Tabs Open #7: You Never Know What's In The Log Until You Open It Up

Welcome to Tabs Open! This week: the romance of the great American diner, the wisdom within logs, and more.

1. Austin Kleon, who I’ve previously cited in this newsletter, blogged something a while back that seems to be a fitting epigraph for this newsletter: “Open tabs are a time machine.” They have the capacity to tell us an awful lot about who we were a day ago, or (if you’re like me) 4 months ago when you first opened that essay that definitely looked interesting but it just hasn’t been the right moment to read it yet. I like this idea, that sometime down the road this thing might give me a sense of who I was in the spring of 2019. What I cared about, who I thought about, and the like.

2. I’ve tweeted before that I think there are only a handful of American institutions really worth saving, the greasy spoon diner being chief among them. In December, delirious after a flight back to the States from Peru, my wife and I took advantage of our 6-hour layover in Atlanta to catch a cab to a Waffle House just outside the airport. Within minutes we were boxed in by plates of steamy, greasy food, a perfect antidote to the exhaustion of travel and the gloom of the rain outside.

Dave’s Diner in Manlius, the town over from where I grew up, was sort of a high school home base for us; now, I find myself returning to it with each new trip home, looking for that old familiar feeling of comfort.

One of the three best breakfasts of my life was at Charlie’s, in Minot, North Dakota, where I stumbled off a train and into a diner playing Edith Piaf and serving pancakes bigger than the plate.

This piece from the Smithsonian Institute does a good job diving into just what it is that makes diners so quintessentially American. I especially appreciated the focus on what Twin Peaks gained from its scenes at the Double-R Diner, scenes of respite and intrigue and discovery all together. The best of these is the vision shared by Major Harlan Briggs with his son, Bobby, in one of the first scenes that humanizes either of them. It’s dynamite stuff.

3. There’s something almost unbearably charming, and certainly very soothing, about this video in which a few old British guys make roof shingles with traditional hand tools. One says something at the 9:46 mark (feel free to skip ahead) that felt worth mentioning in its relevance to all creative endeavors: “You never know what’s in the log until you open it up.”

4. Of late I can’t stop listening to Jason Isbell, formerly of the Drive By Truckers. I found his song “Children of Children” because someone shared it on Twitter and said it’s the kind of song that you finish listening to and immediately call your mother to say you love her and you’re sorry. That about does it justice. You can also check out “Cover Me Up,” which is his top song on Spotify so maybe some of you who are a little bit more with the zeitgeist already know it.

5. Luke O’Neil’s newsletter, “Welcome to Hell World,” occasionally delivers some punches straight to the gut. One of his offerings from March gets to the sickness at the heart of American gun culture better than most things I’ve ever read. (I also think I admire his writing because, as a prolific abuser of commas, I respect anyone who can write with feeling without really using them.) Please read this, or at least the excerpt below:

6. Have you watched The Ballad of Buster Scruggs? I saw it again with a few family members last weekend, and I think I appreciated it even more the second time around. The series of vignettes, set out west in its more lawless days, is grim and funny and beautiful and hopeless all at once. (It’s a Coen brothers film, in other words.)

There are so many great nuggets that it’d be impossible to list them all here, but a few things I can’t stop thinking about are the way Tom Waits sings “Mother Machree” on his way in and out of the valley where he’s hoping to find gold, and the final vignette, in which five passengers (or six, if you count the corpse lashed to the top) take a carriage ride whose destination is made clear by story’s end even if it’s never spoken aloud. What also sticks with me is the phrase “rustled beeves,” which you bet my brother and I can’t stop saying to each other, and the question James Franco asks the man sentenced to hang next to him as he starts crying: “First time?”

7. A small good thing you could do today is to not use Uber or Lyft, as a number of their drivers are going on strike both in the U.S. and abroad. The rationale (and a link to the cities where the major strike actions are taking place) are listed in that article—it’d mean a lot if people took it to heart. Anyway, here’s to future generations reading this lousy newsletter from the comfort of safe, reliable public transit.

Thanks for coming along for the ride this week! If you liked what you found here, feel free to let a friend know where to read it, or even an enemy. I’m not choosy.