Closing Time: Reflections on the Broadway Diner

July 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Posted in love, music, personal | 2 Comments


This morning, the town of Red Bank, NJ, and everyone who grew up in or near there woke up to the news that the Broadway Diner had closed, suddenly and without warning. There was nothing to be done — one of the owners had died, and that was it. Shock reverberated throughout my social networks. “My youth is officially over,” wrote one friend. “So many good times here, and now it’s gone,” wrote another.

The thing about the Broadway was that it was actually open 24 hours, unlike the majority of establishments that call themselves diners these days. It was always there for you when the bars closed, or whenever your night was winding down — or your day was starting up. It was also one of those classic neon-and-chrome affairs that let you feel like you were in a Tom Waits song, smoking a cigarette with your eggs and toast.

Well, my time went so quickly, I went lickety-splitly
Out to my ol’ ’55
Pulled away slowly, feelin’ so holy
God knows I was feelin’ alive

There hasn’t been a smoking section at the Broadway for years, but it looms large in my memory. In high school, before we were old enough to go to bars, there were three main places to hang out in Red Bank: the 7-11 parking lot, Marine Park, and the Broadway. The basic routine was to get kicked out of each of these places in turn. (Later, we’d get the exciting new Internet Cafe, whose very name is a period piece, but that’s a story for another time.) At the 7-11 or Marine Park, you were definitely loitering. At the Broadway, there was at least the possibility of being a paying customer — a cup of coffee or an order of fries split four ways could buy you some legitimate time. But if you were broke, there was some excellent loitering space out front, as well as the Walk of Shame: a long glass wall that made more or less all its tables visible from the outside. Lore about this name varied: was it more shameful to not know anybody in the diner right now, or to know people in there who hadn’t invited you?

Most of my memories of the Broadway are a blur — it was long ago and far away. But one stands out crystal clear, and that’s the one I’m going to give you today. It was a few years after high school, but I was home for the summer. I had a friend in town visiting, and we’d stayed up all night drinking and talking in my parents’ basement. I was halfway in love with this person, and I don’t remember to what degree I’d told him about it yet, but when 4:30 AM rolled around, neither of us wanted to go to sleep because that would have meant we’d have to stop talking to each other. I was by this time sober enough to drive, so to have an excuse to stay up we decided to go to a diner. First we tried the Middletown Diner, which was very good back then and pretty close to my parents’ house, but it turned out that I was mistaken about its being open 24 hours. Rather than try somewhere else and fail, I pointed the car to Red Bank, where I knew the Broadway would be waiting for us.

And now the sun’s comin’ up
I’m ridin’ with Lady Luck
Freeway cars and trucks
Stars beginning to fade
And I lead the parade

It almost seems impossible in retrospect, but I swear to you that Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55” came on the radio — it must have been the local community college radio station, some DJ with a poetic sensibility who decided to greet the sunrise with this song. Suddenly everything was perfect — the sky was reddening, the air was cool, and God knows, I was feelin’ alive. There’s something about greeting the sunrise after being up all night that makes you feel free, and holy, and maybe a little sad — it’s a patently irrational choice, a fuck-it choice. We were holding on to our perfect night, even as it was fading into day.

Just a-wishin’ I’d stayed a little longer
Oh Lord, lemme tell you that feeling’s gettin’ stronger

The Broadway was there as it always was, when we arrived at about five in the morning. There was, of course, nobody I recognized along the Walk of Shame. We were the only bedraggled, hungover kids in there — most of the other patrons were men getting coffee and a bagel on their way to construction jobs, or elderly couples sharing orders of pancakes. I ordered eggs and toast and coffee; I did not smoke a cigarette. The diner was a long, slow slide back into real life: the food and coffee made us feel somewhat reluctantly normal, and the people around us were going about their business as though one of the most interesting nights in the world had not just happened. We bought a newspaper, and marveled at what some people thought was newsworthy this morning. By the time we got back into the car, the sun was up, and the night was over.

And it’s six in the mornin’, gave me no warnin’
I had to be on my way
Well, these trucks all a-passin’ and the lights all a-flashin’
I’m on my way home from your place

I know I’m not the only person whom the diner has gently guided back to reality. Things never quite worked out romantically with that guy, and it was for the best that they didn’t, but that night and especially that morning are seared across my memory in brilliant gold. Thank you, Broadway Diner, for your years of service to Red Bank’s lost souls.

And now the sun’s comin’ up
I’m ridin’ with Lady Luck
Freeway cars and trucks
Freeway cars and trucks 
Freeway cars and trucks

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