I sat outside the door wondering why I'd come.
Of all the places to go, of all the possibilities available, I was where I wanted to be. Ellen's Stardust Diner in New York City is, to me, always the highlight of any trip there. The diner serves 'diner food' and is always packed to the rafters. Even from outside, where I sat full of worry, I could hear the buzz that is made by people enjoying themselves fully.
What makes the Diner exceptional is the service. Each waiter and waitress works serving food while trying to establish a career on Broadway as an actor. So amidst taking orders, dropping off food and dealing with customers - they take turns belting out songs. The song's aren't just sung, they are performed. They serenade us from the balcony, they get up and walk along the backs of the benches while singing their hearts out. The songs are a mix of popular music and Broadway Standards. The waiters and waitresses are all young, enthusiastic and extraordinarily talented. Every show on Broadway, every touring company of a Broadway show has someone starring in it that has worked Ellen's Stardust Diner.
To me there is something magical about watching these kids perform. This setting is perfect for them because they are able to perform the music with a wildly personal stamp. It's exciting to be amongst all that talent. I look forward to going there every time we come to New York.
Why the cause of my wondering and my worrying?
Ellen's isn't huge. Every time I've been there in my wheelchair we managed to get into the place and find somewhere where I could sit where my chair would be out of the way. This time, I could see that wasn't true. I would have to take what comes as it was really, really full. But we were meeting friends, they were there, I didn't want to disappoint them.
In we went.
I had to sit at a table that they placed against one of the booths. This meant that I was out in the aisle, people could pass by but without question the space was narrowed. Ellen's staff moved tables around without question, like it was the most natural thing in the world for them to accommodate someone in a wheelchair. We didn't even have to 'ask' for 'special' seating. All we did was answer '5' to the question of how many. Boom, the change was made, I was seated. No muss, no fuss.
The waiter, we were lucky because I think we got the guy with the best voice along with the most welcoming personality - and a handsome dude too. We all watched him sing and thought, 'Wow, he's really good.' Seconds later he was at our table taking drink orders. Throughout our dinner we watched them all sing, we were served quickly and in a friendly manner. The music was fun, the atmosphere electric - true it's not the kind of place for conversation - but that didn't matter so much. Ellen's makes it just fun to be out and to be together.
Throughout our dinner wait staff had to step around my chair carrying drinks or big platters bearing plates of food. They did it always with grace and good humour. Even though I was in the aisle, I never once felt in the way. Over time I realized that If I had been walking, I'd have been sitting in the same place, we'd have still needed a 5th spot at a table for 4. What they had done for me was ordinary for them. It was about welcoming customers, it was about creating an atmosphere of excitement.
I had a wonderful time. It was great to be with friends. But it was also great to have worry replaced by welcome.
Staff and Management of Ellen's Stardust Diner in New York City will probably never read this blog. But I hope one of them does and realizes that there's this guy from Canada hoping that next year while watching the Tony Awards he'll be saying - HEY SEE THAT GUY!!! HE SERVED ME FAJITAS!