Old Friends

Picking up where I left off last week

New Jersey is strangely familiar to both of us. After all, Laura’s parents both came from New Jersey and both of my paternal grandparents grew up in Woodbury. We had both made several trips into the state as children, and every turn seemed to conjure up some vague memory.

This week, when I told my father-in-law about this trip, he recalled his many trips to the Jersey shore and what it was like when he was young. One night, wanting to save the expense of a motel, his father drove them out into the piney nether regions just inland and settled the car into one of the sandy access roads that cut into the miles of forest. It was too hot to sleep with the windows closed and too thick with mosquitoes with the windows open. “So we didn’t get too much sleep,” he laughed.

As we discovered, that area off the beach hasn’t changed over the years. Route 72, the most direct route from LBI to the Philadelphia area, has no turns in it. No houses or landmarks. The sandy inlets that creep back into the trees still exist, as, I’m sure, the descendants of the mosquitoes that bit my father-in-law all those years ago. Miles and miles of this until we came to one of New Jersey’s many traffic circles, then more road and another traffic circle. My objective: Olga’s Diner in Marlton. It had closed quite a while ago and last I heard it was in danger of being demolished. I half-wondered if I was going to be too late.

But then a side trip. I saw a sign: neon, maybe not too old, but interesting. And it was connected to a farm market:

Red Top Market

While we were at it, we got some corn on the cob for dinner. New Jersey and fresh produce don’t sound like a natural fit, but in reality, New Jersey produces some of the finest. We were very pleased with corn.

Not too much later and we were upon Olga’s. Still standing, still closed, but magnificent. And oddly familiar. As I pulled in to the barren, cracked parking lot, I had something nagging at me: had I been here before? I’ve been to plenty of places in New Jersey, thirty years ago now, but I could practically picture my father pulling into this same parking lot.

I got to work. The sun was bright and clear and the front angle produced some great images.

Olga's Diner Corner, Marlton, NJBut all the angles worked to my advantage. The coolness of the back-lighting seemed to add to the desolation of the old diner.

Olga's Diner from the back, Marlton, NJ

As I snapped off these shots, some future goombas yelled out their car window at me, “Hey, what are you doin’?” It caught me a bit by surprise and I probably flinched. At the very least I lowered my camera.  They apparently thought it was funny enough that they went around the corner and yelled the same thing. And then turned the corner and tried it a third time. After that, they drove off, presumably to work on some new material.
Olga's Diner from the front, Marlton, NJ
Familiarity. Maybe déjà vu. Not sure what it was about this place, but it seems like I was here before. And I probably was.

Yep, that’s me. Standing on a tree stump, trying to get a better angle. And here’s the shot I got:

Olga's Diner, Sunny side, Marlton, NJMany, many thanks to Amanda Brubaker, a native of Marlton, who posted a shot of Olga’s Diner on Instagram, inspiring me to come down and see it for myself.

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