You know how sometimes you pick up on something that people just mention to you in passing that really has nothing to do with you except that it serves as some sort of giant metaphor you didn’t know you were searching for? Or shit. Not even that. Because she didn’t even mention the doughnuts directly to you. It was just an FB post.
Enter the doughnuts.
In my hometown, the boulevard is barely recognizable to me. I mourn the loss of businesses I’ve never stepped foot in. I’m still angry about bad aesethetics of businesses that have been there for years now but cropped up after I left town. Hey new and old business owners. SPEND MONEY ON SIGNAGE. Fastest way for us to look like the third world country we are is your cheap signage. But I digress.
When I was traveling in Eastern Europe (okay CENTRAL former Eastern Bloc) I was conscious of trying to get to places before there was a McDonald’s on every corner. In Budapest, where I’d been lost trying to find the one vegetarian restaurant I’d heard of, I turned a corner and came face to face with Dunkin’ Donuts. It annoyed the fuck out of me. I was too late. Unnecessary capitalism had already begun the takeover. Later on that day, someone tried to pickpocket me, but I already felt taken.
It is a struggle in so many places to remain and look distinctive when the encroachment of sameness is everywhere. When we were kids, my grandmother used to send boxes of See’s Candies to us in Augusta, Georgia along with Knott’s Boysenberry Preserves —because those were things you couldn’t get in Georgia. It made those packages true treats and true experiences of food and wonder from home.
Now you can get anything from anywhere at anytime –which is to say–you can’t get anything of any heart felt value anymore because we’ve insured through our greed and encroachment that everything remains the same. And Knott’s is now owned by Smucker’s –the jam only one trashy step above the kind that comes pre-swirled with peanut butter. What will rival gangs fight over when their neighborhoods are identical? What difference is there in property values if nothing has value?
Or am I just old fashioned and conservative in the truest sense? I don’t want my trees cut down. I don’t want my mom and pop stores to vanish. The march towards sameness makes me less empathetic to humanity –is that its intention? So that when I hear about tragedies I’m numb?
But I digress.
They talk about urban food deserts where one can’t find a vegetable for miles. But as important as survival of the body is survival of the mind and spirit. Whittier is on its way to becoming a soul desert.
In Whittier, on Whittier Boulevard, all the old car dealerships are disappearing. I have no idea if this means people are driving less, buying less, or if they all moved to more affluent places now that Whittier Boulevard and Friendly Hills feel like a shadow of their former selves? The Whitwood Mall across the way used to house the Broadway with all its wanna be upscale glory. Now it has a Target and a Kohl’s. I think that’s socioeconomic commentary enough.
I hailed from below the boulevard but above Santa Fe Springs and that distinction in its day meant my grandparents were solidly middle class. Their house, sold twice since their departure hasn’t moved but is now in a lower middle class neighborhood. The house next door –once owned by a meticulous family of cops–now has a car parked on its lawn.
But I digress because this is really doughnuts to dollars.
On the boulevard near where the old Music Plus used to be–down the street from where the Polly’s Pies is now a vacant lot, was the Arbie’s with its big giant hat neon sign. I never ate there. Actually, I don’t know anyone who ever ate there , but it managed to stay there for decades of processed beef glory. That Arbie’s is gone and in its place is a Dunkin’ Donuts in a spiffy clean new building with a drive thru window and it’s opened late into the evening and it will succeed.
But it wasn’t necessary.
In the suburbs, portions are big and sugar flows superfluously from all directions. People greet the world belly first out here. It is who we are; it is how we say ‘America.’ Portions are obscenely large for no discernible reason. It is completely unnecessary for us to have another venue for coffee and doughnuts yet here it is. Because of Dunkin’ Donuts my students and children will never spell doughnuts correctly. Thanks.
On the FB page of a friend of a friend of mine, I first noticed the new business. She was happy to see it in Whittier. Like somehow this was adding something positive. She didn’t share the feeling I did that Whittier was rendering itself just another suburb to pass through on the way to something bigger, better advertised on a bigger billboard– signifying nothing.
My best buddy Matthew had doughnuts the other day. He said despite his usual healthy breakfast, that he felt obligated to support their efforts. I cringed for a moment. What had happened to my friend? Supporting Dunkin’ Donuts?!
And then I realized where he purchased them.
Behind Dunkin’ Donuts on Whittier Boulevard, in the ugly stripmall that largely sells unnecessary party favors of sameness so that all elementary school kids can have Frozen Elsa parties that look exactly the same, is a doughnut shop that’s been there longer. In that same stripmall, is J K Donuts–a mom and pop doughnut shop whose doughnuts are no better or worse than Dunkin’ Donuts–however JK was there first.
Matthew doesn’t really eat doughnuts but bought them out of heart: “Dunkin’ is going to kill them; I just figured I’d support them while I could.” He, like me, appreciates when someone tries to do something for themselves–even if it is in an ugly strip mall–even if it is an uphill battle.
And that got me thinking about Whittier and my friends in general. My friends–my heart & soul friends– will always be the one helping the pointless and the fatal. They are always the ones lending support in spite of the uphill battle. I don’t have to mention this to Matthew. To be us is to know these sorts of things intrinsically without explanation. And I need to remember that despite Whittier’s increasing anti-intellectualism and punk rock demise (no more real bookstores or movie theatres and Lovell’s Records is a shadow of its former self despite my happy pleasure that it’s at least still there), and its march towards lower socioeconomic suburban sameness it didn’t have to buy into–Whittier gestated—well, us. I like to think we turned out pretty okay.
So there it is. A tale of two doughnuts. If you have a chance to catch up on your obesity in the new year, check out JK Donuts on Whittier Boulevard with the bad signage behind the bright shiny spanking new corporately perfect Dunkin’ Donuts. I’m sure as we race towards mediocrity, it will soon be gone.