I’ll bet this has happened to you. You’re wandering around in an unfamiliar area, or maybe you’re driving in a deserted part of the country you’ve never been before. You look around, or you look at a map, and you think man, I’m in the middle of nowhere.
For me, the middle of nowhere was always a specific place. When I was a kid, we drove by the Middle of Nowhere almost every week. The Middle of Nowhere Diner. It was on a long stretch of road just over the border from Connecticut in exeter, Rhode Island. It’s one of those side-of-the-road all day breakfast joints, with a flat front, dusty paint, and a hand-painted sign propped up on the roof by 2x4s.
the Middle of Nowhere was actually the exact middle of two pretty important places, an old fixer upper my parents bought in Norwich, CT, and the rest of my dad’s family and our friends in Rhode Island. When we drove to visit them on weekends or go to the beach, my sister and I would try and guess what time we’d arrive to the minute, it was usually about an hour from when we left. Somewhere along the way, around the halfway point, we’d pass by the Middle of Nowhere.
In the car, we’d make up games to distract ourselves from the endless scrub forest and our dad’s terrible yodeling country music. On a hilly road, we’d pretended we were driving up a dinosaur’s tail, over his back, and down his neck over and over again. There was a lot of arguing about who was cheating at eye spy.
My parents separated when I was about eleven, and my dad moved back to Rhode Island to be with family for a while.
We started making weekly trips with my mom to the Middle of Nowhere Diner. We never went in, we sat and waited in the parking lot watching people in the restaurant.
Sometimes, my aunt would already be there in her Volkswagon and wave to us when we drove in, my dad in the passenger seat. We’d get out of the car, sling backpacks and bodies from one car to another, and wave goodbye.
For all the times we parked at the Middle of Nowhere, I only remember eating at the diner once. I think we stopped out of nostalgia on my dad’s part. In the restaurant, I remember a milkshake machine, wooden lawn furniture indoors, red checked plastic on the tables, faded curtains and fried chicken. I liked it because it all felt like a Technicolor movie, but I felt like my mom thought it was tacky and gross.
As a kid, it used to be a place that we passed as a family, but then it became transactional. There’s a weird anticipation with saying goodbye and hello at the same time, and it was clear that my parents were figuring it out as they went as much as we were.
Today, I still think about the middle of nowhere all the time. All those trips passing by and we only ate there once. As an adult, I actually really like diners. I seek them out wherever I go, for the terrible coffee and the corn beef hash. I don’t know why I haven’t been back to that place. It reminds me that the middle of nowhere is always somewhere to someone, and I’m sure I’ll find myself back there eventually.