Just Thinking: The Now and Then Diner

JUST THINKING: Thought provoking topics that make you…think
By
Michael Wexler

“The Now and Then Diner”

For better or for worse, I’ve always had a lot of big ideas. I don’t want to delve into all of that now but by way of example, one is called the GPS Other Voices collection – i.e. instead of the boring GPS voice everyone has, new dialects like “Surfer,” “Hood,” “Jewish Grandmother,” etc. Another one I like is the Jesus Saves Piggy Bank (think a cool Jesus statue with a metal slot.) And then there’s Burger Flag which has a lot to do with planting a small, golf-course-like toothpick with your name or initials on the small flag into a burger during a cookout so no one swipes it after you’ve been ogling your burger for like two hours and chatting up the griller to make sure it’s the right consistency; and when to throw on the cheese, only to have it swiped by a child or octogenarian. These are all fun ideas but none is the idea I’d like to speak to you about today. Unlike most ideas which are ostensibly “good” or “bad,” the idea that we are here to discuss falls squarely in the middle and so, I’d like to get your advice on whether it would work or not. The concept is called The Now and Then Diner and it doesn’t have to be a huge place. Think an old silver air-stream set on a hill with prairie grasses and a vintage white clapboard sign featuring two neon variable: a green fluorescent “NOW” and a red “THEN” that flickers like an old hotel.

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The interior is retro; long Formica countertops with cake risers and lemon meringue pies. The booths contain miniature juke-boxes – the old style – with manual flip through, cost of a quarter, and the ever revolving, super organic, farm-to table yummy menu.

Now, here’s the kicker and I’m thinking about it from the ownership side. We know what work is like. And we know what philosopher Max Weber said about work; that it results in the “mechanized petrification” of the soul. So, what if we could have a job where we only worked when we were feeling it. I.e.…the diner is only open “now” and “then.” And the people that decide when it is open is us (the owners) and our trusty staff who earn just as much working now and then as they do full time because they are in a better mood and not burned out. That mood is contagious. Yes, the idea of a diner that’s open only “Now” and “Then” is a bit of a gamble, a bit of a game, but that’s the point:

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#1. What is one of the most popular games in the world, regularly seducing the masses to spend their hard-earned money feeding one-armed bandits in the hopes of an eventual payout? The slot machine. And it is one of the most popular pastimes in the world.

#2. What psychologist B.F. Skinner learned in his famous work with pigeons. Pigeons, came back to the feeders that only sometimes paid out – rather than those that were persistently empty or reliable – most often. Skinner called this concept “intermittent reinforcement.”

Yes, it’s a restaurant crossed with a slot machine and, granted, the product has to be amazing (like a jackpot) or else the allure is lost. But given the concept of the NTD, the herb garden out back where we get our spices, the cows that roam on the hill that provide our beef, the romantic nature of the location, and the cooks who are able to infuse love into every dish because they are not mechanized or stultified, maybe the NTD becomes something of a novelty? Something in the travel books? Something worth the occasional…adventure?

Is it crazy or strangely maybe like some of the other outliers who have come before: a shiny coil that almost cost Richard James his marriage, aka Slinky™. Or a strange cube by a Hungarian inventor named “Rubik.” Or a stone shipped in a cardboard box with holes, to become your Pet Rock™? When it comes to big ideas, it’s kind of hard to know if something is going to work unless you try it. But that’s the problem. I don’t know if I’ll ever really try The Now and Then Diner or if you will, but hey, it’s fun to think about and that’s what we do around here. We have fun…just thinking.

Michael Wexler received his BA in English from Princeton University. He has published six books, released five records, and taught at the university level. Check him out @ www.wexworks.net