Blessedly, I haven’t had to deal with Atlanta’s morning rush-hour the past seven months so I wasn’t quite sure how long it would take me to get downtown for an 8:30AM breakfast meeting at the Silver Skillet on 14th. In the past, I’d have pegged the trip at 35-40 minutes so I allowed myself an hour to be safe. Besides, I was eggs-and-baconing with Mr. Reliable-Responsible, a great friend and trusted vendor, and I knew he’d probably be five minutes early.
Sure enough, I got there in 40 minutes.
So with 20 minutes to spare, I slid into the old vinyl booth seat and instinctively and mindlessly started checking emails, LinkedIn and Facebook until I soon found myself reading what I’d read two hours earlier. Facebook, LinkedIn, emails … emails, LinkedIn, Facebook. It’s as constant and automatic as heartbeats, breathing and ocean waves, it seems.
I figure it was about 8:20 when the time machine — figuratively speaking, of course — started whirring. iPad and iPhone checked and tucked aside, I looked around this somewhat dumpy but charming, soulful oasis and began to take it all in. I thought “How in the hell did I work downtown for 15 years and never know of the Silver Skillet?”
A horizontal line-up of printed meal “specials” on once-white cardboard stock that had yellowed over the years faced the counter diners. Prices had obviously been updated over and over by taping a new piece of paper over the previous price. Mini-cereal boxes filled a Kellog’s-branded rack while crooked paintings of regal horses hung on the wall facing booth denizens like me. The yellow-and-white checkerboard linoleum flooring hadn’t sniffed a serious, steaming mop in years but added rich character nevertheless. Duct tape bandages covered the wounds of wear and tear in some booths while chipped outer walls revealed layers of red, white and yellow paint, marking time like rings on an oak stump. Overhead, fluorescent light fixtures took me back to 1967 and fifth-grade at Warren Elementary. (I fully expected Dick Tanner, Pam Harris, Kerin Smith or Jack Embry to mozy on by … or maybe all of ’em! )
This wasn’t Johnny Rockets-retro, this was the real deal and I felt as if I’d been whisked a half-century into the past. I thought of the ’60s TV show “The Time Tunnel” which only lasted two seasons but remains one of my favorite shows from childhood. Each episode opened with a swirling, black & white, curly-Q spiral effect as time travelers were whisked away to days gone by. Or centuries gone by, for that matter.
Back-to-back, not-too-loud ’60s music played and I thought back to when songs played on tinny AM radio seemed to only track about two minutes, 30 seconds. And that seemed about right. It still seemed about right today. I could almost hear Tony “The Tiger” Taylor of WQXI (“Qwixie in Dixie”) spinning tunes and crackin’ corny as most jocks did back then. I smiled when Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days, My Friend” began playing, partly because of the irony of the lyrics (“We thought they’d never end …”) but also because that song sorta scared me as a kid with its haunting melodies. Just did.
I learned “the Skillet” has appeared in more than a dozen movies, including Anchorman 2, most recently, and there was a rack with pictures of Diane Sawyer, a member of the Black Crowes, mayors, guv-nahs, and other celebs who’ve stopped by for simple Southern food fare. No frills, no excessive pricing, and no pretentiousness.
One sign on the wall said “We are Motorcycle-Friendly” while another gave warning: “Service with a Smile … MOST of the Time”. In an ironic nod to the present, another sign said “Check out our website: http://www.silverskillet.com”. There was also a QR code on the menu back along with a Facebook logo and a request to “Like” Silver Skillet.
The place was about a third full with pockets of necktied businessmen having quiet discussions. Several older couples drifted in and out and an obvious regular dressed in light purple seersucker shorts and a deep purple shirt, limping badly, was greeted by name. “Tripped over my dog,” he told the waitress. Two 20-something dudes — rumpled, bed-headed and likely Georgia Tech students from just down the street — grabbed a booth against the wall.
Meanwhile, the trio of waitresses worked the floor effortlessly with a constant flow of coffee refills and friendly smiles. Two of the ladies were in their 70s and looked as if they may have been employees since “the Skillet” opened back in ’56. Elise was my waitress and, by the time I left, I’d learned it was her 43rd birthday (she got a $10 tip on a $12 tab), she had four children and once weighed 200 pounds. Fit and trim now, she said her secret was hitting the gym regularly and working a second job as a housekeeper. “All those stairs and carrying vacuum cleaners up and down, up and down …”
By now, it was 8:40 and Mr. Reliable-Responsible hadn’t arrived. I texted him to let him know I was here. When it became 9 o’clock, I went ahead and ordered from a menu that featured “Lonely Eggs” (two eggs, nothing else) and “Syrupy Things” (pancakes and waffles) knowing that we’d had a miscommunication. “I’ll do the two scrambled eggs with diced ham and whole wheat toast,” I told Elise. Plates were plopped down within five minutes and the diced ham wasn’t like the pre-packaged sorta-ham cubes at most places today but actual meat that had clearly been sliced off the bone and truly chopped up … like the old days. My phone flashed as a text popped in from Mr. Reliable-Responsible. “Dude, I had it on my calendar for tomorrow. Did I mess up?”. I responded “It was probably me but I had a great breakfast and probably got a blog out of it.” We agreed to reschedule.
Part-Waffle House, part-Arnold’s (and later Al’s) Diner from “Happy Days”, the Silver Skillet’s modest spirit and genuineness was a welcome contrast to nearby gleaming glass high-rises and sky-scrapers (do we really have sky-scrapers in Atlanta or is that reserved for New York, Chicago and Dubai?). Though Mr. R-R and I hadn’t connected as planned, it struck me, after having awakened in a restless, worrisome state of mind, that this was exactly what I needed today … an hour to sit back and quietly watch the world go by. And ponder how much times have changed. The scheduling snag had gifted me the opportunity to venture back to simpler, kinder, friendlier days when the pace of life was slower and technology wasn’t much more than a word in the dictionary.
After paying the tab and wishing Elise a happy birthday, I felt the time machine begin to whir again. Through the ’70, ’80s, ’90s on to present time very quickly. I needed to hit the Apple Store at Perimeter Mall before an 11:30AM American Marketing Association luncheon. At the Apple Store, just as my debit card was being swiped in a handheld, wireless device (and card denied), I received an automated cell phone message from my bank’s Fraud Protection Department. My checking account had been hacked into for the third time in five years.
Welcome back to 2014.
Little-Known Fact About Me – I played Augusta National Golf Club in 1984 the Monday following tournament week … and FIVE-putted one green from a mere eight feet. True story.
PETE FOLEY is an independent Writer, Communication Strategist, and Producer of videos, meetings and events with nearly 30 years experience in and around the crazy world of communication. He splits his time between Marietta, GA and Santa Rosa Beach, FL. He can be reached at 404.405.8534 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.