I think the man who serves me is the owner of the place, if such a thing is likely. Or has worked here so long he feels he has shares. Soft-spoken (for a New Yorker), polite, well-dressed, confident. He moves with the ease of years, the face of a man who has seen the seasons tick by messy (and hasn’t let it break him). His maroon shirt is smooth and spotless, his tie straight.
At the counter a man sits; there is a high ledge for feet so when I look at him, it looks like he’s squatting. He talks into a cellphone, promises details tomorrow. The phone is an older model; so are his shoes.
A group of men bustle in, count themselves, walk past me to a table for six. They wear puffy coats and baseball caps for teams from other cities. The girl at the cashier’s station is slim, her hair dark, pulled up in a bun. Her leggings are black with roses all over, or some kind of flower. She’s good at her job, but it’s not a hard job. The hardest part is the politeness, and the hours of standing. But she is used to it.
I have no idea how the diner got its name. Nothing about it screams Malibu, and the décor is more like something from the eighties, white and brown and blue and grey. Still, it works. I feel like the place has been around for a while, and that’s no insult in a town like this. Though the menu needs Ramsay-ing.
The Rail Line Diner
A guy wearing an olive-green beanie in an already-warm diner looks up at me suspiciously as I enter. I wonder if he’s a regular. Or is it the brand new Yankees hat? Depending on the situation I am either frightened or determined to be known as a tourist.
The waitress saves me money by pointing out a special. I then blow the extra money on extra food I didn’t need. She gives me a look, like I know I didn’t need it, and she knows I know. Whatever, it’s all money for you, love. If I lived in New York I would die of a heart attack by age forty.
The coffee cup is square on the outside and round in the middle. I’ve not seen anything like it, which is unusual in a mug. The cashier and the waiter converse en español. I like this diner - more than the others. It’s great. But they don’t have home fries so I went with waffle fries (or do they? I was too English to ask). I wonder about the name, the Rail Line, but don’t ask about that either. I wonder when I’ll need to find an ATM. Tomorrow, at this rate.
The waitress offers me more coffee when my cup is still two-thirds full. If I lived in New York I would drink coffee 24/7.
A man comes in pushing one of those walkers that is also a chair, eyes my breakfast derisively, removes something from the walker, sits down. He, too, wears a beanie inside. It’s a Mets beanie. Maybe that was the reason for the look. But they don’t have the same kill-each-other rivalry over sports, here. That’s reserved for religion and skin colour.
The waitress addressed him warmly, asks if he wants the usual, which he does.
The man eats fast and then he’s gone. His cough was wet and raspy. I’m glad I only heard it once.
I’m walking off lunch, up towards 42nd Street. A man in a turban approaches me, spouts psychic statements, Barnum statements. Apparently I have a lucky face. What about the rest of me?, I wonder. He has white hairs embedded in a long black beard. He does a trick with numbers and colours. He asks me questions, hands me little trinkets and pieces of paper. Asks me about my mother. I don’t want to talk about my mother with this man. I walk away. He drops the things I handed back to him.
Uptown A Express
Four young black men get on. I can tell from their behaviour they’re about to put on a show. One of them speaks in a soft voice. Asks me if I’m a cop. I wonder if I really look like a cop. I consider telling the kid that the old myth about cops having to tell you if you ask them is b.s. Then I figure maybe it was a trick to make me feel happy, get change. I was planning on giving them change anyway. The show is good in close quarters, even if the speakers cut out a few times, or an old lady thought she nearly got kicked in the face.
The local A takes a long time to come and when it comes, it’s an express, so I change for the 1. The platform stinks but the font is beautiful. I ride the 1 two stops. A homeless man sleeps across the seats, a duvet but no shoes. Another man bops his head to music I cannot hear. I write this standing up.