The Phantom Diner
The Phantom Diner
It was the summer of 1995, and I was on one of my many jaunts to Prince Edward Island. It was a beautiful, late June day, and I was driving eastbound on Rte. 6 from Kensington towards Cavendish. I was driving my yellow Corvette (License Plate: BANANA), with the top down. As the temperature was tickling 80 degrees, I had the air-conditioner cranked to full volume, along with Jimmy Buffet on the CD player. To my left, sunlight glinted off the gentle swells of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. To the right, stretched potato fields, as far as the eye could see. Dark green plants standing proudly against the red soil. Seabirds called to each other to my left, while a lone hawk wheeled in the sky to my right.
As the time moved on towards early afternoon, hunger pangs began to grow. It had been forever since the back-bacon and egg sandwich I had for breakfast. I was deciding whether to hold out for the restaurants at the tourist area of Cavendish, or to cruise away from the sea to find a little town center. Just as I determined to take the next right to find a town, I saw a flash of red and white ahead. I crested a small rise, and saw an oasis amidst the potato fields. On the right side was a red-dirt parking lot, large enough to park a dozen cars. The lot was completely empty. At the edge of the road was a pole with my flash of red and white. It was a large sign that read Ice Cold Coca Cola. Beneath that sign was a hand-painted sign that simply said Diner. At one side of the parking lot, there were a half-dozen wooden picnic tables, and at the back of the lot was a windowless wooden shed with a screen door on the front. Since I’m always ready for an ice-cold Coca Cola, I decided to give it a try. I pulled into the lot, and parked my car.
I pulled the screen door open, and walked inside. Ahead of me was a counter that ran the length of the small building, with an older woman sitting behind it on a chair next to a grill. No menu, or any type of board showed their offerings. I walked up to the counter, and the woman asked me if I was there for lunch. I replied in the positive, and before I could ask for a menu, she yelled something out a back door in French. A boy of about twelve came inside, and they had a short conversation in French. The boy picked up a bucket, and exited through the back door. The woman went over to an old-fashioned refrigerator (the term ice-box came to mind) against the side wall and took out a bucket. She reached into the bucket and came out with a large handful of hamburger meat. She rolled it into a ball, pressed it between two plates to make a patty, and threw it on the grill. The boy came back inside carrying the bucket, now full of potatoes. She took a few, washed them, and put them into a hand-press. Pushing down on the handle, she ended up with a heaping pile of fries, ready for the oil. She put the fries into a basket, and lowered it into a fryalator. She then turned her attention back to the grill, flipped the burger, and then headed back to the refrigerator. This time she came out with a block of cheese as big as my head. Using a knife, she cut a slice off the cheese and put it on the burger. Somehow, there was a hamburger roll on the grill alongside the burger.
During this whole process, I stood and watched, and nothing more was said to me. She assembled the burger on a white cardboard plate. She then pulled the fries, and dumped them on the plate. The plate was placed on a tray, along with a fork, napkin, and a glass bottle of Coca Cola…so cold that it was sweating rivulets of condensation. She brought the tray over to the counter, and spoke to me for the second time since I had arrived. She said “That will be $2.75.” I took out a twenty dollar bill, and handed it to her. She rang up the sale in an antique cash-register, totaling it by pulling down a large lever on the side. She handed me my change, and went back to sitting in the seat beside the grill.
I took my lunch outside, and sat at one of the picnic tables. I ate the largest, greasiest, and best cheeseburger that I ever had in my entire life. The fries were perfect. I think that they were salted with seawater, because I could almost hear the gulls calling as I ate them. No ketchup…only white vinegar, and the flavor of the red soil. The Coke was so cold, that I experienced a brain-freeze after taking a long swallow. Finished, there was nothing left on my plate. I walked back into the building, and placed my change from the twenty on the counter. I said, thank you, got into my car and drove away.
I have been to Prince Edward Island twenty-seven times since my first trip there in 1984 with my Uncle Jack. twelve of those trips were after my trip in the summer of 1995. Each and every time I have been there since, I have driven the length of Rte. 6, starting in Kensington. I have never seen the diner again. I have explored all of the back-roads from Kensington to Cavendish, in case I made a mistake about where I was on that drive. One time, I even made the two hour drive, turned around and drove back…specifically searching for the diner. No diner. Not even an empty red-dirt parking lot cut into the side of a potato field.