Journal entry: June 15, 2006 (age 37)
For the three and a half years I have lived at the bottom of Mill Street in Binghamton, proximity to the Park Diner has been a major perk. Because my job as a freelance writer allows me to work from home, I have the luxury of being able to walk to “the Park” to eat lunch and read the paper. On weeknights and weekends, it is a favorite choice of my wife, Amanda, and me when we are in need of comfort food. Like college students who live next to the dining hall, we have come to rely on ready access to hot meals made and served by someone else. Even better, we don’t have to clear our own dishes and place them on a conveyor belt.
Speaking of college, my early experiences with this establishment took place during my breaks from SUNY Oswego. My friends and I would end up at the Park after a long night of doing things we shouldn’t have been doing without medical supervision. Likely because of late-night revelers like us, the Park’s management made the wise decision to end their overnight hours. This left the youthful hordes of dehydrated marauders to make a weekly pilgrimage to other, more Denny’s-like climes.
These days the Park is a more refined destination. Its impressive collection of Anthony Brunelli artwork and expansive menu make the term “diner” seem inappropriate. This is especially true when you consider the restaurant’s spectacular view of the Susquehanna River and the Binghamton skyline. (And yes, if I could think of a better word for it, I would avoid making my second linguistic stretch in this paragraph by saying that Binghamton has a “skyline.”)
But despite all these qualities, Amanda likes to kid me that the real reason for going to the Park Diner is the “scenery” indoors. While I vehemently deny such a sexist characterization, I will admit that the wait staff and hostesses range from very pretty to very, very pretty. (Amanda, meanwhile, retains exclusive claim to the title of Most Totally Prettiest.) I have successfully refrained from calling the waitresses “honey,” “sweetie,” or any other overly familiar term that my father and his generation use.
Being a “regular” for the first time has been a fun experience. I get a kick out of being greeted like Norm walking into Cheers. I enjoy people-watching when co-owner Chris Papastrat acts as gracious host to influential politicos such as William Weld. I like bringing my in-laws in for brunch, and watching my father-in-law engage in a good-spirited verbal battle with the quick-witted waitress, Carol. I like watching the Spiedie Fest balloons launch – these are the best seats in town. But most of all, I like relaxing in the company of such a nice group of genuine and thoughtful people. And chicken gyros.
Although I am moving only a few miles away, I know I won’t be stopping into the Park as often. Sigh. I wonder if they deliver.