Thursday, August 6, 2009

Waffle House: 9 of 10

The following is from a ten-part serialized essay on Waffle House, initially written in December 2008. A sort of mashup between scholarly musings and personal reflection, this piece may satisfy no one in particular. But I'm happy to share it nonetheless (presuming you don't edit or repackage this piece without my permission). Also, a reminder: these words do not reflect the opinions of Waffle House, San José State University, or any other entity.

I drive and fly and race to perform moments of silent wandering, through memories never personally known...

My own memories are both too vivid and too trite. I prefer the media-and place-based phantasmagoria that is easier to edit, to repurpose, to repackage, and to save or to delete as I prefer. This is my Waffle House, not a locale but a fauxcale, a suggestion of time and character sufficiently evocative to enable meaningful performances but one not so determined as to demand a particular script or provide a means of recognizing which acting efforts are fake [Yep, I hope to return to the concept of fauxcale one day]. In Waffle House, at least late at night, one may wear the façade of insider for the observation of others, and one may then cast off the performance with little or no consequence.

One Last Lie

I promised that I would stick mostly to the truth in this essay, and I think I've done that (again, mostly). My experiences of Waffle House have recalled a series of practice of surface-level encounters with people and places, a fragile artificiality and performance of self. I recall the invitation to submit a manuscript for this volume of essays, the evocative language calling for a series of chapters meant to celebrate meaningful conversations with friends and strangers, those lost hours passing time in a booth or bellied up to the counter as servers banter with cooks and customers. And I knew such writing would not be forthcoming from this traveler [The book never did get pulled together, but I chose to post these reflections anyway].

I've spent untold hours sleeping in airports, wandering malls, touring casinos, and plying interstate highways in a an unfolding project meant to provide some insight into the contemporary built environment, and in my writing I've attempted to parlay thick description and bursts of conversation into a sense of the places that I've visited. But the nature of this exploration, the places I visit and the manner in which I experience them, inspired one trusted reviewer to call me an anti-ethnographer. I'm just as happy to dabble in auto-ethnography. After all, the places I investigate, a matrix of nodes connected by shared purpose and common practice, do not reveal itself to the occupying gaze of the anthropologist but to the passing view of one who observes surfaces and reads signs. Mine is the gaze of a flâneur inclined to distrust deep narratives, a traveler trained to read sudden motions. In that sense, I have told the truth.

But I lied a bit, too.

Part 10 of 10 appears tomorrow.

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