Tuesday, April 19, 2005

April 19 in Savannah and Macon

Today started with waffles. This isn’t that unusual. Most days, at least most days on the road start with waffles. I don’t know who started it. Some enterprising analyst at Marriott, I imagine. He’s sitting at a broad glossy table in a board room, late in the evening, working out the kinks of the Courtyard concept with a handful of recent vintage MBAs. They are working on breakfast ideas, faced with the data that their target audience wants something hot with syrup, faced with the limitation of no chef, no kitchen to speak of. They rack their brains, can’t come up with it. The enterprising analyst leans over and breathes out “waffles”. He pictures a waffle maker laid out on a buffet. It’s well received.

And so first Courtyard, and then all the Marriotts, and then everywhere else, got these waffles. And I eat them. Just about every day. This morning I ate waffles in a non-descript corner of Savannah. It came with diner coffee and juice, and fruit. It was $8.

Hotel breakfasts are essentially all like this. The amount of wood and marble in the lobby determine the price. At the Century Center Marriott in Atlanta, this breakfast is $14. At the Waterford Marriott in Oklahoma City, as woody and marbley as they come, it’s $18.

Lunch was Gyros on a greasy table along River Street near downtown Savannah. It’s a gorgeous city, but right on the edge of the river, it plummets from quaint to tour-bus-bermuda-shorts-t-shirt-shop schlock. It wasn’t bad for what it was, but the environment was vaguely grating. I ate fast, and was relieved to leave.

Only coffee of the day was Starbucks, too late in the day to fend off headaches, but early enough to fend off nausea.

By dinner I’d made it to Macon. Having had the most miserable steak on the planet last night, I decided that I’d go for something a little lighter, and ended up at the Carraba’s just up the street from my hotel. I had a rigatoni and sausage thing, the special of the evening. The very fact of the specials menu made me laugh a little to myself. I think the attempt was to evoke the image of a master chef checking the market that day for the best and freshest ingredients, lovingly coaxing them into some speciality he recalled from childhood. It was in all ways as insulting as the Gyro stand, only a bit more subtle about it.

I was craving something sweet, and spotted a Dunkin Donuts next to the hotel. Dropped in for a Cruller to eat in my room. Bought two. Stale as small, light pieces of cardboard. An interesting match for the hotel room, perfectly acceptable but with the faint trashiness I associate with prom-night rentals.

Everything I ate today was built for speed. Everything I ate was designed to evoke emotion through trickery, at the lowest cost possible. Today, I ate capitalist food, and didn’t mess with the artists. It made me want to cook, to shop somewhere with lots of green things, to explore home, and revel in the retreat of not being on the road. It made me want to pluck something from the ground and eat it, raw and unadorned. Tomorrow I lunch here, and set off for Albany, GA early afternoon. Coffee will be a challenge, but I remain undaunted.

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