No kidding, there was a diner in Baltimore that inspired the movie "Diner." It's called the "Fells Point Diner" in the movie. Really, it was The Hilltop Diner, on Reisterstown Road near Pimlico.
Like the five guys in the movie, coming of age in Baltimore in the '50s, you'd end up at the diner. You'd talk and hang in the booth and nobody would hurry you. "Food served at its best," it used to say on the menus. Sure, you could get gravy on the french fries.
You'd go to the Crest movie across the street, then you'd end up at the diner. This was something because the diner was in the next neighborhood from ours, which was "The Junction," where two trolley lines and two buses to the country met. We'd get to Reistertown Road in this '50 blue Dodge--Baltimore Colts blue, as they say in the movie. Fluid drive. You could start up without shifting if you were on level ground or going downhill and a dollar's worth of Atlantic regular would do it for the night, including the cruising.
Before the 15-cent Cokes had been slapped down, you'd be talking about girls, like the five guys in "Diner," because, face it, you'd rather be with them. It's just that none of us was lucky in love. But each had advice for the others. As for the blonde who went to Western High, they told me, you'd have to make your move when you got off the trolley coming home from school. I mean, we got off at the same stop. Maybe she'd drop a book. Trouble was she held those books like Alan Ameche clutched a football.
Back in the '50s, when we were growing up in Baltimore, everybody considered the place Washington's Brooklyn. But we weren't paranoid; we didn't know what everybody thought. We did know where it was happening. I mean, Buddy Dean on WITH was playing Bill Haley. He was playing rock 'n' roll when almost nobody--nobody anywhere--was playing rock 'n' roll. Where was the first rock concert? You can argue, but it was downtown Baltimore, 1954. Haley came to town, and by that time Buddy Dean had pumped it up so much there were thousands in the streets and Haley had half his clothes torn off before he got inside.
The trolley rattled through the middle of our lives. High school was downtown, on the trolley line. The Coliseum on Monroe Street, where the Bullets played, was right off the trolley line. A rite of passage occurred afternoons on the trolley: Before it turned left at North Avenue, you'd jump off and race toward Druid Hill Park, then left past the car barn to the corner where the Red Fox was, where Ethel Ennis appeared, trying to beat the trolley there and get back on. You'd be breathlessly near when you'd look up and see it, and the sound of it clack, clack, clacking across the intersection would signal the end of the race. Call me Mr. Blue. Only one guy could do it; with his black corduroy jacket and swept-back hair, he looked like Boogie in the movie.
Friday afternoons especially, there was this place with this one particular pool table in the center of room, filled with the sound of the top 40 on WFBR. ("Geez, can you believe it was No. 31 last week and now it's in the top 10.") The table had this lovely slant; the right corner pocket was a sewer. If you could score off the break you could run the table three or four times--but you needed WFBR to do it, to get the rhythm, to make it really feel right.
There was this picture of Artie Donovan in the corner. Old No. 70. That's Artie Donovan in the picture over Eddie's bed in the movie. Talk about big. Sure he could have eaten the whole menu at the diner. Yeah, everybody cared about the Baltimore Colts--only they pronounced it the Balimer Coats. The thing was, you had to be at the stadium on Sundays to yell for the Coats. You had to get in, and the place was sold out every Sunday. Before that, they had a wooden stadium without turnstiles and it was easy; a short guy walked right in hidden by an army blanket. Believe it.
The way you got in in the '50s was you worked the buses. It was a lock. The only question was whether you'd be sitting on the 50- or the 30-yard line. First deck. Coats' side. These buses would roll in from York or Harrisburg or someplace and, inevitably, there'd be extra tickets, somebody couldn't make it. And these guys getting off would be all nervous they couldn't sell the extras and they'd sell them at less than face value. Meanwhile, there were a hundred guys around front who'd give a week of their National Boh money for one.
So Eddie in the movie is a reluctant groom-to-be; he won't consent to marry the girl unless she can pass his football trivia quiz, most of it Balimer Coat esoterica.
True or false, was George Shaw a No. 1 draft pick? What were the team's original colors? (False, he was a bonus pick. And, green and gray.) It was important to know, then.