At 9 years of age, if I wanted to find my father on a summer morning between 8 and 10, all I had to do was ride my bike into town and stop at one of two diners, Ruby’s or Mr. B’s. He would be at one of them depending on which one he’d most recently painted a sign for. For me it was orange pop and a jelly doughnut; for Dad it was two eggs over easy, toast and a pot of coffee, not a cup. He was a small-town, Andy of Mayberry sign painter his entire life. His routine was breakfast at the diner for one to two hours, depending on the level of political discussion. He was a Democrat in a Republican town, and there was always plenty of barbed banter.

After breakfast he’d head out to install a new sign at one of the many resort communities that lined the Lake Michigan shoreline. If I had nothing to do that day, I could ride along, which translated to lunch at a diner, with orange pop and a hamburger for me, coffee and grilled cheese with tomato for Dad. He’d finish installing the sign and then on the way home, we’d hit another diner, ordering lemon meringue pie for me and coffee and pie for my dad. I loved the social aspect. Even as a boy I heard everything and loved being part of the mix, the rich smells of the griddle, fresh-brewed coffee and town gossip.

As an adult, wherever I’ve lived I have always hunted and found “my” local diner. Favorite restaurants hold the same magical charm. I appreciate the character, the atmosphere and unique menus the owners have created to reflect their vision. Every major event in my life has had a dining experience attached. We had a baby – we went out for sushi. My babies graduated from college – we went to their favorite places to break bread, imbibe and celebrate.

With the pandemic and all its repercussions, I’m selfishly terrified of losing this very personal and vitally important social exchange. I keep asking myself, what will we do if we can no longer sit at the bar or table of a favorite place, mull over nothing much while sipping coffee or a glass of wine and receive a warm greeting from the owner, barkeep or a friend who wandered in, all while anticipating the upcoming meal and the satisfaction of “that first taste” to the slow conclusion? What can replace that uniquely human experience?

I don’t have the answer. And I am also fully aware that more important things are at stake than my selfish attachment to dining out. Lives and livelihoods are important, but I’ve still been worried. Our restaurants need to be open not only for their own survival and the future of our state but also for each and every person who draws their life blood from this shared experience.

The restaurant owners I know have thoughtfully taken all the steps necessary to keep their staff and customers safe. I trust them because I know them. I’m glad that the state has agreed that it’s time to let them show us what they can do to re-create our new world dining experience.

Cheers to dining out this summer.

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