I have been fascinated with diners since I was a child. Growing up on the outskirts of New York City during the 1960s, in Bayside, Queens, I regularly pleaded with my mother to take me inside the Bell Diner, a request she just as regularly denied. Once a month she took my brother and me out for lunch, and along the way we passed the tiny metallic diner wedged tightly between two other buildings. The diner, with its trolley-like appearance, looked fun and exciting to me. But my mother refused to enter, intimating that it was not an appropriate place for us. This puzzled me. I knew that the male clerks from the shoe store across the street ate lunch there, and they seemed like nice enough people. My pestering notwithstanding, I never found out what went on inside the Bell Diner. But clearly something unsavory must have been going on behind that deceptively enticing stainless-steel façade. Invariably we ended up at Woolworth's lunch counter, where I was consoled with a hot dog and malted milk.
As I grew older, I found ample opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about diners. In my college and graduate school days I ate at more than my share, many of them virtual replicas of the one I remembered from my childhood (which by that time had been covered in brick and converted into a Chinese restaurant.) In more recent years, my curiosity has moved beyond the diners themselves to my mother's negative reaction to them. Her aversion struck me