the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

MFK Fisher’s snobbish disregard for small-town cafes

Posted by rigorousm on November 26, 2014

I think now, willy-nilly, of the most dismal restaurant in the American world, to my mind, the small-town coffee shop. I have been in hundreds of them, and I firmly believe that until their windows grow steamy and the waitress lets her hair fall vaguely out of place and the coffee machine sends off little pops of extra steam which the cafe manager frown on because of Waste, they are just about the most horrid holes ever invented for such a decent ceremony as that of nourishing our poor tired puzzled bodies.

There are slabs of bad pie behind a piece of smeared plate glass. There are used dishes in a streamlined and doubtless antiseptic sink beneath the counter. There are tables complete with paper napkins in chromed dispensers and with tasteless pepper and medicated salt in inadequate shakers. There are chairs that rattle against the hard sanitary floors. There is, perhaps, canned music from a jukebox, dependent upon desperately cheerful diners or five-cent profligacy of the manager. Such hellholes of gastronomy need a lot of steam on the windows, a very healthy fine-pated waitress, and a really energetic coffee machine, to make them anything but hell.

It is understandable that many of us, tossed onto the endless roads of this continent, head in our wanderings for the low-brow diners, rather than these so-called coffee shops– the kind Heminway and many a lesser giant have written about, the long, narrow real-or-imitation railroad cars, warm, bright, easy to enter and leave, redolent of other people’s cigarettes and rain-flecked jackets, of coffee and hot soup. Where else can a hungry traveler go, once having spurned the “shops,” but to these metamorphosed cars?

— M F K Fisher, “If this were my place,” Atlantic Monthly, 1950.

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