2 June

Robin, The World Of Jean’s Diner, And The Wheel Of Life

by Jon Katz

This photo is of a waitress named Robin, she works at Jean’s Diner in Hoosick Falls, where Maria and I go for oat bran pancakes (and a couple of bacon strips) every Sunday morning.

I was delighted recently to go there for lunch and order nice fat whole belly clams, something I never expected to find in Hoosick Falls, N.Y.

Robin was startled to hear that I put her photo up on my blog recently, she came over to thank me and said she had no idea who I was.

I am nobody, really, I said.

“Oh, no,” she answered. “You are somebody, one of the customer’s mother called her from Maine to tell her that the diner was on your blog, and she e-mailed the owner too.”

It’s true that Maria and I are in love with the place.

They have good food, globs of character and the best and most old-fashioned service one could hope for.

Robin has our coffee and tea waiting for us when we sit down, she knows what we like. No matter how crowded the restaurant is, the food comes quickly and there is no stare-down for the check.

The walls are lined with patriotic slogans, calls to honor our veterans, cheesy slogans,  and amateur photos of truckers and farmers.

Farmers with their big bellies and plaid shirts fill the stools at the counter, kidding with Robin and their buddies. Older women sit in tables, a sea of white and gray, their hair natural and unadorned.

Everybody calls us “hon” and goes to some trouble to make us feel welcome.  They always shout “hello” and “thanks for coming.” There is a timeless feel to diners like Jean’s,  Norman Rockwell would have been happy to pick his models there. It could easily be the 1950’s at Jean’s Diner, there is nothing to give 2019 away.

The atmosphere is no accident, Jean has passed on, but her daughter Kelly revered her mother and keeps her spirit very much alive.

Robin is the new “Bog Kelly Nolan” in my mind, she is a strong women, she is competent and responsible. Kelly and Robin are different people, but there is much that connects them in my mind.

Like Kelly, Robin deserves to be recognized, and as a photographer I love her face, it is open and warm, it has great strength and character. Robin patrols Jean’s diner like a prima ballerina sails across a stage. She is everywhere doing everything, and it never looks like work, sailing in and out of the kitchen non-stop. She never loses her smile.

In my life, the wheel turns and when one thing ends, another seems to begin. I have learned to let it happen naturally, which it does if don’t mess it up. (The Bog closes, Jean’s appears, the Bog re-opens,  I stop working with RISSE, Bishop Maginn looms out of the mist).

The other day Allyson posted a message on my blog which read “all the subjects you write about are a part of your life, they are connected by your life, and they illuminate your life, which is why I read  your blog. Write on.” Thanks, Allyson.

Kelly is a part of my life, so is Robin now.

This is not a local blog, but a national one. I am mindful that most of my readers will never see Robin working or eat at this diner, so full of character and feeling. Robin says some people have stopped by looking for her. But I’m notoriously fussy about what goes on my blog.

I write about my life, as Allyson suggests, and the things that illuminate my life, and I believe the photographs I put up about people like Robin and Kelly and Sue Silverstein speak to much more than me and my town.

These are people of great character, they work hard, respect what they do and the people they serve, and seem to me an integral part of the American character. They also have love in their hearts.

It’s not just about the town, these people have universal relevance, they are in every town, we all know some people like them. You will never see them on the news.  In our twisted world, it is impossible for them to get much recognition for what they do.

I love to do that.

People like Robin seem to have a special kind of pride in their work, they go far beyond what they need to do, or are even expected to do.

You may remember Kelly, the much-loved bartender/waitress/manager, table clearer at the former Bog Restaurant. I took photos of Kelly nearly every week and posted the on the blog. I miss her.  I loved her radiant smile but also greatly respected  her competence and  sense of responsibility.

The Bog shut down a few months ago, and just recently re-opened , Kelly works on Friday nights (it’s too crammed for me to go there Fridays) but otherwise she has moved on, she’s working as a receptionist for a car repair shop.

Our paths rarely cross, and I doubt I will see a lot of her again. That’s the nature of my life, people come and go, I’m not good at looking back.

But I owe her a lot.

Kelly was a more influential figure than one might think. When she told me she had taken her sick and pregnant dog to the vet to save her life, and had a $1,300 vet bill, I shuddered to think how many drinks she would have to pour to pay that bill. I didn’t have the money to do it.

I asked the readers of the blog if we could help her pay it. Two days later, I brought her a check for $1,500 dollars. She was flabbergasted.

I was stunned to see what good a blog can also be used for. I believe everyone with a large blog following or millions of Twitter followers might consider using them for good as well as for trolling, sticking their nose in other people’s business, or raging at one another.

I love that Maria uses hers to support people, especially women, as well as sell her art.

Kelly gave birth to the Army Of good. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of all things, the portraits I most love to take are are of strong and competent women. In my town there is really no functioning general media any longer. People like Robin and Kelly are rarely, if ever recognized, but there is something heroic about them to me.

Taking these portraits of people who are not often seen is the things I most love, and hopefully show that blogs can be useful for more than  ranting or navel-gazing.

4 Comments

  1. Dear Jon Katz
    Thank you for uplifting my special sister! Rob is an amazing person and has always been my best friend as well as my sister! She is the strongest person I know!
    You said such beautiful things and you described her perfectly!
    Best Leah Matteson

    1. Thanks Leah, I love taking her photo, you can see the lovely qualities you describe in her face. You are lucky to have each other…

  2. Thank you for your well said description of Jean’s Place Diner. A lot of love is attached to this diner. A small community and when tragedy strikes this diner is the first to respond. I as well as many others have been on the receiving end of it.
    God bless them all for what they do.

  3. So wish more of the country were like the one described in Hoosick Falls. Such great hearts within the people. Thank you for sharing this story.

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