaping under the neon sizzle of the diner’s sign, and the number 6 just drove past the window. They pay in cash and the waitress likes what she gets and I catch a bit of a smile as she dumps milkshake detritus into the sink.
I finish my cheese and bacon cowburger and take a long pull from my tall, ribbed glass of ginger ale. I squint into the desert menu. Justine and her daughter sit across from me, picking away at their respective meals. The din of the diner seems to fade as I turn my attention to my favorite ladies. I contemplate ordering a milkshake but I refrain, lest I offend the slim and elegant Buddy Holly on the wall. Nothing ever changes in the Route 99 Diner, and that’s how it should be. Because god knows everyone needs an anchor, even if it is covered in malted milk and French fry gravy.
The Route 99 Diner, Edmonton
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?