William Patrick Tandy
was a welcome sight in our flight from
the hard and dirty streets of Brotherly
Love. The red neon light made us look
like we'd just gone for a swim in a vat
of used Pennzoil.
A landmark on the 70/73
circle in Marlton, Olga's is the only
place, at this hour, in which an ensanguined
clan of Jersey Shore fugitives might find
20-minute solace in a cup of black coffee
before making the long, lightless leap
across the South Jersey pines.
The hostess, a plain, middle-aged
woman, eyed us warily, doing her best
to maintain an air of professional friendliness.
But her eyes belied her fear; they said
that she was neither accustomed to nor
comfortable with a small band of blood-spattered
thugs occupying one of her diner's better
tables at 1:30 in the morning, driving
out the more respectable (or at least
more discreet) night owls.
"How many?" she
said, as though she were asking her exterminator
just how bad the problem was.
"Just a moment."
She disappeared into the kitchen, returning
a minute later with four menus in hand
and the determined look of a Woman in
Charge. "This way, please."
She led us to a table in
the farthest corner of the restaurant,
far removed from any of the other paying
customers. We sat down and thanked her
as she dispensed the menus.
"Your waitress will
be right with you," she mumbled before
retreating to the well-lit world of the
register, like a tourist heading inland
at the first mention of a hurricane.
Before long, a young blonde
approached our table a fourth-generation
alternachick, her pierced head exuding
the jaded confidence of a daytime student
who planned to have her nights free one
day. She smacked a piece of gum as she
broke out her pad and pen.
"So," she said,
unfazed by the carnage before her. "GWAR?"
Well, kiss my grits...
Jersey diners are their
own special breed; don't let anyone tell
you anything different. From the Mom &
Pop-run greasy spoon to the bustling franchise,
each is its own experience. A few will
kiss your ass, but a whole lot more will
all but kick it.
Some will throw you out
as soon as serve you, while others redefine
the boundaries of human tolerance. (I
would have thrown myself out, given the
opportunity, on more than one occasion.)
But they're often as much
about the food as Philadelphia fans are
about the sportsmanship; sure, the diner
feeds the appetite, but there's more at
play when, just like Zevon, you find yourself
staring in that empty
coffee cup at three in the morning.
Looking back on where you've
been, watching out for where you're going.
Plotting your next move...
Route 30, ten minutes outside Atlantic
City, stands the Absecon Denny's, for
years the subject of a long, litigious
battle over alleged discrimination in
its hiring practices. Along with the Galloway
Diner in neighboring Galloway Township,
it was for a long time one of the very
few all-night establishments of any kind
in that flat, haunted corner of the state.
A place to comfortably burn off the ferocity
borne of Wild Turkey and a cup of raw
sugar by running a few laps in the parking
lot at 2:30 a.m., without fear of being
misconstrued, and still go home with a
new set of flatware.
And also return to a basket
of seasoned fries and a cup of coffee
or a Coke, brought by a waitress named
Alice. She was quiet, our Alice, never
speaking more than necessary, and always
putting up with our shit. We left her
a good tip when we could. And so it was
not without a bit of disappointment when
we noticed she had gone. Down the rabbit
hole, for all we knew. Or maybe even through
the looking glass.
We didn't even know her
name, really. She wasn't known as Alice
amongst our ranks for any nametag or the
resemblance that she bore to anyone on
the old sitcom. No.
It had more to do with the
stringy hair and eyeliner of a rough-looking
40 that smacked painfully of yet another
Being the nightly haunt
for third-shift law enforcement of all
levels, on the other hand, the Galloway
Diner, to us, was a place generally best
avoided. But we were never meant to live
on bread alone; that word came down from
the Good Lord himself, years ago, on a
whistle stop through the dark, scrubby
pinelands. No, we needed variety on occasion,
and so it was not impossible to find us
on some nights, rubbing elbows, booth-to-booth,
with some of South Jersey's Finest.
But the one night of which
we spent the Ungodly Hours in the Galloway
Diner, speaking freely and in not-so-hushed
tones of our cupboards stocked with the
"good Denny's china," of our
flatware and carafes and "wet-floor"
signs (menus, even), the Finest were nowhere
to be seen. Nemetz was in mid-sentence,
however, when he recognized a face at
the next table over a face we all
knew from a thousand sleepless nights...
The night manager from Denny's.
"He's gotta go somewhere
on his nights off," I said, but Nemetz
was unnerved. He immediately changed his
"How ya doin'?"
he asked the Night Manager.
"Hey!" the NM
replied. "How you guys doin'?"
He hadn't heard any of the previous conversation,
or, if he had, didn't care.
"Not bad," Nemetz
replied. "Just takin' the night off."
"Yeah," said the
NM. "Me, too."
"Hey, we were wondering,"
Nemetz said, further rerouting the conversation,
"what ever happened to Alice?"
The NM looked puzzled. "Alice?"
I replied. "Alice Cooper."
"Ohhhh," he laughed.
"Wasn't sure who you were talkin'
about there for a minute. She quit a couple
of weeks ago, and no one's seen her since."
to seize upon the wreck of an unwary passenger,
whom your subjects had beckoned to their
coast by heaven!" Laurence
Sterne, A Sentimental Journey Through
France and Italy
45 minutes north of Absecon, as the limited
arterial highway system of the Jersey
Shore goes, lays the town of Beach Haven,
at the south end of Long Beach Island,
where drunken suburbanites from New York,
North Jersey and Philadelphia spend every
Saturday night from Memorial Day to Labor
Day trying to evade the Shore Nazis. Unlike
the homicide-detecting, drug-enforcing
gangbusters in their home burgs, however,
these shore cops live to chase drunks.
It's in their blood, as permanent an income-fixture
for the local economy as the overwrought,
wood-paneled watering holes where the
aforementioned prey often kick off their
evening by paying ten bucks for all the
satisfaction of all-you-can-drink Coors
Light and an equally watered-down Dave
Matthews cover band.
Until the lights go up,
the bars let out, and a queue of marked
tires forms at each police checkpoint...
It's for these reasons that
the Chicken or the Egg is an integral
part of the local food chain. One of the
few all-night establishments in the area,
the "Chegg" (as it's popularly
known) sees its peak time shortly after
2:00 a.m. just after the area bars
have finished fattening the hogs. It's
not uncommon to wait 20 or 30 minutes
to get a table along with the staggering,
jabbering drunks inside, some sobbing
hysterically into their buffalo wings.
Some hopping mad. Some borderline catatonic.
All waiting for a chance to do things
best left unimagined by the breakfast
crowd of a few hours later inside one
of the Chegg's two tiny restrooms.
Part of a strip, the Chegg
isn't exactly a diner in the classical
sense, though its fare is not far off
from that of its glass-and-chrome-plated
counterparts. And for that matter, the
food's not half-bad, being what you'd
expect: burgers, fries, Coke...
The Flask was always partial
to the chicken cheese-steak.
It was some time after 2:00
a.m. when Darren got the call. The Flask
"There's no way I'm
gonna make it back to the mainland,"
he said. "Not in my condition. Can
I crash at your place?"
Darren was back living with
his folks for a little while, only a few
blocks from the pay phone where a frantic
Flask now negotiated his own survival.
Darren told him, before heading back to
the Flask said. "See you in a few."
But when Darren woke up
later that morning, there was no sign
of the Flask to be seen.
It was later that afternoon
when I finally got the Flask on the phone.
"What the hell happened
to you?" I asked, wondering how he
could have gotten lost in the span of
six blocks. "You told Darren you
were coming by his place. Dragged the
poor bastard out of bed and everything."
I stopped short of saying he was worried
sick, never having been one to stretch
"I know," said
the Flask. "I'm not sure what happened,
"What do you mean?"
"I left the bar after
I hung up the phone with him. I spotted
the Chegg on the way, and I got a little
hungry. I remember going in to grab some
"And after that?"
"Well, I'm not really
sure. The next thing I remember was waking
up around 7:30 this morning, behind the
wheel of my car. I was covered with chicken
cheesesteak. The sun was up. I had to
drive around the block two or three times
just to figure out I was in the wildlife
refuge, down in Holgate."
"And how you got there,"
I added, wondering what had driven him
the extra two or three miles past Darren's
place, to the wildlife refuge at the southern
tip of the island.
"No idea. I drove home
"So that's four or
five hours, completely unaccounted for?"
"Just like a goddamned
X-File," I said. "Better keep
quiet on this one."
"I guess so,"
he snickered weakly the feeble
laughter of the doomed.
"For now, I think I'm
going back to bed."
But the Flask never really
slept that one off; he couldn't. Not with
friends like his friends like us.
It was Turk who broke our grinning silence
the next time the Flask ordered his usual.
"So, you want that
wrapped, or do you just wanna wear it
We all laughed even
the Flask. Which was good; laughter is
a dish best served hot.
A welcome choice at any
hour, when the time has come to place
When we've all got to go
This article originally
appeared in THG
#7. Author William Patrick Tandy wrote
about shaved ice in THG
#6 and reflects upon the boardwalk
at the Jersey Shore in THG
#8. He is the publisher of the best-selling
SMILE HON, YOU'RE IN BALTIMORE series
(which occasionally features contributions
from The Hungover Gourmet) available from
his site at eightstonepress.com.