Memories of the old Farmington Diner
The Farmington Diner, across the road from Hippach Field and adjacent to Georgie’s Famous Hot Dog Stand, was a feature of my distant youth. In October 1957 it was the scene of the infamous Farmington Diner Horror in which I figured as victim. In those days the diner was the sole locale for Farmington’s night life, which ended at 11:30 pm, when it closed. I had stopped late one night to buy a pizza, having irrigated my liver with about a gallon of beer. On my way out Ron Pratt waylaid me to perpetrate an atrocity of unparalleled malice.
Taking advantage of my befuddled state, he advised me in urgent tones that my pizza was upside down. Without pausing for thought I flipped it over at once. In truth, it wasn’t much of a pizza, but having it mashed up did not improve it. And this from the captain of the football team on which I served as a tackle! Ron is still with us. He’s forgotten his base treachery, I have not. He’s probably never heard of the old adage that revenge is a meal best eaten cold. He will repay some day.
The diner left us several years ago, depriving the population and transients of all hope of ever again getting a plate of fried pickled tripes in my old home town. The structure was removed to make room for a large new Rite Aide store. Georgie retired from the hot dog business years ago and the sled dogs he penned behind his establishment no longer bay through long nights. Hippach Field, the last structure remaining from the Abbott School, which once attended to the educational needs of miscreant students expelled from other prep schools for misbehavior, still stands as a town facility.
The Farmington Diner actually acquired a measure on national fame when a 1978 New Yorker article featured it My older sister, a subscriber, showed this to the owner. He greeted the news with indifference, remarking that he didn’t know anybody in that city. Its standing as a local institution, now sorely missed by many, stemmed from its unique atmosphere. Conversation were general, reflecting our state’s tradition of free flowing raillery. It was no place for man or woman who couldn’t take a joke, but strangers---truck drivers, Canadians, skiers on their way to Sugarloaf or Saddleback, Summer Complaints heading up to the Rangeley Lakes, transients of all sorts who wandered in—were readily included in the back and forth.
Several of our local millionaires, a Chinese man of unknown antecedents, retired and employed mill workers, a couple of carpenters, two state legislators, a drunk house-painter (when he wasn’t serving time at the expense of the county) mingled freely. Some among them were initially rather startled when I first showed up a bowler hat, necktie and boutonniere, but they soon adapted.
It was there I first me a fellow under a baseball cap adorned with smut and cob webs dressed in blue work clothes that smelled a bit like a crank case. He showed a ready wit, a gregarious nature, and an innocent fondness for flattering the ladies. This was Charlie Webster, the former Republican senate minority leader and primary candidate for governor who became state party chairman and architect of the 2010 GOP take-over of the state legislature.
Thanks to this meeting I have since benefited from extensive tutorials on Maine’s retail politics, along with introductions to Maine’s cast of political characters, many of them idiots and some evil.
The Diner was situated on the low-lying Farmington Intervale which the otherwise tranquil Sandy River regularly floods during the spring thaw. Charlie told me of the time when he was called upon to fix the establishment’s oil burner following one of those inundations. The cellar was still partly underwater, with a lot of potatoes, turnips, beets and whatnot floating around. Next week the Diner was offering New England boiled dinners at a cut-rate price. Made him wonder. Makes we wonder as well. The place was better known for its low prices than high quality. My usual fare was a safe BLT and coffee. The pies were also pretty good and usually quite hairless.
Our regular waitress had the fastest coffee pot in New England and our cups had no bottom. Habitual patrons of Starbucks would have found the place as alien as the regulars would have found a five-dollar cup of coffee. No lap-tops were ever seen there and although a couple of elderly professors frequented the place, the University of Maine, Farmington crowd never included it in their restless quest for diversity. Having rotated in academic circles for too many years, I found this another attractive feature.
These days Farmington has quite a decent Thai restaurant and the Homestead Restaurant features some adventurous dishes without being silly. The Brickyard Café has captured about half the old breakfast crowd and the quality of the fare is undeniably superior. But the Farmington Diner social circle is gone. I haven’t seen the drunk house-painter since it disappeared.