Sunday, April 22, 2018

Dispatch from a Waffle House in London, Ohio

I woke up late this morning. I barely remember silencing the alarms on my phone except for the fact that I did it multiple times. I’m not sure if I forced myself to get up too early with not enough sleep or if I’m not sleeping well at all. I’m not really wanting to go to a doctor to find out. I should probably just go to bed earlier on a consistent basis. Nevertheless, I can usually wake up with no issues on days where I’m excited to do something other than go to work. Yet, here I was, scrambling to get out the door facing the usual time based anxieties, but a different destination. 

I turned 29 yesterday. It was a good birthday with wonderful people in life. I didn’t take off work because it was a Thursday. Instead, I opted for the Friday after and the chance to have a day to do whatever I wanted, an extended weekend.

I had two options in mind.

I could spend the day writing, working on projects, maybe go out and shoot photographs or go for a long bike ride. I tried that last year, though, and I just ended up doing the normal stuff: getting distracted by the internet, Netflix binging, feeling like I hadn’t made the most of my time.

My other option was to take a road trip. Nowhere in particular, just get out and get away for awhile. As my birthday came to a close, I still wasn't sure if I wanted to head out. Laura reminded me that I was now in the last year of my twenties and should make the most of it. I wasn’t going to jet set off to an exotic location or anywhere too exciting, but I figured it was worth it to do something different.

So I found myself waking up late, hopping in the car, and chucking routine as I disabled my email and tried to ignore most text messages. Rather than try to keep eating right and track calories, I decided today could be a day to splurge. Had I left at 7:30 a.m. like I planned, I could find some interesting roadside diner or a truck stop known for great steak, eggs, and conversation. But it was 10:30 a.m. and I was burning daylight, so McDonald’s it was. Not eclectic, unique, or interesting, but delicious nonetheless.

My trip almost came to a quick end when a truck in the suicide lane started backing up as we waited to turn left for McBreakfast. The repeated horn blasts didn’t deter him and thankfully the surroudning traffic eased up enough to let me escape. He seemed surprised when I presented a hand gesture that reflected the expletives I was yelling out the open window. I ordered some hash browns and breakfast burritos as well as one of the imitation Starbucks-style coffee drinks that some McExecutive believes lifts his fast food empire to same level as the fast coffee empire. I’d have to pass the truck driver again and maybe I could toss it far enough to hit the side of his cab. He was gone when I pulled out, though, so I drank half of the crappy, whipped cream topped coffee.

As if I was really going to try and beam him anyways. He had just made a mistake and I truly just wanted coffee.

I took to the highway and went looking for some “long lines” towers. I’ve mentioned them on here before and I’ll get to more detail in a further story, but they’re essentially a series of defunct communications towers throughout the entire nation and pretty common. I made it to the first one, snapped a few photographs and then had to let real life intervene for a bit.

I needed shoes and being near an outlet mall off the highway, I had the chance to accomplish a task from normal, adult life and save a few dollars.

- Freedom flies at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Jeffersonville, Ohio.

I grabbed a pair of shoes and then opted to get “Dippin’ Dots Ice Cream of the Future” from a vending machine as lunch. Several kids walking by had requested it from their parents, but were denied. I had the freedom to spend my own $3.50 for such a treat, an advantage to being almost 30, but not feeling like it.

I sat on a bench, listening to the outlet mall’s dulcet tones of Taylor Swift and Kool & The Gang while people milled about the rural mall arguing over which discount store to visit next. I grabbed one more pair of shoes, the deals a stronger desire to pursue at that moment than returning to the road and wandering.

I backtracked to another tower, made some photographs and then let Nate know I was finally on my way to Columbus. A couple podcasts later and I was pulling up to his house as we made our way to go grab a drink.

The 94th Aero Squadron sits outside of John Glenn Columbus International Airport’s barbed wire, but between the two runways. It’s outside patio and windows provide a good view of takeoffs and landings while the restaurant itself is themed to a World War One or World War Two military outpost. The imitation artillery, jeeps, and P-51 Mustang out front are a little worse for ware and one part of the building either collapsed or has been detailed to look like its partially bombed out from an enemy attack. A patio sits where the fake bombs once dropped.

The inside seems like it could fill in for a German themed restaurant, but the decorations on the walls are geared towards honoring the folks who fought the Germans. We were the only customers in the hour we sat there sipping beer and catching up. The place felt a bit isolated, surrounded only by an airport and dense trees, tucked away from the traffic we had fought to get there.

If you pretended the commercial airliners were warplanes, it’d almost feel like you were sitting on a military base in a classic World War Two film, rather than a hidden suburban theme eatery. We left the warm windows and sounds of aircraft engines to get to the main thing I wanted to see that day.

“The Continent” was (and still somewhat is) a mixed-use development that predated modern “lifestyle centers” by a few decades. It's living a much different existence than intended now.

Nate and I walked about the imitation European apartments and the shuttered doors of “The French Quarter,” suburban Columbus’ cheap imitation of the New Orleans point of interest. Like the aforementioned "long lines," The Continent has a story of its own on the way, one I only started to understand amongst the peeling pastel paint, dried up water fountain, and movie theatre that we couldn’t determine was active or not.

I dropped Nate off, we said our goodbyes and I snapped some frames on my way out of town. A few arrows for another future “arrow collecting” series and a shot of the skyline.

There was just enough light left in the sky to maybe go searching for one more tower. I punched in the GPS and hit the highway with the windows down, rolling them up as I was reminded that despite it being late April, it still wasn't exactly Spring. I made it with just enough time before the sun finally faded.

The GPS directed me to stay on US-42 for about thirty miles. I didn’t think that sounded right, but I figured what the hell. It couldn’t hurt. Maybe I’d find something interesting on a road that ultimately leads back to Cincinnati, before I ditched it for the Interstate that gets me to the Queen City much quicker? I didn’t see much of anything worth stopping for, a reminder of the times I used to shuttle between Athens, Ohio and home about ten years ago. I hated those drives. Their monotony, one of the destinations at the end of them.

I kept the music off and tried to force myself to reflect. On the day. On aging. On life in general. There’s always a solemn feeling I get at the end of these road trips, no matter how long, no matter how rewarding the destination or trip has been. You feel lonely, you start to hate the rural roads in the dark. 15 minutes feels like 15 hours. Today, though, I didn’t really find that feeling. I could feel it creeping up a bit, but it ceased when I saw a Waffle House. Not mine, but one just like it.

I pulled in, grabbed a low counter seat, and ordered from the staff who seemed overwhelmed. I didn’t know any of the faces like at the one back home, but I recognized the hallmarks of regulars sipping coffee and telling tall tales of their past exploits.

“Oh, what a night!” One server said struggling with a trash can as the crowd subsided. “I’m gonna play that song in a bit!” She added to no one in particular.

The hash browns were cold, the omelette a little undercooked, but nothing too bad. The staff started shaking the silverware in the dish, trying to clean between waves of customers and I started writing this down. It was a good day, a good trip.

As I wrapped up my writing, The Doobie Brother’s (Edit: I overheard someone say it was by The Doobie Brothers, it’s actually Frankie Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (thanks, Paul)) “Oh, what a night” began eking out of the jukebox, the server outside enjoying a cigarette, only hearing the muffled version of the song she played.


  1. Road trips--always a good choice. I love the Madison/Fayette County area. So beautiful & peaceful.

  2. Ronnie, love your posts! But one minor correction....Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons sang Oh What a Night....

    1. Oh shit, you’re right, Paul! I shouldn’t have trusted the person I overheard haha.