The ImprovOlympic opened on Clark street in 1995. At the time, the neighborhood was just about a ghost town, with empty stores, vacant offices and less. 3541 was ImprovOlympic- to the left, empty office; to the right, empty offices. Just a few months later (probably early 96) the Salt & Pepper Diner opened. What a godsend. Before that, there was just McDonalds on Addison and Penny’s Diner on Roscoe. There were little to no bars on Clark street (there was the Wild Hare, Exodus and Sluggers and Cubby Bear.)
S&P was like an old school diner. Good food for great prices with little pretense. Broke and with little life outside of ImprovOlympic I became, like many other improvisers, a regular visitor to S&P. Del Close would sit there and have a cup of coffee before his classes.
I love the Salt & Pepper Diner. I love seeing people meet up before/after classes to debrief, discuss and dissemble. I love watching teams meet before their shows to laugh, to work off some nerves, to break bread with their friends. I love the meetings; shows, teams; teachers and students. I love the obvious “is this a date or not” rendez-vous and the even more obvious “God I wish this was a date.”
I love the weekday mornings there; the just-about-to-go-on and the just-finished-duty police officers, the Wrigley Field office workers, single parents with their kids, and the best/ longest tenured wait staff.
I love going there with the Whirled New Tonight cast after our shows (when there isn’t a baseball game.)
Because of my strange hours at iO, I was both an office morning person and a late night diner hawk. As the staffing there ebbed and flowed I get to know them and they get to know me.
Eventually, I fell in love with someone working at Salt & Pepper. Let’s call her “Mary.” It began slowly, as a good then great friendship and then one day we decided to meet up outside of our respective workplaces. It was odd… like meeting in a No Man’s Land. I wrote about her once before and even talked about her in an Armando show once. Out of all the unknown things about our relationship, I know that for a brief wondrous time I loved someone and she loved me.
She’s off somewhere now being happy and sometimes I wonder if I ever will be. At the time, I considered her my last chance. I don’t know if that’s true but sometimes it really feels like it does.
This morning I had breakfast at Salt & Pepper and I decided to write an Ode to a Diner. I didn’t expect it to become maudlin. But I guess that’s what happens when you decide to say goodbye to something you’ve know for just about two decades. I’m moving. iO is moving and so will Salt & Pepper Diner. I hope we all move on as well.
Thank you and farewell, O Diner.
and randomly, here’s a story from great comedian John Mulaney about S&P: