The world lost another of its idols yesterday. Murrell's, a local diner, closed its doors after sixty-plus years in the business of serving fried, greasy food to drunks and college kids.
I'm not going to bullshit anybody and claim that the food there was great—even for a diner, Murrell's was pretty average. The burgers, at one time, were awesome, but they'd gone downhill in quality, to the point where it was strongly suspected that they were just pre-frozen patties. But be that as it may, it is gone, and we should all be in some kind of mourning.
Murrell's was notable for a few things. It was the only place in town where you could get a Morvich, a truly insane sandwich that somehow combined all four food groups: chicken fried steak, cheese, eggs, and bacon. It was also the quintessential shitty diner. It stood for a little over sixty years, and I'm pretty sure it was last cleaned sometime during the Carter administration. There were a number of weird pictures on the walls (including portraits of four random US Presidents), which were stained a deep nicotine brown—only when you looked behind the picture did you see that the walls were at one point two or three shades lighter. The service was never fantastic, the tables and chairs constantly verged on the brink of collapse, and most of the clientele seemed to consist of shabby old lunatics. I can distinctly remember visiting one afternoon and wondering to myself if most/all of the customers had somehow escaped from the mental ward of a local nursing home.
You'd be hard-pressed to think of anything more iconically American than the all-night diner. You imagine truck drivers and cops and other hard-working stiffs coming in, looking for some cheap grub and a place to have a coffee and a smoke before going back out into the night again. You think of Edward Hopper and you think of Norman Rockwell and you think of Robert Frank, images that were antique thirty years before you were born, and you think that visiting these places again will help you touch base with some past that you never saw except in dreams or photos or in the long-gone memory of your grandparents.
I've been a night owl my entire life. When I was a child, I'd stay up while my grandmother played solitaire and watched late-nite TV until three or four in the morning, whenever the station went off the air (and more often that not, when that happened, she would put on a VHS tape and stay up even longer). And years later, I went nearly my entire sophomore year in high school on approximately four hours of sleep a night. Even now, as I'm updating this blog, it's nearly two in the morning. There's no reason for this, of course, it's just...what if I miss something?
It's a kind of lovely loneliness, being up late, thinking you're the one person in the world awake and watchful in the night. Places like Murrell's, open all night, give you the sense that you're not entirely alone out in the world when everyone else is asleep. Diners and gas stations and truck stops give you a happy, welcome feel. They're little beacons of safety in the night, little harbors, a place that lets you know that you are not alone, and that the fun has not yet stopped, that there's always something happening, and that you haven't missed a thing.