At one time, I went to this one Dunkin Donuts just about every week. It was along Route 62 in Bedford, a stretch of winding state highway in suburban Boston choked by strip malls. From the Dunkins, you could see a faceless chain motel down the road one way, a fair sized shopping plaza across the road, another chain motel next to the shopping plaza, some smaller building with professional offices, a car wash. My sister had once been a chambermaid in one of the motels. In winter, when the trees had no leaves, you could glimpse the backs of small anonymous suburban houses. I don’t ever remember seeing any people around those houses.
I used to take my laundry to the laundromat in the shopping plaza. One end of the plaza was occupied by a high-tech company, made into offices and R&D space. On the other side of the laundromat sat a crummy Chinese restaurant, and on the other side of that sat a couple of big-box discount stores. I had no interest in the discount stores and the only reason to go into the Chinese restaurant was to sit at the bar and have one of those huge bright potent drinks with an umbrella, but I never felt the urge to get drunk while waiting for laundry. So I’d walk across Route 62 to the Dunkins.
This was always on Sunday night, because that’s when I liked to do my laundry. I’d sit there at the counter, nursing a decaf coffee, and maybe eating a chocolate honey-glazed doughnut. The waitress wasn’t ever talkative, and I’d usually be the only customer, so it was either read or stare across Route 62 at the shopping plaza. I’d sit there reading a novel, I was trying to read one great novel a week.
One Sunday, there were actually two other guys sitting at the counter when I walked in. They were staying at one of the motels while doing business at one of the high-tech firms nearby.We wound up talking. Actually, I wound up talking to one of the guys, because the other guy spoke nothing but Turkish.
“He really likes Dunkins coffee,” said the American guy. “Coffee is a big deal in Turkey. They grind it really fine and leave the grounds in the bottom, it’s like drinking sludge at the bottom of the cup. Mostly he hasn’t liked the coffee here in America. But he loves Dunkins coffee. We’ve been over here the past two nights.” He turned to the Turkish guy and said something. The Turkish grinned, reached under his stool, and showed me a pound of Dunkin’s coffee. The American guy said, “He likes it so much, he’s buying some to take back to Turkey with him.” After that, they went back to talking in Turkish.
That was the only conversation I ever had in that Dunkin Donuts. Not long after that, I was in the laundromat and some guy walked in, dumped a whole bunch of clothes into a washing machine, and then took off the rest of his clothes except his boxer shorts and stuffed all them into the washing machine, too. We were the only two people there at the time, which felt a little funny. About a month later, I moved into a rental share house with a washing machine and dryer, so I stopped going to the laundromat, and stopped going to Dunkins.
For years after that, I’d occasionally drive past that Dunkins. Somehow that Dunkins managed to encapsulate something about that year of my life and I’d feel this momentary twinge. Vague memories would drift barely up into consciousness as I drove by, but they’d disappear and I’d be quickly past it without ever stopping to go in again.