Bobs Colonial Diner

It's 1984.

5:30 AM, the alarm went off. No gentleman in his right mind gets up at 5:30 AM. The body rebels; it's not right. Terry stirs from her side of the bed.

"What time is it?"

"5:30"

"Are you crazy?"

The last time I got up at that hour was 20 years ago when I was an aspiring priest in the monastery.

"Paul and I are training for the Boston Light race. He's going to do it as a relay with Dave, Kathy, and a fourth party to be named later. I'm going to do the 10 miles solo."

"You're nuts and I don't want any details."

"Well anyways, we've got to get acclimated to the cold water."

"Why at this ungodly hour?"

"I've got to drive to Brockton and Paul has to be at work by eight o'clock."

The time was mid-August. The water temperature struggled to reach 58 degrees.

I met Paul at the high end of the beach. We planned to swim a mile total that morning.

As I was fiddling with my goggles to secure a tight water-seal, Paul dove into the water and began a slow crawl. He was only in the water about five feet deep and there very few waves that morning. I looked out and saw the water begin to churn around him and seagulls (or sky rats as we called them) began circling the area he swam in.

Just as I'm about to dive into the ocean, Paul stands up and, screaming, runs to shore.

"I got bit!"

"By what?"

"I'm swimming along, and, suddenly, I'm in this school of blue fish. Then one of the bastards bit me!"

"Where?"

"Look!"

He held up his right hand and blood was dripping down to his elbow. I ran to the car for the first-aid kit I keep in the trunk. By the time I got to him, the major bleeding had stopped. I applied a bandage to the jagged cut after washing it with alcohol.

"I suppose to the fish, youíre the one that got away."

"It all happened so fast. Well, let's swim."

This was our day for fish. A three foot sand shark startled me. He circled around me three or four times then lost interest in me just as I ate the remains of last nightís supper for the second time.

We did our mile and on the way back to our cars I said,

"Let's do breakfast at the Colonial."

"Sounds good."

We hopped into our respective cars and rolled the half-mile to the outskirts of downtown Lynn to a "greasy spoon" called Bobís Colonial Diner near the corner of Broad and Chestnut Streets. By the time Paul got out of his car, he was shaking uncontrollably. Paul weighs all of 140 pounds on a fat day and carries a six-foot frame. He has virtually no body fat. The cold water swim had triggered his shiver reflex.

"Let's get inside and get some hot food and coffee into you before you go into hypothermia."

Bobís is set out like most New England diners with a long bar and round stools that swivel and are bolted to the floor. Behind the bar are ovens and grills. There are about six tables with four chairs parallel to the bar. The place was about three-quarters filled. Paul was still shivering like a coke addict waiting for his next fix and this caused several people to move down a few seats.

"We've been swimming in the ocean and he gets cold easily." I said to the waitress who gave me a look that said SURE!

"You get an A+ for that story." She said.

"All right, truth is, he's on his way to rehab."

"Jesus, Tom!" Mumbled Paul through chattering teeth. The explanation seemed to satisfy everyone but Paul.

And now, a word about Bobís Colonial Diner. Diners are a fading thing. The few that remain have been turned into 4 star restaurants although a couple still retain their charm. I remember the White Way Grille in the Wyoma section of Lynn. It was run by an ancient, dumpy Greek fellow. We used to stagger in there on weekends when I was in college - to sort of sober up.

"Whatchu want?"

"How about a BLT and a coffee?"

"Can have anything on the menu as long as itís an English muffin."

Apparently, the only thing he ever served at that hour of the night (morning?) was coffee and English.

Anyhow, I digress. Back to Bobís Colonial Diner, nobody remembers who Bob was or why such an upscale name as ĎColonialí in such a downscale neighborhood. As mentioned, the diner was near the downtown end of Lynn in an area of advancing blight. This had been a wealthy neighborhood at the beginning of the 20th century, and, as the years progressed, turned into a working-class neighborhood. But, like my house on Essex Street, the infamous ĎSection 8í of the welfare laws brought in immigrants legal and illegal with no English or any discernible skills; but they all had PhDs in manipulating the system. It wasn't culture shock but culture catastrophe.

The diner was now owned by one Roy Goodwin. At the time of the story, he's in his early 50s. Roy stands around six-foot one and weighs about 260. His hair is as greasy as the food he serves and needs a haircut badly. He wears what was once a white shirt over which hangs, besides a prodigious gut, an apron that looks like it hasn't been washed since colonial times. His slacks "an obvious euphemism" are black, I think. Royís smile reveals three teeth; the rest is a black hole.

That having been said, Roy is one of the gentlest souls youíll ever meet.

"Hey, Roy."

"Whatíl it be gentlemen?"

"One egg scrambled, sausage, bacon, pumpernickle toast, home fries, a large O.J., and coffee with milk on the side."

"Is your friend capable of ordering?"

"Probably not."

"Jesus, Tom!" He shivered then looked at Bob. "Give me a mushroom omelet, sausage, and plenty of coffee."

While slapping the food around the grill, Roy kept up several conversations at once with those seated. One day, I noticed what looked like a grease splotched diploma hanging on the far right on a shelf holding small boxes of cereal.

"Hey Roy, what's that on the shelf with the cereal?"

"That's my diploma from cooking school."

He reached, took it down and only succeeded in spreading the grease around the glass frame. He wiped it off as best he could with his shirt sleeve.

"Roy, that's a degree from CIA!" I said, astonished.

"That's right."

Also, on the shelf, was a book he pulled down.

"This is my yearbook."

He opened it.

"Here's my graduating class and right here, that's me; a few pounds lighter of course."

CIA or the Culinary Institute of America is the most prestigious culinary college in the country.

"When I got outta school, I was salad chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. Later, I worked my way up to the number 2 position."

"Then what -- -- --?"

"What am I doing in a place like this?" He started remembering.

"In that type of business, you work your tail off. You work nights, you work holidays, you work weekends. The money's great but you don't have a life except with the people you work with. Itís too easy to turn to drugs and alcohol. And, I have a wife and kids to worry about. This is a no hassle, no stress job. I flip it once, over easy, bacon, sausage, omelets. I do lunch with meatloaf and lasagna, then, by early afternoon, I'm outta here. I take a few catering jobs on the side to help pay the kidsí schooling and keep the wife in ice cream."

The fat lady was sitting on the 2 stools closest to the door. She was as wide as she was tall and I guess in her early 30s. Making 40 would be a minor - no make that major miracle. I learned early on not to encourage her in conversation. She would babble on incessantly.

"I gotta go to my sistahís today. I can get a cab and it only costs $4.50 to get to her house. The cab goes down Lewis to Broad, then takes a right by Central Square -- -- --"

You get the picture.

Other diners included people on their way to work and senior citizens who could assuage some of today's loneliness listening to the general banter. The oldest character was a skinny guy in his early '80s. He always ordered burnt toast and blackened bacon. I called Roy over.

"Next time he orders, why donít you garnish it with a lump of charcoal?"

"I donít know how he eats it."

Recently, something or other came up and I found myself on Broad Street where I hadn't been in years. Roy Goodwin must've retired by now. Bobís Colonial Diner was now a Spanish-American grocery store. While stopped at a red light I thought I was in a foreign country.

So it goes.