Their door is always open

The door is always open at Doc's Little Gem Diner, and it's not just because the diner serves customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Workers joke that its key, if one ever existed, has long disappeared.

A truck splashes through the rain at the intersection of Spencer and Liberty Streets, where the diner has resided since 1955. The diner's neon sign dazzles off the polished metal veneer. Stepping into the diner is like stepping into a hologram.

Inside, Patti Hunterfox moves quickly to set a mug of hot coffee on the countertop in front of the only customer, Marty, a retiree wearing a blue jacket. Her bright eyes behind her glasses reveal no signs of the early morning hour or the hardships of raising three kids. Another waitress, Angel, tallies the night's checks and tips in a nearby booth.

Marty is content with only coffee and occasional banter with Hunterfox.

"How come you're so mean in the morning?" he asks when she doesn't respond favorably to his suggestion of more make-up.

"I'm always so mean in the morning, come on," she retorts.

Hunterfox organizes the condiments under the counter. As she straightens, she says to no one in particular, "All right, I'm ready. Let's rock, people."

Behind the double swinging doors marked "employees only," the sounds of running water and stacking dishes break the monotonous buzz of the fluorescent lights. Before Angel leaves, Hunterfox reminds her of an upcoming staff meeting -- "a meeting of the minds."

The sun remains absent this wet morning. A few people trickle in and out, seeking coffee. A man with chin-length hair and a black leather jacket backs onto a barstool as he intently studies the dry-erase board that announces the breakfast specials.

Noting his interest, Hunterfox asks, "Dare I get the notebook out?"

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