Let me tell you about some pizza I had a few days ago in Atlanta. You know, Atlanta, the capital of the old South with all its antebellum charm, savory fried chicken, collard greens, and iced tea so sweet you can feel it carving cavities in your teeth before you even gulp it down.
Well, actually, Atlanta has changed a wee bit in the last century or two.
This pizza restaurant we visited, for example.
First of all, there were two polite and uniformed valet parking attendants to greet us when we arrived. Clearly this wasn’t going to be a quick, little Domino’s takeout nor a warm, old world experience at some cozy, family-owned, Italian eatery.
No, “O Solo Mio” wasn’t playing on the sound system when we walked in, the walls weren’t covered with faded paintings of old Roma and Milano and Capri, and we didn’t spot any faux statues of naked men or women.
No checkered table cloths, either.
And the person who greeted us at the door wasn’t some 75-year-old guy named Luigi or Aldo. Instead, it was a very efficient, attractive, 30ish African-American woman who showed us to our table where she presented us with….an iPad.
That was our menu. This was the Atlanta of 2012.
It was all really simple. You just glanced at the pages, chose the pizza, appetizers and drinks you wanted, clicked a few buttons as though you were ordering a book from Amazon, and then waited for the waitress and kitchen staff on the far side of the restaurant to receive your digital order.
So high tech, so efficient, so….I don’t know, cold?
The atmosphere: brightly lit, high ceiling, exposed pipes, shiny steel and glass, ultra modern fixtures. The huge walls were painted an off-white and on them were projected full-volume singing performances of Adele and I don’t know who else, but they were definitely loud and hip. Does anybody use the word “hip” anymore? I mean, besides me.
Anyway, this whole experience was very hip and I was feeling very much a part of 2012 while I and my companions were eating some palatable but unexceptional pizza.
So clearly the message here was, “Our food’s not great, but we sure have a cool presentation!” Does anybody use the word “cool” anymore?
A couple of days later, I drove south and outside Valdosta, I stopped at a Waffle House just off the highway. “Hello!!” a middle-aged waitress shouted at me as I walked in the door.
I sat at the counter and watched as seven servers, cooks and dishwashers constantly bumped elbows and reached around each other in their limited working space. Two of them even exchanged nasty words at one point but for the most part, they were friendly, and they all took care of their jobs seemingly oblivious to the curious and entertained eyes of us customers.
And I’m guessing their names were Bobbie Jean, Emma Lou, Slim and Bubba.
I consulted my menu which also served as a place mat, and then shouted my order across the counter to Emma Lou.
Thirty seconds later, a steaming cup of coffee sat in front of me. Four minutes later, my scrambled eggs, hash browns, and sausage patties had arrived.
The food tasted just the way it had 20 years ago, the place looked the same. Hell, the people looked the same.
There’s something pretty comforting about that although I’ll grant you it’s not particularly hip. I’m also guessing that Emma Lou has no idea what an iPad is, and furthermore, couldn’t care less about it.