Good times at Stella’s Diner

Those of us with roots in rural Iowa can be a little smug when we compare our friendly farm towns with big cities. Though I have had excellent neighbors in a few of Iowa’s larger communities, I still believed Iowans were better at neighborliness than residents of New York City, Chicago and other cities of that size.

That attitude changed a few weeks ago.

In late February I made my annual visit to The Salvation Army’s College for Officer Training (CFOT) in Chicago. I am invited each year to present to the first year students at the college information about media relations, community relations and fundraising three of my responsibilities at The Salvation Army in Des Moines.

Thy CFOT was established in the Lakeview East neighborhood of Chicago between Lake Michigan and Wrigley Field nearly a century ago.

The area surrounding the CFOT is known these days as Boystown. It was the first officially recognized gay village in the United States. My CFOT friends tell me the neighborhood had deteriorated badly but was revived by the gay community into a clean, safe and attractive area.

So you get the idea this is not Pumpkin Center, Iowa.

The hosting instructors all Salvation Army officers treat me royally when I visit and take me out to dinner on my first night in Chicago. An hour or so after my arrival on campus last month, I joined two host families on a one-mile walk down North Broadway to Stella’s Diner.

Upon arrival my hosts introduced me to Gus, the affable Greek owner, who told me his parents opened the restaurant in 1962. Gus pushed several tables together for our party of eight and promptly began interacting with our group.

As you might expect at a farm town restaurant in Iowa, Gus struck up a conversation with the stranger in the group me. He loves to tease and I responded in kind. If BS were snow, we would have had a blizzard. Finally he said, “You know, you and I have a lot in common except I’m better looking!”

We all had a good laugh and proceeded to order and enjoy Gus’ delicious comfort food.

It was obvious most of the other diners at Stella’s were regulars. They engaged in pleasantries, just as you would expect at a coffee shop on Main Street in rural Iowa.

A couple of school girls were selling raffle tickets for a school project. The only difference from a small town in Iowa the raffle tickets sold for $10 each.

Bucking a cold north wind we made our way back to the campus where I noticed my cell phone was missing, apparently having fallen from the leather holster on my belt. Where do you find your lost cell phone in the middle of Chicago?

One of my hosts, quickly telephoned Stella’s Diner but Gus couldn’t find it. He asked her to call my phone, just in case it was hidden from view. Gus called back and said he didn’t hear the phone ring.

A moment later someone called my host’s phone, explaining that he had found a cellphone in a pile of snow along Broadway when he heard it ringing. By the time he picked it up, the ringing had stopped so he dialed the number that had been calling the phone. My host asked him his location. He was only four blocks from the campus and said he would stay there until we arrived.

A brisk winter walk got us to his location quickly. It was indeed my phone. I offered him a reward which he immediately brushed off. “I’m just glad I was able to find it for you,” he said.

So here I am in the middle of Chicago the nation’s third largest city. In the span of less than two hours I met Gus, enjoyed the conviviality of Stella’s Diner and lost my cell phone which was found by a total stranger who was willing to stand in the cold while I walked to retrieve it.

This is exactly what I would expect in a rural Iowa. It wasn’t what I expected in the middle of Chicago.

As I said, I have adjusted my attitude.