Dina’s Diner’s Denizens

Dina's Diner

Dina's Diner

ALLENTOWN, PA, 12:00 a.m. – Six hours after walking through the doors of Dina’s Diner in working-class center city here I emerged into the stormy gloaming outside. I’d just spent the latter half of the day talking politics with seven life-long residents of the Lehigh Valley in a diner that’s been a fixture in town for more than 60 years. They spoke earnestly and honestly and one woman was swayed, during the conversation, from swearing she wouldn’t vote to pledging that she would support democratic nominee Barack Obama on November 4. An older couple felt differently.

Dan and Betty, married for 37 years, were tentatively under McCain’s big top. Dan, who didn’t want to give his last name, said he was almost definitely voting for John McCain while Betty said she was leaning that way but could still be swayed by Senator Obama.

Dan, a McCain voter, worked at Bethlehem Steel for more than 20 years before it shut down

Dan, a McCain voter, worked at Bethlehem Steel for more than 20 years before it shut down.

Betty, who works at Rite Aide, said she wishes she could work full time to earn health benefits

Betty, who works at Rite Aide, said she wishes she could work full time to earn health benefits.

Kim Onea, who leased Dina’s last year and runs the diner said she’s mired in a Catch-22. Her ingredients cost more, but with the economy like it is people are eating out less and less. She said she feels she can’t raise prices because that would drive more people away but her profit margins keep shrinking with the rising cost of food.

Kim Onea said times are hard, but she will renew her lease when it comes due in November; the date will mark one year since first taking over the diner.

Kim Onea said times are hard, but she will renew her lease when it comes due in November; the date will mark one year since first taking over the diner.

Kim’s son Daniel, being 15, is not of voting age. However, he cited the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration’s immigration policy as reasons he would vote for Obama on November 4 if he could. Why those? “Because those two things affect the biggest thing,” he said. “The economy.”

Daniel works at Dina's on weekends and days off of school. His mother said it's good to get him away from his Xbox for awhile now and then.

Daniel works at Dina's on weekends and days off school. His mother said it was good to get him away from his Xbox for awhile now and then.

Krystal King said she was inspired by Obama’s blue collar upbringing and noted that she felt he had struggled in his life. She said she could identify with him on that, unlike the rest of the presidential candidates she’s seen.

Krystal King waits tables during the night shift at Dina's. Her reasons for voting inspired her friend Lisa Leonard to vote for the first time.

Krystal King waits tables during the night shift at Dina's. Her reasons for voting inspired her friend Lisa Leonard to cast a ballot in this election.

Lisa Leonard, 37, was reticent to talk at first. She wanted to stay out of political discussion. Her friend’s speech, though, convinced her otherwise and she said she would be voting for Obama come election day.

Lisa Leonard works as chef for the late night shift. Dina's stays open 24 hours on weekends.

Lisa Leonard works as chef for the late night shift. Dina's stays open 24 hours a day on weekends.

Jason Manson, who works in security, said John McCain’s manner in the debates convinced him to vote the other direction.

Jason Manson lives outside of Allentown, up in Amish Country. He said the streets of Allentown need cleaning up.

Jason Manson lives outside of Allentown, up in Amish Country. He said the streets of Allentown need cleaning up.

Despite the economic plunge and living in a poor area rich with crime, all of them maintained some level of optimism, oftentimes inspired by the change they feel Senator Obama embodies.

— BY ALEX LOWTHER

The gang.

The group.

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2 responses to “Dina’s Diner’s Denizens

  1. Such great reporting and writing. And those photos — wow.

  2. eringeigersmith

    I like the way you set this up – the mini-profiles add a lot of color. And six hours – such a commitment to reporting!

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