Dinah’s Roadside Diner: A Fishy Tale
I pulled off the Pacific Coast Highway about twenty miles south of Half Moon Bay and parked my car under a tall sign that read Dinah’s Diner. When I walked through the entry door I got a welcoming hello from a bartender whose name tag read Tom.
When I asked if the restaurant was open yet he said, “Twenty minutes,” so I slid onto a barstool and ordered a beer to pass the short wait.
As Tom pulled the tap handle I said hello to the only other customer; a guy with a short, white, beard who told me his name was Dave. We’d settled into a sociable conversation when a burst of late afternoon sunlight entered the bar along with a tall, slim man wearing sunglasses and a San Francisco Giants baseball cap. He took a stool two down from Dave. Setting his shades on the bar and looking our way he said, “I’m Bo. How you guys doin’?”
We traded names and I joked that Dave had recently won an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest. Showing thanks for courteous laughter, I tossed two twenties on the bar and ordered a round of beer, and a platter of fried calamari from the now open restaurant.
Tom put my freshened draft on the bar, refilled Dave’s mug, and, without asking his preference, he set a beer in front of Bo who raised his glass in my direction before taking a gulp.
As he lowered the nearly empty glass back on the bar, Bo said, “Odd coincidence you should mention Hemingway. My grandfather knew him in Cuba and when he and his wife, Martha, came north he often stopped at the family estate. We have, or at least had, quite a few letters from him – you know, asking for a loan until the next book came out, stuff like that.”
A food server carrying the calamari came through the swinging door leading to the kitchen. Setting it on the bar in front of us, she said, “Enjoy, guys. If you want to order dinner you’ll have to take seats at a table and they start to fill up pretty quick this time of day ─ so just a heads-up.”
Dave, while snatching a garlicky morsel from the platter asked Bo, “Did you say your grandfather was a friend of Ernest Hemingway?”
Bo answered, “More than a friend, really. They were like brothers. Lemme get another beer and I'll tell you the damnedest story you’ve ever heard about Papa.”
I spotted Tom’s eyes rolling toward the ceiling as he dispensed Bo’s re-fill into a tilted pilsner glass.
Bo took an unhurried sip, then setting his glass back down on the antique bar top and licking a bit of froth from his upper lip, he swiveled his round-cushioned stool toward us and began telling the amazing story.
“The Guinness Book of World Records lists my grandfather as the man who caught the biggest shark that was ever landed with a rod and reel.”
“The biggest one, ever?”
“Yep. A 1,000 pound Mako on a rod and reel.”
Dave said, “I gotta admit that’s pretty impressive, but what’s it got to do with Ernest Hemingway?”
“Well, it all started when he and my granddad decided to leave the wives at home and do a little fishing on Montauk Bay, which is at the tip of Long Island, about 20 miles from Manhattan, where my grandparents lived at the time.
“Back then, you could catch swordfish there and my grandfather hooked one. His line ran out about 200 yards before the huge, silver-blue fish pirouetted out of the water. Everyone else reeled in empty hooks as they watched Granddad fight him in on No.7 filament. Hemingway tossed his gear aside, and snatched his Mont Blanc fountain pen from his duffle, and stood at the port rail, writing.”
I asked, “Writing?” and Bo explained.
“Hemingway was always writing. My grandmother called him an impolite bore because he was obsessed with writing. Whatever; let me get on with what happened.
“After almost an hour in the fighting chair, Granddad was all sweat and strain. He’d finally worked the swordfish in about fifty yards from the boat and the captain had her all astern. The swordfish was spent and it was just a matter of reeling him in without losing the hook. That’s when the Mako hit the swordfish and somehow got himself hooked. The line zinged back out again like the plastic rabbit in a Whippet race; in all probability 300 yards, before the Mako breached with the swordfish in its jaws and everyone on the boat simultaneously gasped, ‘Good God’, or something like that. Hemingway's notes talked all about that moment; "A primeval determination" is how he described the look in Granddad’s eye.”
There was reverence in Dave’s voice, “You read Hemingway's notes?”
Bo answered, “I did. He copied them and sent a set to the family. But, the estate was sold and those notes, plus some other stuff disappeared when the family lawyer retired and moved upstate. Getting back to the shark, my grandfather landed him and there was a lot of recognition that went along with that; the place being populated by anglers and tourists, as it was.
“His name was on the radio, and there was even a sequence in Movie-Tone News that ran in the theaters. Hemingway wanted to cash in on the story, but he wanted to be fair to my grandfather too, so he sent him a copy of the manuscript, which stayed in the family until my sister divorced the crack head she was married to, and God knows where it is now, but my grandfather hated the title so much he refused to even read it much less consider going in on the publication rights, which Hemingway offered him, by the way.”
I asked, “What was the title?”
Bo answered, “The Old Man and the Bay. How about a game of liar’s dice to see who pays for the next round?