It has been said that nobody likes change except a wet baby, and I am no exception.
At the end of last year, I wrote my last story of the year on places and people I will miss in 2013. What I did not know is that I would start my year with yet another change that would alter my Saturday routine of more than fifteen years: Denny’s on Newport Blvd and 17th closed after being in that location for 30 years.
Denny’s was my go-to place for Saturday morning pancakes and coffee. It was close to my home and the gym. A friend would pick me up at 9:00 and off we would go, joined sometimes by other friends who also loved their breakfast and the staff at Denny’s.
I know some of you are scoffing at the very thought that I could miss a place like Denny’s, but there is way more to it than the food and the location.
Yes, there are many fine places to eat in Newport and Costa Mesa, and many of you reading this story have your favorite place as well, and wonder why it matters so much to me.
It matters because a restaurant is so much more than atmosphere, food, price, and location. It is for me about walking into a place where everyone is consistently friendly, knows your name, what you order regularly, and knows a little bit about your life.
You also know things about the servers lives and people who run, work, and own the business. Yes, it is also about connections to others who live lives different from yours, keep you grounded, and are grateful for every dollar you put on that table as a final gesture of your appreciation for their service.
At Denny’s, I had my own favorite table and server. Judy was her name, and her favorite sport was baseball. She loved the Angels. Winning or not, they were her team. She had two jobs so she could support herself, and shared an apartment with her daughter. She also loved bowling, and was on a team and quite a good bowler.
Judy overhearing many conversations over the years would get into the middle of discussions and be able in a very simplistic way offer to a solution that more than once solved a long discussion and discord. Sometimes a person who does not live in your world can offer the best advice if you are willing to listen.
When Judy was gone over weekends for her bowling tournaments, other servers would step in and provide their brand of service, so there was never a gap in finding at Denny’s a place where you always felt it mattered that you were there.
Denny’s is closing because the owners did not offer to renew their lease. My guess is that, like many places we have lost in the area, even if they had negotiated with the owners of the property, Denny’s could not afford an increase.
You know the price points at Denny’s: it is low and affordable for a place that still allows you to sit down and be waited upon. Thirty people working there will either lose their jobs or be relocated to other stores. That group of people will never work together again, and the atmosphere of family that they created for themselves and their customers is gone forever.
We are starting as a society to undervalue the impact and necessity of human interaction. The power of “micromoments” (Fredrickson’s research) of shared positive emotion. These micromoments provide short intervals or moments with people you hardly know but come into contact briefly or regularly for short periods of time that also has been confirmed in research to have the potential to lower risk for disease, improve your mood or outlook during the day, and benefit our overall health.
We need connections in our lives, which can only be obtained through putting ourselves in social contexts and situations. So consider putting the smart phone away, say hello to people, and be a micromoment for someone else this week.
It is not about the pancakes; it is about the people. I have no idea where I will go for my mircromoments of shared positive emotion this Saturday. In one week my life and those of countless others who visited Denny’s changed for what will probably be another boring, cold unneeded bank. What I do know is that I am headed to Villa Nova soon to have dinner before they close because they also have a staff that has been there for years and are like family as well.
That is my take