Friday, August 22, 2008

Writing about Waffle House

I recently received a call for a prospective anthology of essays about Waffle House, largely to be authored by communication studies folks. I couldn't resist.

Here's an excerpt of my response to the collection of authors gathering for this opportunity:

... I must travel pretty far to visit that southern institution; the nearest outpost to my Pacific coast home awaits in Phoenix.

Still, I will happily make that roadtrip to rekindle my Waffle House memories.

After all, WH was where I first recognized the freedom of the road.

After a 1986-90 tour in the active duty Navy, knowing always during those years what I'd wear, where I'd go, and what I'd do, I found myself taking my first solo roadtrip from Clearwater, FL to Jacksonvile, FL on good 'ol Route 301 [I wrote about some of my adventures during that trip in a previous post about McDonalds sweet tea]. Even at the age of 22, heading for reserve duty in JAX, this trip was my first experience with real adult freedom: the ability to choose my own path, go at my own pace, and stop when I damn well please.

As a confirmed lover of waffles, I was drawn to that trademark yellow and black exterior, right off the interstate, to an enclave of inside patter, knowing asides, and ancient interactions. I knew that I was a visitor to this place, not a denizen.

Even so, WH become something magical to me, a place of both liberating freedom and safe consistency.

Thereafter, I completed undergraduate schooling in Florida and Georgia, and I traveled plenty more miles along the highways and byways of the South, even after I moved to the Left Coast. In fact, our family recently made a pilgrimage to great BBQ spots from Texas to the Carolinas, and we could not avoid stopping at our beloved Waffle House along that journey. There's something that fascinates me about this place that is both comfortably ubiquitous and fiercely local.

So I will make another long drive soon, racing as far east as I must to hang out at WH. There I will write - something.

My research these days focuses on omnitopia. By this term, I refer to the structure and performance of ubiquity as a continuum of experiences that invoke a synecdoche of a world from a single node: modernity as airport, shopping mall, or casino, each a door to the same place.

But what of Waffle House, that singular institution with consistent slang, jukebox tunes, and design? Can this place be fairly termed a node of omnitopia when so many of its interactions are so obviously personal?

I'd like to investigate that question.

At this early juncture, I won't speak of literature reviews or modes of methodology. I just plan to spend some time in one spot that will likely resemble my "first" WH experience. I will drink strong coffee and I will order my hash browns scattered and smothered. And I'll write something that rings as close to truth (or at least some useful facsimile of truth) as I can.

Worst case scenario: I'll produce a self-indulgent and meaningless essay that will earn a polite "thanks, but no thanks" from the editors. A disappointment but not a crisis. Whether this piece sees the light of day or remains an undercooked effort at would-be cultural geography, I'll enjoy some tasty waffles either way.

Learn More

Atlanta Magazine: Waffle House

Waffle House Shrine


detroit dog said...

Hey! Off topic....

There is an article in today's NY Times you might be interested in titled "A Tale of Route 66." Tomorrow's article will be about their visit to Monument Valley.

Have a good weekend!

highway163 said...

Cool! I'll check it out...