An IHOP opened in Congress Heights three days ago. Normally, this would not qualify as big news. The International House of Pancakes isn’t exactly a place of culinary wonder; its slogans are either corny (“An American Icon”) or sad (“This is My IHOP”). The sorriest thing in the world isn’t John McCain‘s new ad featuring Britney or Fox’s morning show. It’s this video of a marriage ceremony performed at an IHOP. IHOP is no Original House of Pancakes (the best breakfast place of all time).
Still. The pancake/crepe/T-bone joint is the first major sitdown to open up in Ward 8 since forever. Or long before Barry used the ward’s council seat as his retirement fund. Zing! So Ward 8 finally enters the world of food—huge, huge portions, low, low price—made for old people and drunks.
The CW is that IHOP is a greasy spoon made somewhat depressing by the embarrassingly-named deals, super-sweet concoctions (it’s latest being an apple-cobbler-themed pancake special), and the fact that you must be hammered to consume such products. The food seems created by incredibly stoned evangelicals: wholesome turned vaguely unwholesome.
These are food stuffs mainly inhaled during the hours of 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. It’s dark outside and lonely inside. You only go to IHOP when you’ve struck out for the night. You aren’t getting laid. Fuck it, you go to IHOP, your drunken stupor made correct with eggs, sausage, bacon, three buttermilk pancakes, and bottomless coffee.
That was the Old IHOP.
The New IHOP is located on Alabama Avenue SE just inside the Camp Simms Giant parking lot. The New IHOP is bright, warm, inviting, clean, and boasts 37 cheery employees for every customer. The New IHOP has Karen: The Most Dedicated Waitress Ever.
Karen was our server.
When Karen approached our table, she glowed. This was her second night, she told us. Thank you sitting in her section, she told us. She is very excited, she told us.
My source I was eating with offered a nervous smile to all her replies. After she gave us our bottomless sodas and iced-Ts, she smiled some more. You guys ready, she asked.
My source wanted to know why she was so excited.
“I’m alive,” Karen said and then took in a deep breath proving she was alive.
“I want something without eggs,” my source told Karen.
A challenge. Karen likes a challenge. Karen took a seat next to my source. Together, they flipped through the menu. It took forever before my source settled on the top sirloin. Then Karen explained the complicated sides: salad, garlic bread, three different kinds of potatoes (or was it two?), the vegetable of the day, maybe a soup. This tutorial took a lot more time.
But Karen was a trooper—-equally breathless discussing the soup, salad, garlic bread, potatoes (she suggested the seasoned fries), and the vegetable of the day. With our orders complete, Karen left us with a promise. She wanted to tell us a story about herself.
We couldn’t wait. Really. We couldn’t wait. Our food took a while.
We end up nagging Karen for her to reveal her story. Into our second and third rounds of sodas and iced-Ts, Karen was ready with her story. My source—a 17-year-old kid—was so excited he secretly recorded it on his cellphone.
Karen’s story had no arc, no beginning, middle, end. It was more a simple statement. Just because it was just a declaration did not make it any less dramatic or thrilling or eye-popping. Karen told us this waitress job was just part-time, that she had a regular full-time gig. But she always, now here’s the dramatic part, wanted to work as a waitress, to be in front of people.
This is what you get she said, before letting her hand slide down her body. This is me and I am yours, Karen said.
Karen then thanked us and told us our food would be out soon.
After our meal of starch and protein and 47 sodas and iced-Ts, Karen brought us our check. It had been her 10th or so visit to our table. Karen’s reasons for these trips included bringing hot sauce, napkins, more sodas and iced-Ts, and making sure we were OK.
Karen came close to making me feel not OK. Especially when she produced one last round of sodas and iced-Ts with our check.
As we were walking out, Karen ran toward us, calling for our attention. At the entrance, she offered up a cheery thank you. Then Karen took a bow.