It was late and the day had been long, but we wanted to be with each other even longer. And we were hungry — extremely, extremely hungry. Sundays in the newsroom for the past two years have been both amazingly fun and incredibly exhausting, and January 15 was no different. Justine, Jun, Greg, Priya and I were the last warriors of the newsroom after a harrowing day, and the only balm that would fix our battle wounds was pancakes.
The IHOP across from John Wayne Airport is the closest one open 24 hours and it might be the saddest place on earth late at night. We walked into the profound silence of a handful of tired travelers spread throughout the restaurant, bringing our own special brand of fatigue: delirium. We told stories about our Christmas breaks and laughed so hard and so often that Greg (the loudest person alive) told us we should be quiet. I’d like to believe that Anselmo, our fearless waiter, made it to the end of his long shift with a little help from our good cheer.
Over a month later, after we capped off months of work and put together our Throwback Issue, we found ourselves back at the sleepy IHOP with our ranks greatly increased. There’s something about achieving goals with a group of people that makes you want to be near them — camaraderie thrives with shared stress, I suppose. Yet again, Anselmo took our orders and put up with our high volume conversations in the center of a near empty restaurant. It wasn’t the first time the New U felt like family, but it felt more tangible in that moment, like a portrait above the mantelpiece I could point to when people stepped into our world.
Over the course of the next two quarters, we found ourselves there after production days on a somewhat frequent basis. Every dinner saw me with my legs folded up underneath me, back bowed as I leaned over steaming cups of hot chocolate or coffee, laughing at how Michael Chin pours syrup, making fun of people’s orders and falling comfortably into a wide variety of conversations. In the broader scheme of my year, I’ve bonded with my fellow editors in a million different ways, but these dinners have a sepia-toned warmth to them.
Breakfast is a wholesome meal. Eating a hot breakfast at a table full of people is an American myth, one that we all wish was a part of our daily lives. It’s a meal in which every item served is a comfort food. Between our IHOP dinners, trips to Pancakes R Us, breakfast burritos from Lucky Boy and the Denny’s we tracked down in Monterey Bay after spending a night in the forests of Big Sur, I’ve had real breakfasts with this newspaper staff more times than I’ve had it with almost every other living human.
On the Saturday night before our last production day, a few of us went back to our quiet IHOP where we supped on French toast, pancakes, eggs and hash browns for what may be one of the last times. Anselmo bustled around between the tables, bouncing up to his with his usual smile. After he took our drink orders and left, I asked the table at large if we’d ever had a waiter other than him. We hadn’t.
Maybe that speaks to why I value these times with my friends so much: consistency. As a fifth-year, I spent this year with a constant awareness of the clock running out. In a time when nothing felt certain, the New U felt constant — like a place to come home to … a figurative table to gather family around to break bread.
When I look back on college, I’ll look back on these breakfast-dinners and they’ll probably be greatly exaggerated in my memory — maybe I’ll tell my kids that we did this every week or that we went later than we actually did. Regardless, they will be a part of the lengthy definition I’ve written about my youth.
When we were reminiscing about our breakfast tendencies, wondering why we found ourselves bent over stacks of pancakes so many times, I jokingly said, “Maybe we always eat breakfast because it reminds us that we’re in the breakfast of our lives.” But really, I guess it’s true.
We’re in the fragile beginnings of our adult lives, the time we can most benefit from the constancy of Anselmo’s friendly service at our usual IHOP. This is the time that will set the tone for our next steps into the world. And for me, I’m starting off on the right foot.
So here’s to the next step. Here’s to graduation. Here’s to brunch.