Trolley Diners

Take a good look at the two photographs above because, with the passage of a few more years, what was once a common scene in America will exist only in history books. These photographs are of two diners in downtown Chatham, Va., one which has seen better days and is now a eyesore and the other which is a full fledged operating diner with diner food. I emphasize the fact that diner food is served because many if not all of the reproduction diners open today serve what I respectfully call "yuppie food." When my traveling companion and I visited Garner's Street Car Diner in Chatham last week, we were pleased to find that hot dogs and home made chili were on the menu. People have gotten so finicky about what they eat these days that I wouldn't have been surprised if they had listed skinless mesquite smoked chicken breasts with artichoke sauce, Grecian bread with poppy seeds, some kind of exotic lettuce and papaya juice to wash it down. Nothing wrong with this kind of food if that's what you like, but I prefer the old staples like meat loaf, beans, mashed potatoes with gravy and plain old rolls. There is a lot of nostalgia associated with food and I like to think about all the good meals I have had in diners and none of them included the smoked chicken breast referred to earlier. Oh, I forgot the home made cakes and pies along with the old fashioned milk shakes that would hold the straw straight up in the glass.

This was the second time my friend ( ex boss ) and I had visited Garner's Diner on South Main St. in Chatham. The first time, we got there in time to be admitted to the trolley, but it was after they had stopped serving for the day. At that time, the diner closed at 2:00 p.m. which is not uncommon for a locally owned restaurant in a small town. The diner had changed ownership since our first visit and now has hours of 8:00 a.m. to 3:00p.m. seven days a week.

The day we visited the diner, the cook was the husband of the lady who ordinarily runs the diner. His "day job" is as the Director of Finance for Head Start in Danville which is about 15 miles to the south. He was a congenial man who seemed right at home in front of the grill and appeared to know most of his customers. I suspect he has a lot of regular customers, but I have to wonder if the customers are aware of how rare the trolley diner is. According to the cook, there are now only 28 trolley dinners left in the entire country. This diner and the one in the second photograph ( Street Car Named Desire) opened when street cars ( same as trolleys ) were discontinued in Danville in 1938. There is a photograph on the wall of the trolley when it was in service in Danville and is easily identified by the number on the side. There is also a copy of a cartoon on the wall which appeared in the Montgomery Ala. newspaper along with a caption explaining that someone traveling through Chatham drew the cartoon. It was recognized by a soldier from the Chatham area who was stationed near Montgomery.

One thing I forgot to mention which made the meal in the diner most enjoyable was the fact that they had banana pudding and, most important of all, it was kept at room temperature. People who know banana pudding are aware of the fact that the taste of BP is enhanced if it is kept at room temperature as opposed to refrigerating it. The waitress and I had a good discussion about this and we were in complete agreement. The runnier it gets, the better it tastes. Of course, if I have to tell you this, you probably won't believe it. This little jewel of knowledge comes from someone who has tasted banana pudding about every way it can be prepared including the use of tapioca pudding instead of vanilla pudding. Try it. It's not bad.

The second diner is an eyesore and the cook told me that the city fathers were trying to get the owner to move the abandoned and rapidly deteriorating structure. It hasn't operated in years, in fact, no one in Garner's Diner could remember it being open and several of the employees were natives of Chatham.

They have done a nice job of restoring the downtown section of Chatham and there are several things to see in the area. Hargrave Military Academy is in Chatham as is Chatham Hall, a very exclusive female finishing school. I'm told that many foreign dignitaries send their daughters to this school and they are watched by the administration "like hawks." I think I understand.

More on diners later and I would love to have viewers relate their experiences with diners. Remember, it's a long time until the Oklahoma game and I need some help.