Page 8- The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, April 23, 1986
HEN I first saw the Fleet-
wood Diner, with its
yellow-green awnings and
box-like frame, I knew it
was a place of character. It seemed
like it was from another era, as its
name suggests. Before I went inside I
had it pictured in my mind: harried
waitresses, greasy food, long counters
with those glass cake covers and of
course old men drinking coffee with
their derbys and long overcoats
hanging on a rack near by. The Fleet-
wood does have a bit of such nostalgia
tucked inside. But my romantic views
were quickly shattered by reality.
Gone was the counter full of old men,
the waitresses in white uniforms, spot-
ted with stains. Instead I saw all kinds
of patrons and younger employees
dressed in tennis shoes and jeans. The
cooks didn't wear white T-shirts but
flannel shirts and printed T-shirts. The
derbys were replaced with baseball
caps and the juke box fell to the com-
pact transistor radio which blasted
above the grill. The walls are covered
with postcards, drawings, news clips
and stickers and the cash register is a
visual feast, covered with all sorts of
paraphernalia. The menu hangs on the
south wall. Its white plastic letters
hang precariously on the black
background. Assorted toys are per-
ched behind the counter on a beverage
machine waiting for the next child or
adult (I saw two men fascinated by a
toy car that turned into a robot) to put
them to use.
The Fleetwood in 1940 probably had
a distinct clientele much as it does
today. The regulars vary from
business people to street people. I
spent hours talking with patrons about
everything: Sicily, the desert in New
Mexico, the unpleasantries of the nine-
to-five job, life, the space shuttle, and
people in general. One night, around
closing time, I spoke to Pat Clancy, a
cook. We joked about our childhood
ambitions of becoming garbagemen.
As we spoke, a woman on the other side
of the restaurant joined the conver-
sation. She, too, admitted having the
same aspiration as a child.
There is a sense of camaraderie
among the patrons. No one is hiding
behind private booths or in dimly lit
nooks. No one dines on lobster while
another eats grill - cheese. People
laugh, argue, and debate one another.
Some just keep to themselves. This
diversity creates an atmosphere unlike
any other restaurant in Ann Arbor.
Some people perceived my camera as
an intrusion, others accepted it and
myself. I received trust and distrust -
which I expected - for there is nothing
as complex as the human character
and nothing as interesting as the
character an inanimate place like the
Fleetwood can assume when the
people who occupy it give it life.
After returning from a trip out west, James Harris finishes his first breakfast at the Fleetwood
Harris, a heavy machine operator, eats at the Fleetwood around every other day.
in several months.
The Fleetwood emits a life like glow from its windows on a foggy evening in March.
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