Monday, September 30, 2019
A love letter to the International House of Pancakes
The waiter at IHOP gathers silverware and a menu after I nod.
“Nothing wrong with that,” he says as he leads me to a booth. “I’ve said that to at least one person every shift. Ain’t no shame in taking yourself out to eat.”
I doubt he knows that I’ve been to IHOP on my own more often that I’ve been here with other people. I do some of my best writing in IHOPs. And I’ve got a 750-word blog entry due by 11:59 tonight, so to IHOP I came.
There’s this small, mature voice inside of me that whispers irritating things about sugar consumption and the fact that I haven’t had a green vegetable in probably a week. I’ve got everything from frozen lasagna to steamed broccoli at home, which would have been both cheaper and healthier, but the atmosphere of home isn’t as ideal for writing.
Another waiter seats a couple a few booths away from me. I listen to the man order for the woman he’s with and I’m filled with feminist irritation.
“Yeah, she wants a Belgian waffle, and two scrambled eggs. And she also wants a hot chocolate, but could you not do the whipped cream on that?”
Oh really, Rob? Are you counting calories for her, too? What a controlling asshole. Look man, I know your type. Narcissistic, manipulative, misogynist punk.
When I see movement, I look up. The woman is returning from the bathroom, and takes a seat across from the man she came in with.
Oh. Never mind. He was ordering for her because she asked him to. Call off the feminism troops. It’s okay. Apparently, I’m a little easily triggered when it comes to gender relations.
I’m sitting underneath a speaker, listening to it blast music that reminds me of being a freshman in college. Not that it’s playing music from 2004, but it’s playing the kind of music that I was listening to in 2004. Jet and Bowie and The Cranberries and Weezer.
The waiter brings my food. My usual—Swedish crepes and a side of ham. I branch out sometimes…pancakes or French toast or a waffle. But there’s something pleasant about the ritual. The sharpness of the lingonberries and the sweet umami of the ham. Enough taste to be enjoyable, but not so much that I’m distracted from whatever I’m writing.
I suppose this is my version of a room of one’s own. This is my own gateway to “Cheyenne, Wyoming,” or whatever you want to call the place in your head where you go during deeply focused creativity. A room that’s different from the room in which I sleep, or the one in which I sit and watch TV, or make dinner.
All day today I had planned to go to a coffee shop to write. Sugar House Coffee or Greenhouse Effect. But when it came time to leave, I didn’t want the cozy artistry of a coffee shop, with hip young people chatting and vaping. I wanted call center employees and middle class retirees chatting in slightly sticky booths. I didn’t want the inspiring. I wanted the pedestrian.
Even if “the pedestrian” means a waiter stopping by the booth every four minutes to ask if “everything still tastes all right.” Yes. Thank you. I don’t look up from my screen as I answer.
I think of all the other items on my “to write” list at the moment. Scripts and poems and marketing emails and social media posts and text responses. I think of the rest of my “to do” list for tonight, for the week, for the month. There are a hundred other things I could be doing tonight. But there’s something really satisfying about just sitting in this IHOP, two empty plates next to me, my FitBit off my wrist so that I can type.
I wrote at least half of my Master’s thesis in IHOPs. I’ve written rubbish scripts and good poems and a couple of really good essays. One journalism piece. And a good handful of blog entries. And now a handful plus one.
This might be one of those pieces of writing that’s more process than product. Something I can treat as an exercise, rather than a finished work. Consider this your peek behind the curtain. It’s really just an ode to a lower middle-class breakfast restaurant chain, to the outdated music and wise-cracking waiters and lingonberry crepes. But I hear that David Sedaris spent a lot of his time in IHOPs in his twenties, so I feel I’m in good company.