|Lucy Gellman Photos.|
The diner is empty and already smells like eggs and bacon grease. Two pots of coffee brew behind the counter, sweating at the edges. There are pictures everywhere: political candidates ordering omelettes and shaking hands, Manchester-raised Adam Sandler, black-and-white photos of the diner in the 1950s, Guy Fieri on a stop in 2007. The door opens wide and a bone-chilling gust of wind sweeps through the door.
Wake up, New Hampshire. Robin Deary and Emilia Morrisette are waiting for you.
Deary and Morrisette are employees at the Red Arrow Diner, a 24-hour greasy spoon that has become one of New Hampshire’s oldest and most celebrated campaign stops and places to talk politics. As the First-In-The-Nation primary pulses around them, they are part of the fabric that keeps Manchester running.
And on the Sunday before the primary, they’re ready for a rush. It’s there that people come to get a heaping share of hash browns, eggs, peanut butter pancakes, bottomless coffee and a side of political conversation.
At 6:58 a.m., the Red Arrow is still quiet. A suite of booths by the window sit empty, soaking in the silvery-grey Manchester sunlight. Deary, who works the 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift, has just put on the second pot of coffee of the hour. She is under strict orders from management not to talk about politics, even after visits from presidential hopefuls Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer in the past month.
So she has started a conversation with a newcomer instead, on everything from the menu (there are huge plates and then there are just modestly big plates) to Adam Sandler, who grew up in Manchester. Her hands are on autopilot: she pours two steaming mugs of coffee while chronicling the city’s pride in the actor.
Behind her, a television screen rotates through a slideshow of happy customers, stopping on an image of Sandler grinning with the waitstaff.
“If you live here, you know him in some way,” she says. “I played softball with his niece.”
|Rafael Galindo: Feelin the Bern.|
Around 7:15, the door swings open for the first time in almost an hour. Rafael Galindo sits at the very end of the counter, greeted with warm hellos and cries of “Hi, Raf!” that soar down to his seat. He’s still perfecting this Sunday morning ritual, a quick pick up at the diner that he shares with his wife, who works at a restaurant down the street. Somewhere in the kitchen, a farmer’s omelette with his name on it is already frying.
He likes that New Hampshire can claim the primary, he says. An employee at a local tire shop, Galindo immigrated to New Hampshire from Brazil when he was 17 years old. For the past four years, he’s felt physically uncomfortable watching Donald Trump. Even saying the president’s name makes him upset. This year, he says, he’s been particularly swayed by the gospel of Bernie Sanders.
“I like the fact that he believes companies shouldn’t be in government,” he says. His omelette comes out of the kitchen already packed in a box, with a slice of cake packed separately on top.
“See you next Sunday!” Deary and Morrissette yell as he makes his way out of the diner.
Both have a history with the diner, which is almost 100 years old. Growing up in Manchester, Morrissette first ate at The Red Arrow as a teenager, after a high school dance ended in peanut butter chocolate chip pancakes. After starting in 2016, she worked her way up to one of the youngest general managers the diner has ever had. She works holidays because it’s a good way to pay her rent. Deary, who returned to New Hampshire after time in Georgia, North Carolina, and Oregon, works weekends for the same reason.
At the counter, the two have moved from the menu to Manchester’s opioid crisis to Morrissette’s photography of the state's covered bridges, and how she balances her work at the diner with teaching dance and practicing her art. At 7:42, three plates of blueberry muffins slide out of the kitchen all at once. The coffee pots sweat and steam; a big cheesecake beckons next to the kitchen, uneaten.
A few people have wandered through the door. There are Sunday morning regulars and a gaggle of TV reporters, who sit in a corner with down jackets that still advertise 2014 Sochi Olympic coverage. They check out the plaques that dot the counter and booths, small red tags that announce who sat where on their visits to the diner.
Two tables in from the door, Scott Remillard and his daughter Alexa put in their orders for steak and cheese and the diner’s celebrated beans, the same order they’ve had for years. A single dad and military veteran, Remillard’s mind is set on voting for Trump, just as it was four years ago. As a contracting officer at the city’s VA, he sees the president as a source of good in the state and in the country.
Born and raised in Manchester, he’s says he’s excited about the First-In-The-Nation primary. He has been for as long as he can remember.
“I think it’s an honor, I really do,” he says, stirring his coffee. To criticisms of the process—that New Hampshire is too white and too small, that the first primary ought to better reflect the country—he suggests that “they don’t know America.”
|“I think it’s an honor, I really do."|
By the door, a slow trickle of customers has picked up. Friends and couples slide into seats and make beelines for the counter. Morrissette takes orders on the phone, then whisks out huge plates of food into the space. Across from the Remillards, Ken and Christine Petrin take off their coats and order pancakes and eggs with ham and cheese. They pause before getting into politics, a division that has been part of their marriage for four years.
The Petrins met online, when Ken responded to an ad Christine placed on Craigslist. They discovered they have a lot in common: both have kids and both race cars, on a quarter-mile track that Christine has whipped around up to 100 times. But they’ve never agreed on politics. When they scheduled their wedding for 2016, Ken’s sister-in-law tried to dissuade Christine from marrying him because she thought it wouldn’t work.
“He likes Trump, and I don’t like him at all,” says Christine. “But I think that if you can have different political views and still be in love, that makes your relationship stronger. You gotta love in spite of your differences. ”
Like 42 percent of the state’s registered voters, Christine is a registered Independent, meaning that she could play a deciding role in Tuesday’s open primary. In 2016, she liked Marco Rubio. This time around, she’s on a Buttigieg kick after watching him on “The View.” She says his interest in working across the political aisle is enough to get her vote, at least for now.
Ken, who works at an auto dealership, won't consider a candidate that isn't Trump. He was drawn to the candidate in 2016 for his vow to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico Border, in what became one of his signature campaign promises. He has tickets to Tuesday's rally in the city, and is excited to go.
He's not against immigrants, he says—but they should "come in the right way," despite a stalled asylum system and Remain in Mexico policy that have been called unconstitutional and inhumane.
While cutting his omelette, he praises the economy and points out that he is sitting where Trump sat in 2016, during a campaign stop where he ordered eggs and tried to shut down hecklers. Ken wants to see another four years.
“I like his no-nonsense attitude,” he says. “He doesn’t take any crap. I’m a lot like that. I don’t sugarcoat anything.”
|Shaw on Warren: She’s talking about the issues.|
It’s 20 minutes after eight. At the far end of the counter, political hopeful Ron Shaw has settled into his Sunday morning routine. He’s not here to discuss his candidacy for State Rep. in Manchester’s third ward (although he has blue-and-white cards on hand if he needs them). He’s not here to campaign, either.
No. He has hash browns and sausage links to attend to. It’s the same order every time, served with heat still radiating off the potatoes, and the sausage glistening and crisp on the sides. Only when asked about politics does he speak on his support for Elizabeth Warren, using a near-whisper as if it's a secret.
“She’s talking about the issues of people that are out there,” he says.
In a back corner, Rose and Steve Galla are planning their day, which will start with peanut butter pancakes and eggs with baked beans. Both are retired educators—Steve was a teacher in New York’s hospital schools program and Rose was a school principal—in town to visit their daughter in nearby Bedford. They visit often enough that they’ve become regulars at the diner. Their booth today is soaked in wan, silvery daylight as the morning brightens against the snow.
|Rose and Steve Galla, who have been married for 53 years and coming to Manchester for several of those.|
They’ve come to hear the candidates stump, even though the field may be smaller by the time New York’s primary rolls around in April. Rose is a registered Democrat, most excited about Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar. Her husband is less sure: he likes Bernie Sanders and Warren, but also wants to see what Buttigieg has to say. He’s also not opposed to another four years of Trump.
“Pete is brilliant,” Rose says. “We need someone brilliant in office. He’s not given enough credit for his life experiences.”
“I think Amy is smart also, and not given enough credit,” she adds. “I like Liz. She’s done a good job handling the current president."
Steve isn’t so sure yet. For him, the stock market and the economy play a major role, and seem to be booming under Trump. He’s in favor of the president’s trade deal with China, despite reports that it could slow American economic growth. But he also wants someone who will “help the downtrodden,” and Sanders seems like he could be that guy. He'd like to see Tulsi Gabbard speak, but she isn't anywhere to be found, despite hundreds of "Tulsi 2020" lawn signs and two Tulsi billboards that dot the city.
“I’d like to see Democrats discuss the issues more,” he says.
Back at the counter, Deary and Morrissette are flying through orders. Pancakes, still steaming and fluffy, land at one table with a white paper cup of butter flipped and melting on the top. Bacon and eggs, almost always over easy, land at another with warm buttered wheat toast.
A line has formed by the door: six friends who have driven up from New York, ready to spend the day “shopping” for candidates across the state. Morrissette is balletic: she gets them a seat and flies from table to table with an order pad ready to go. She and Deary work without words at all, squeezing around each other as orders slide out from the kitchen.
At the door, Arlene Geiger scans the space nervously for seats. It is somewhere between 8:30 and nine, and she’s dressed for the sun-zero day—a thermal down jacket, tights, multiple shifts and thick socks for the snow and ice that still cover most of the state. She has a small window of time to eat before she starts knocking on doors for Elizabeth Warren, and it’s shrinking.
A table opens near the front and Geiger slides in immediately with a friend, a fellow campaigner who can’t talk to the press. This isn’t her first political rodeo, she explains while scanning the menu. In 2016, she supported Bernie Sanders. Two years later, she went on to stump for Warren during her campaign for reelection to the U.S. Senate. In between—as Trump was sworn into office—she founded the Upper West Side MoveOn/Indivisible Action Group.
“I like her authenticity,” she says. “I think she really has the compassionate persistence and the policies to really make a difference.”
By the counter, regular Joe Devuono has slipped in, waiting for a seat with his daughter Violet wrapped tightly in his arms. Twenty years ago, he moved to Manchester from Philadelphia for a job and never left. With 48 hours to go until the primary, he still isn’t sure who he’s going to vote for. But he’s sure he’s going to vote.
“I think it’s still pretty open,” he says. “I voted for Donald Trump the first time around. He’s certainly crazy, and he certainly doesn’t act presidential. But I think he’s doing a good job.”
As far as other candidates, he says, he likes Tom Steyer. He can’t put his finger on why, “but I just do.”
It’s almost 9 a.m., and there’s not a seat left in the house. The door opens again. Manchester is up, and ready to eat.