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October 30, 2008 - Wes Burns
There are no late night diners in Marshalltown.

While this is quite a burden to those of us that may want a pepper steak at 3am there is an even greater cultural loss.

A late night diner doesn't just offer the chance to enjoy some hearty breakfast food at inopportune times but it means we lack an establishment where two distinct and very different groups of people converge: the late night people and the early morning people.

The early morning people are the busy to work people. The people that hold down 9 to 5 jobs, work hard and reserve their weekends for a vague activity called simply "relaxing". These are the people in the diner at 7am because they wanted a Denver omelet before heading into the office.

The late night people (my people) have a different agenda at the diner. Usually we are in small to large groups engaged in erratic conversation. We are often loud during the ordering and waiting process but solemnly silent after the food arrives. Our clothes have been worn all day and many of us have only recently left work. We usually smoke, cavort, and build a special rapport with our waitresses. We are in the diner because we wanted a Denver omelet before we fall asleep for the next ten hours.

The late night diner was where these two groups converged. Sometime between the end of the late night rush at 4am and the early morning breakfast rush at 6 am the two groups would intermingle; for many the only occasion where one would be exposed to the other. Over pancakes.

Despite our lack of all night counter top this is the 21st century so we need a 21st century solution. Naturally, this means the Internet. Namely, Facebook.

Facebook, after its much publicly reviled insipid pun of a reformat (face lift), added a chat function. To my understanding "chatting" has been something people were able to do on the Internet when it was called the DARPA NET and it was used primarily to detail weapons research and trade bootleg VHS tapes so I don't understand why this was considered new. But here we are.

Facebook is our 21st century diner. Stay up late enough on Facebook and you will start to see the early morning people slowly coming online. They check the Facebook at home before work, at work, during breaks from work and, for a few, on their cell phones as they head to work. They're dedicated, gamefully employed and more than willing to spend their work time removing tags from embarrassing photos of themselves.

So I stayed up until about 10am the other day to watch as my Facebook page lit up with the early morning people. I contacted many of my friends online who all greeted me with the same platitude: What are you still doing up?

After I explained that I was researching for a blog entry they were all more than happy to explain what they were doing on Facebook so early. One was at work, one was getting ready for work, one was working at a college radio station and one was still up from a post-test celebration.

Here's the problem. I know everybody that I was talking to. If I had my way they would all be out with me at the diner in the early hours of the morning, loudly discussing off-color topics over coffee and eggs. Alas as most of them live in other time zones this is not possible. The wonder of the diner is that the early morning people are those that you don't already know. In my day to day life I don't meet many farmers, yet at the Cedar Falls Happy Chef you just might see one if you stay up late enough.

Facebook: A poor substitute for pancakes and conversation.


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