You know you are getting old when you start talking about something that happened nearly 10 years ago and a young person just gives you a blank stare.
That happened to me recently as my husband and I sat down to eat at Fast Eddie’s Drive-In, a Winthrop diner with decor hearkening back to the ’50s and ’60s.
I felt strangely at home when we entered the cool, air-conditioned eatery, taking refuge from the suffocating heat of a summer day.
Had I been here before? Not in years. It was, of all things, the red and beige booths on either side of the room that caught my eye.
I recognized them right away.
They were unmistakably from the set of “Empire Falls,” the HBO movie filmed nine years ago in Waterville and Skowhegan and starring the late, great Paul Newman.
Based on Maine author Richard Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, the film also starred Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, Ed Harris, Helen Hunt, Aidan Quinn and a host of other famous actors.
Much of the story revolves around the Empire Grill, a diner in a run-down Maine mill town. Miles Roby, played by Harris, operates the grill.
In 2003, the film crew transformed an old pizza parlor on Water Street in Skowhegan into the grill, adding all sorts of props to make it look authentic. The booths were trucked in from a defunct California diner and crews strapped gray duct tape on them to make them look old and torn.
These memories came flooding back as I slid into one of the booths at Fast Eddie’s, a good hour’s drive from the now defunct Empire Grill in Skowhegan.
“I’d know these booths anywhere,” I told Phil.
So when a bouncy, smiling waitress greeted us as we sat down, I couldn’t wait to share my discovery.
“Do you know anything about these booths?” I asked.
“Yes, I think they came from — a movie theater?”
When I assured her that they graced the “Empire Falls” movie set in Skowhegan, she just smiled respectfully and let me have my moment.
It was clear she had no idea what I was talking about. I started rattling on about the book and the film and the actors, forgetting that she likely was a little kid when the movie came to town.
How time flies. Wasn’t it just yesterday? No, it was nearly a decade ago, which to a child represents a lifetime. For an adult, it’s a mere blip in time.
We ordered lunch (the best BLT I’ve ever had, by the way) and chatted about a signed Beatles poster on the wall; we listened to oldies piped through drive-in theater speakers and watched a little girl perched on a stool eating aqua blue ice cream the same color as her shorts.
I guessed the diner’s owner must like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall because the former Hollywood couple stared out at us from every wall, it seemed.
A nice young man who smiled when we came through the door brought us our bill and I made another feeble attempt to share my enthusiasm about the diner booths.
Did he know anything about them?
“Oh, yes,” he said enthusiastically. “We got them at an auction in Skowhegan.”
His response reminded me of the fate of the magnificent Lakewood Theatre in Madison that for many years was the jewel of summer stock, drawing big name actors such as Bogart and Bette Davis to the shores of Lake Wesserunsett.
Lakewood was an entire resort in those days, with a restaurant and cottages and lots of glamorous people coming and going. And then, little by little, the excitement waned and the big names stopped coming.
The property was sold and auctioned off, piece by piece, cottage by cottage, until it was broken up like a jigsaw. It would never be the same.
The Empire Grill stayed open for a while after the movie left town, but in 2010 its contents, too, were auctioned off.
The auction came several years after the movie people hosted a sale at the former Hathaway shirt factory in Waterville, offering up furniture, clothing, lamps, paintings and other film props.
I bought an Empire Grill menu and a license plate from a van featured in the movie and driven by Dennis Farina, who played the Silver Fox. People from all over Maine and beyond scooped up the rest.
I remember covering the first day of filming at Bee’s Snack Bar in Winslow, arriving early in the morning to watch Newman perform his magic. Just days before, I had interviewed the 25-year-old owner of Bee’s, asking how she felt, knowing Newman would be gracing her eatery with his presence. I could barely contain my excitement.
“Well,” she said, “to be honest, I didn’t really know who he is.”
That was my first clue that time, forever elusive, had played a cruel trick. The second was more recently, when the Empire Grill booths rose from the ashes in Winthrop.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]