Submitted by Jeff Buster on Sun, 12/09/2007 - 14:32.

What is it about diners that is so “everyman”, so comfortably commonplace? 


 Well, there’s not any pretense, food prices are at the bottom of the eat-out scale, and you can feel comfortable at the counter - or in a booth - wearing your work clothes.  Diners are so intrinsically interlaced with work (day shift, swing or night shift).   And just as many of us don’t really want to be at work, there’s also sort of the same feeling at the diner - nobody – staff or guests -  really wants to be there, but at the same time everyone is enjoying it – sort of – because the coffee is hot and the server knows your name.   


My friend Leo Clifford  – dead ten years or so now – drove a tanker for Gulf Oil – for almost his entire adult life.  For thirty five years he delivered heavy fuels to mills all over New England.  He knew every mill from Starrett Tool in Athol to Atlas Tack in Fairhaven. 


And he knew every diner too.


Leo told me that he would die from eating too many eggs – cholesterol – and too much bacon.


When  I met Leo I was just out of college.   Leo was about 55 then.   He was still driving for Gulf and he had a side business buying and selling trucks, and dry van and tanker trailers.   Leo had romantic ideas about trading with people in other places – other places in the United States and other places from around the world.  I think he got these ideas when he was a kid growing up in Watertown, Massachusetts.   He told me that as a boy he saw sailing schooners docked in the Charles River at Watertown Square.


Leo  knew everything about truck gear boxes – some Macks had 20 speed boxes with two sticks – certain shift combinations you had to hold the steering wheel with your knee and use both arms on your right side to simultaneously shift both sticks.  So Leo always recommended  the 13 speed Road Rangers because you could upshift and downshift shift without clutching if you knew what you were doing.


Leo knew about trunnion tube suspensions  and rear end ratios.  And about split rims and slack adjusters.    


Often on the week ends Leo would ask me if I wanted to tag along on a mission to look over some used truck or trailer that he had heard was going up for sale at some mill or other.  Leo was like a docent – showing me around the inside of century old mills from the boiler room where he delivered the fuel, to down in the old cobweb filled mill races which had powered the mills when they were built in the last century.  He knew all the mill maintenance people, and all the waitresses in the diners.  He called them his Circle of Friends.


Unfortunately Leo was right about the eggs and bacon .   He had a severe heart attack when he was about 72.   I went to visit him at his house, and I got the sense that his wife had lost patience with him.  Leo couldn’t drive anymore, but he still was in phone contact with his friends from the mills.  His friends would call him and tell him that so and so had a Frieghtliner  or an old White for sale, or a Cat, Cummins, or Detroit Diesel engine for sale.   Or maybe Leo would     want to go look over some machine shop equipment at a chair factory which was closing in Gardener.  


Now I would be the driver – and sheppard Leo around.   One afternoon when I went to visit Leo – to get him out of the house for a ride – I found him at the top of a 3 story ladder painting the peak of the rear wall of his house.  This was after his very serious heart trouble.  I suggested that Leo shouldn’t be painting on a 30 foot ladder.   His wife was inside the house. 


Leo went into a nursing home not long after that. 


And then one August day I looked out the window from my office, and I saw Leo in the passenger seat of a car parked in the driveway.  I went right out to see what the occasion was.  One of Leo’s sons was driving.  Leo couldn’t speak very well – sort of just a whisper. 


I opened the car door to hear him better and gave him a hug. 


He smelled like a nursing home.


When they drove away I knew the visit wasn’t good news.  


Leo was saying goodbye to his friends.   Driving around and saying goodbye. 


I went to Leo’s wake a week later.


Leo, a truck driver all his life, always encouraged me to extend my hand and reach out to make economic contacts with people I didn’t know.  He always encouraged me to expand my Circle of Friends and connect my Circle with others. 


I miss Leo. 

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good story

thanks for sharing--I can understand the part about driving around, and the Circles


I spent a good amount of my college yoot in the Miss Worcester Diner, in Worcester, MA, of course.


Which reminds me--do you know that Ruthie and Moe's down at the end of Prospect is now open, under the management of the people who run Somers' out on West 15oth? Judy the waitress called us the other morning, because she promised to let us know when they were open and in business mode again.