There’s no way I can ever convey to you just how important this place was to my life back then.
We drank hard and heavy at the Lakeview Inn in Almonesson. We liked the people we hung out with, so when the bar closed at 2 — 3 a.m. on weekends — we weren’t quite ready for the night to end. So we’d simply move the party from the bar to the Freeway Diner on Route 41.
It’s closed now. After something like 37 years, the place has shut down and the owners, the same owners we patronized back in the day, have retired as of Memorial Day. Word is, the diner may be torn down to make way for a small strip shopping center, perhaps to include a Starbucks.
Well, Starbucks would never have become an after-hours hangout for the likes of us, which is just as well, since the Lakeview is long gone.
We didn’t come just from the Lakeview, although that was just around the corner. Just down the road was the old Mustang Lounge — it’s a Heritage’s now and I toss a small salute to the memory of Mustang days every time I drive by on 41. I do the same when I drive past Filomena’s, where the Lakeview was. I guess I’ll have to add a salute now when I pass the Freeway. When I played with my band up near Harleysville, Pa. I'd jump on the turnpike and zoom back to the Freeway, changing out of a sweaty shirt in the parking lot, because — well, because it was the Freeway.
We were nothing if not a colorful group. There was me, Don, Pete, CW, Chuck, a bunch of people who filled our lives then. When closing time took us, we’d mosey over to the diner, where we’d have burgers or breakfast or sometimes both. Sometimes there were so many folks from the bar, they’d have to open the side room at the Freeway to accommodate all of us. (This was years ago, before a major facelift took away that side room, sort of.)
Our cast of characters changed according to which woman we might be pursuing at the time. Hell, I even went out with one of the waitresses a few times.
When I was recording the great album that never came out back in 1978, I’d bring cassette tapes of rough mixes with me and play them at the diner, so friends could keep track of how the project was coming along.
It was at the Freeway that my song, “The Diner Song,” was conceived.
We walked in one early morning night to see a young woman in the first booth. An infant was sitting in a high chair, sound asleep.
I wondered aloud, “What’s she doing here?”
Don Cogan, who always could unreel a line of bull at the drop of a hat, explained that she was waiting for the baby’s father, a trucker, who’d a year or so ago had come through, seduced her and left her pregnant. Now she sits there, waiting for his return, knowing he’ll be back sooner or later.
Wow! What a story!
I went home but couldn’t sleep and, at 6 a.m., was writing the words and music to “The Diner Song.”
It was not true, though. In fact, the woman — whose mother was the older waitress on duty that night — had not only the baby, but two older kids who were asleep in the booth and out of our sight when we walked in. Her husband had been arrested for something and she didn’t want to stay home alone with the kids, so she brought them to hang out with her mom.
The true story was nowhere near as good as Don’s version, so the song and its lyrics remained the way they were that 6 o’clock morning so many years ago. I recorded it on the album that never came out, but Don put it out on a single that was on the jukebox at the Lakeview for many years.
So, thank you, Freeway Diner, for all the great memories — the ones I mentioned here, the ones I didn’t have room for and the ones we can’t necessarily talk about.