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Growing Up at Denny’s

November 1, 2018

Who woke up this morning with a sugar hangover? Those are the worst. But hey, I stuck to my plan. I ate one bite sized Butterfinger, one bite sized Baby Ruth, and one bite sized Nestle Crunch. Oddly, the only one of those I did not regret was the Butterfinger.

Dang, that’s good food science. And the bite sized Butterfingers are the best, because they have the highest ratio of “chocolate” to whatever the heck that is on the inside of those things. Seriously, I have no idea how you would even define it. If only we had some rock star pastry chef like Greg K. around to tell us the name of the French technique for transforming sugar and fat into a crisp, multi-layered biscuit.

… I’ll wait…

Dammit Greg. Where are you? Ugh. But since we’re just coming off candy night, I thought it would be a good day to follow up on last week’s post about the impossibly sweet pancakes from Denny’s. If you don’t remember, those were the ones that come with a pitcher of warm salted caramel to pour over them.

Amazingly, the caramel sauce was one of the very few things that wasn’t made with soy.

I have no idea how much Denny’s has changed from the late 1980s until today. But I used to spend a lot of time there. How much time? Well, if I were to go looking for my wasted youth, the first place I’d check would be between the seat cushions of a booth at Denny’s. And somehow, after all these years of blogging, I haven’t written anything about it at all.

So, here it goes.

When I was a teenager, the popular kids would spend the weekend going to parties. I know this, because I went to one of those parties. Once. A fellow I knew at school was somehow holding four cans of beer in his two hands, with the intention of drinking them all. Everyone seemed to be drinking, being loud, and causing a ruckus. The cops showed up. Kids ran to their cars. Everyone drove off to the next party.

I drove home. This totally wasn’t my scene. It wasn’t fun. I had no interest in beer or drinking to get drunk. And as a studious kid who was deeply concerned about my permanent record and getting into a good college, the idea of risking an encounter with police was entirely unappealing.

Fortunately, my group of close friends felt the same way. But it can be a challenge to find a safe space, late at night, where you can hang out without spending a lot of money, when you are under 21 and don’t want to drink anyway.

In a true and meaningful way, I owe a great debt to Denny’s.

This is where we would go. Invariably. Because when you’ve got a tight knit group of friends, you don’t need booze to be social. You just need a place to sit, talk, and enjoy each other’s company.

Long long nights were spent over bottomless glasses of soda or cups of coffee. Sometimes there would be food. Maybe a basket of french fries for the table. Perhaps a middle of the night breakfast. If you were feeling flush, there might be an order of Moon’s Over My Hammy. At some point it’s possible there was pie. Amazingly, I had no curfew, so I could stay out as late as I wanted, and since Denny’s never closed it was always a great option.

Sure, sometimes we would explore other places. Back in the day, when Airports were more open to visitors, that was always a great spot to go and people watch. Especially late at night.

If it was earlier in the evening, we might go someplace else inexpensive where we could hang out for a while. ADS always had a thing for the Sizzler salad bar and the cheese toast. But despite his enthusiasm, I could never really get into the place. Bowling was often crowded. And there are only so many times you can walk around the mall before you lose your marbles.

Denny’s, on the other hand, was universally accepted. Especially as the evening wore on, everyone was having fun, and nobody wanted to go home. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say it was loved. Because while it wasn’t terrible back then, nothing was really great.

However, while I may not have loved the food, looking back on it I have nothing but affection for the place and the memories.

They say, “You can never go home again.” And while it may be trite, it’s true. The Denny’s of today feels somehow soulless and sterile. Maybe that was always the case, and I just didn’t see it with younger eyes. But growing up in Miami, we didn’t have the great old school diners of the northeast.

We had Denny’s, and we made the most of it. Thank you for the memories.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Emily Lang permalink
    November 1, 2018 12:32 pm

    I had a very similar experience at Waffle House. Cheap and open all night, it was the only alternative for those of us who didn’t drink or do drugs in Ohio. Movies ended at 10 and we didn’t have curfews until midnight.Waitresses didn’t make much money from us, but always welcomed us in. I love the idea of diners being safe spots and gathering places for every age, race, and religion. I think blueberry waffles from the Waffle House could even be the starting point for peace in the middle east.

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