by Tom Swift

I am neither a night owl nor a big spender. But I love joints that are open forever. Hopper’s “Nighthawks” is a favorite painting. Yet when I think of the all-night diner I do not see straight faces — I see smiles. I do not see a city — I see a glow in the middle of a prairie. Open your nostrils and you will be there, too: a grit-and-grease cook slings a joke to his old friend at the counter. “You ever heard about the time Betsy here …” The side of the friend’s fork clanks against a thick plate. A tongue-full of Crème de menthe is lifted, then suspended. Yes, he’s heard this one before. Heck, he’s heard this story a thousand times. But he laughs as if for the first time. Betsy, who has waited tables here since high school, gives it back to the cook one better. He can do nothing but snort. Shared laughter. That is what I hear when I see the Open sign after hourslaughter of shared histories that play out under yellow light that pushes against big glass windows wrapped by the safety blanket of night.