12 June

What Makes Jean’s Place So Special, Besides Robin

by Jon Katz

As I rule, I don’t write about local businesses much. My readers are all over the country, and that would be irrelevant to them, except when there is some universal message or idea.

This morning,  Maria and I decided to celebrate our anniversary, which is today (we’re officially celebrating on Sunday) by stopping for breakfast at Jean’s Place on our way to Albany.

I said I wanted to get oatmeal, but would probably get the oat bran pancakes, she said she would just get eggs but might get something else. I got the short stake of pancakes w/two strips of bacon,  and she got the breakfast wrap with potatoes, a hearty meal for Tarzana.

Robin, our usual waitress took our order and said she an emergency and had to leave. Her mixed breed dog had eaten some of her husband’s powerful medication and the vet said she should rush him in right away. She made sure to get our order in first.

There is no drama or self-pity evident with Robin, it was just life happening, the way I love to see trouble.

In the restaurant, I was paying close attention to the people eating in the diner, which from the outside, looks like a lot of roadside diners in the country.  Truckers, farmers, carpenters, widows,  older people with various veterans caps, country ladies with white hair.

As good as the food and service are, Jean is not into fancy renovations, and the result is that the place has genuine character, a rare thing anywhere. And no slick marketing. You won’t see the word “organic” hanging on the walls or menu board.

I think what makes Jeans’ special to me is the very powerful sense of community that exists there. I’ve always yearned for community, and never found it, I was just too crazy.

Jean’s daughter Kelly, and her daughter and son, and Robin and the other waitresses, seem to know everyone that comes in. People are very at ease there, it is a gift in America to be known.  They seem to come in laughing and go out smiling.

Maria and I have only been coming there for a short time, but everybody seems to know us and we feel welcome there.

Every time I write about Jean’s, I get a slew of mail from Hoosick Falls people I know are not followers of the blog, you can tell they do share things on Facebook.

They are avid followers of Jean’s and they care about the place, it is important to them. They want me to know how special it is to them, and how grateful they are that the people who work there are getting recognition, something that rarely happens to  people who don’t live in L.A., New York City, or Washington.

If you live in the country,  you learn right away that there is such a thing as elites in media and politics, and they don’t really give a shit about rural America. You will never see a cable new pundit putting down pancakes at Jean’s.

Country people are on their own, and they are plenty angry about this idea of elites.

I know, I was one of the elites for much of my life, and I’m sure I still am in many ways. I don’t think it’s a coat you can just shed. But living in the country turns your world upside down, if your eyes and ears are open. There are a lot of people I respect up here.

This is precisely why we have the politics we have in the country right now, for those who wonder. Community is dying almost everywhere in rural America, the economists and politicians have abandoned the heartland.  Polarization has been around here for generations, the reporters didn’t know that until 2016.

Where community is hanging on, it is precious. It tells us not only what we had, but what we will one day miss, and how much it means.

And I want to soak up every bit I can.

These e-mail testimonials to Robin are powerful, beyond her. They are the country equivalent of medals and testimonials.

Jean’s daughter Kelly and family are very close, her brother lives in the small house next door, Robin has been through a lot (I don’t disclose that stuff without permission) and is adored by friends, neighbors, siblings and customers. I joked with her today about all these e-mails, even her cousins love her.

I said if I was run over by a truck, there would be very few of those of messages of praise, and she is very much alive.

You get the sense that people care there – about the place, the customers, the food. I see there how important that is, the best businesses, big and small, are driven by people, from Jean to Steve Jobs.

The people I was watching at Jean’s are not rich or powerful people, they are ordinary folk, as Bill Clinton used to say.

They are older mostly, they have to watch their dollars, they are simply dressed, no frills, they are often wrestling with health or farm or money or other problems.  Robin asks the afflicted how they are doing.

Everybody seems to know everybody else, and the banter is loud and heartfelt. Everybody calls me “hon” or “honey.”

I don’t like to romanticize places, it’s not Paradise.

I’m sure they have their problems and conflicts, like everybody else. But there is something special about Jean’s Place, and I hope to write more about it and learn more.

It is a universal thing, this idea of the community gathering place, we all want it, we all know it when we see it.

You can’t fake caring about people in that way, you have to mean it. I’m a cynic, I’m not used to sincerity when it comes to paying for things.

These people work so hard (breakfast cost $12.15), and it isn’t for money. For them, work is a calling, not a job, and that has become so rare in America, as people in droves have fled the country for jobs they hate working for people who care nothing for them.

That is not Jean’s place. Robin had to go take care of her sick dog in the middle of her shift, and she didn’t hesitate a second to it. Somebody rushed into take over her shift. I know many people who would have been in a hysterical panic over a sick dog, if Robin was panicked, she sure didn’t pass it on to us.

Blessed are those who love their work, they are a dying breed, but they make life brighter for the rest of us. At Jean’s, the people who work there love their work. And they make people who come in feel special and welcome.

That is one of the things that is so special about the restaurant. It is very real.

And I’ve got enough mail about Robin by now – from just about everyone who knows her in Hoosick Falls, I think – to know she is the real deal.

A sincerely nice and good person.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Email SignupEmail Signup