I went to Destin with a resolution to take a day trip somewhere with my family. It didn’t work out, but that’s ok – I’ll see Apalachicola or wherever else another time. Instead of running ourselves ragged trying to DO THINGS, we played Apples to Apples, went and saw The Hobbit, and went for dinner after. It’s the kind of thing I don’t get to do with them very often, so it made me as happy as anything could have.
In the nineteen or so collected months that I lived in Destin (2.5 summers between semesters; one last chunk of time as I saved money to come here), I burnt myself out on the Waffle House, especially once I started boycotting Walmart. If you don’t drink*, there’s not much else to do after 10 pm. So, rather than become even more familiar with the tile pattern of the living room floor and the early-2000s of HBO, I went to the Waffle House. In high school in Illinois, it was that or Denny’s. What I’m saying is that we go way back.
I have never seen the construction of a Waffle House. I imagine them sliding whole off the back of a truck, pictures, jukebox, staff, and thin napkins already in place. Or they may spring up fully formed from a spore, like a mushroom. All I know is that they were designed at one point, perfectly made, and that there has not yet been a perceived need to revisit that design.
I’m inclined to agree. I think there’s a goodly amount of redesigning for the sake of appearing new that goes on right now. But why mess with perfection?
It goes like this: two scrambled eggs, raisin toast, extra jelly, scattered and capped hashbrowns, and a chocolate milk. Salad with chicken for the rest of the family. It has been like this for YEARS.
(Our waitress, friendly but incredibly new, forgot the chicken on one of the salads and brought it over separately on a plate, once we were all done eating. The rest of my family, omnivorous in a way I’m not, partook of the pile of chicken bits like some kind of poultry communion.)
In the absence of meaning, we accept routine.
Destin is made of sand. I couldn’t dig roots deep there, for that and a hundred other indisputable reasons. We moved there when I was eighteen, though we’d gone there on vacation a couple of times when I was growing up. But most of older Destin is gone.
So this is where I revisit the past.
This, and their jukebox.
It’s gone digital now, but the important stuff is still there.
I haven’t heard any of these songs. I don’t need to. And YouTube didn’t help; looking up Waffle House on there brings up only Jim Gaffigan and a shocking number of “EPIC FIGHT IN WAFFLE HOUSE” videos.
I’m glad we don’t have them up in Seattle. I wouldn’t go there, same as I don’t go to the IHOP. It’s unnecessary. But I like these oases, and I’m pulled to them in the same way I’m pulled toward truck stops and other shrines to convenience, denuded of any pretense, their grace found in function.
It is always about 60 degrees inside, and the windows are almost always opaque with what I will charitably maintain is fog. And inside, it is always, always the same.
*I didn’t really at the time, even when I was of age, and I still don’t drink anywhere that I don’t feel at least 90 percent safe and comfortable, feelings I do not associate with this town.