IHOP: A different kind of travel story

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, by now you will have realized that I might have pegged myself the modern day Charles Kuralt.  Always with an itch to get on the road and experience life in different places and record my impressions and discoveries.

This next story began on the road as well.

A couple of years ago around this time of year, after work on a Friday, my husband Anders and I we were feeling spontaneous and set out for a road trip down to the Gulf Coast.  At this time, we were driving an older Chevrolet Tahoe.  Just south of Atlanta, we noticed the steering column acting a bit rigid making it very difficult to turn the wheel.  Anders took an exit off the interstate and coasted into an obscure and tucked away International House of Pancakes (IHOP).  We figured we could sit down, get some coffee, a little bite to eat and hopefully come up with a plan for the car problem and this quick getaway trip down south.

Around 8:00 p.m. we drove right into this IHOP parking lot, almost as if we were being led there.  The IHOP was different, it was by no means one of the more ‘modern’ IHOP restaurants.  The building was A-framed and looked like a ski chalet or Bavarian house.

We parked the car and when we got out, I clearly remember the air seemed thicker, almost like the door was difficult to open and when I stepped outside from the car the feeling in the air was just altogether different.  I also recall hearing a sound when I opened the door, almost like a swishing sound, like I was leaving one place and entering another.  A sound of clear distinction.  If you have ever watched The Wizard of Oz and listened to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon simultaneously, you would remember when Dorothy opened the door and entered Technicolor and “Money” was playing.  It was like that, except I didn’t hear Pink Floyd.

Walking into the IHOP was not by any means a new experience for me.  I’ve done it many times before, as a connoisseur of breakfast foods filled with sugar, I’m not above an IHOP good time/cheat meal.  But this was different, from the moment we walked in on a somewhat chilly October night in Georgia.

First of all, there were not many people in the restaurant, maybe four other patrons, but all eyes were on us from the moment we strolled in.

I began to notice, the décor of the restaurant seemed extremely outdated.  I know many of these restaurants, depending on where in the country you are, appear old and as if they haven’t been refurbished in some time.  But this place, seemed completely left behind.  From every corner, there was a macrame plant hanger, lots of bubbled art work in the shape of fruit and underneath each shape, the name of the fruit was written, wallpaper that was glossy and shiny, almost like contact paper we would put on our school books when I was a kid.  And every single song that was playing was from the mid-1970s.  I distinctly remember the song that was playing when we sat down at our table.  It was “Brother Louie” by Stories.  This song was popular two years before I was born. I had a cross-body bag around my torso and my cell phone in my hand.  The woman sitting at the table across and down from me, couldn’t keep her eyes off of me and especially my cell phone, which was by now sitting on the table.

Pretty quickly, the manager and the cook both came out to chat with us and provided us with menus.  It seemed odd.  That never happens.  They seemed overly interested in us.  It was a little unsettling at first.  The manager was dressed in black pants and a polyester blend button down shirt with a butterfly collar. The shirt was sort of a pink color.  To my knowledge, it was not a restaurant uniform for IHOP.  I don’t remember what the cook was wearing, I seemed to recall a blue apron, but that’s all I remember.  The manager guy was very interested in us, asking us both all sorts of questions.  Mostly, he wanted to know where we were from.

We told him we were from Atlanta.  “No, really where are you guys from?  I am originally from Belarus. It is safe, please tell me where you both are from,” he pleaded. Anders, who is originally from Denmark, let out a chuckle and said “Oh, that’s what you are wondering, you picked up on my accent. I am from Copenhagen, Denmark originally but I’ve been here in Atlanta since the mid 1990s.”  This guy had a look of utter shock on his face which I did not understand.  He turned to me and asked me where I was from.  I wasn’t sure what he was expecting to hear.  My answer wasn’t going to be exotic by any means.  I certainly didn’t want to upset the man, who seemed shocked and confused, but I also didn’t want to lie.  “I am from Savannah. Originally,” I said in my more ‘Atlanta’ accent.

This man asked us a few more questions and pointed to our phones often, asking, “this is new? No?”  and “what do you do with this?” These questions about our phones seemed odd, but I also thought it was possible he just didn’t have a smart phone yet.

We ate our meal and drank coffee rather quickly, mostly because with the game of 64 questions, we were beginning to feel uncomfortable.  As we were leaving, Anders paid via credit card and the cashier let out a sigh and got out a huge flatbed credit card imprinter with carbon copy paper.  I hadn’t seen one of those since I was kid.

Leaving the IHOP, we got back into the car.  When I closed the car door, I heard a loud clap.  Almost like there was thunder, but I never heard it again and I saw no lightening in the sky.  I remember the parking lot was poorly lit.  We left and drove down the street to a QuickTrip.  There we got some power steering fluid and just decided to drive back home, by this time it was 10 p.m. and being unsure of the safety of the car, we decided against the spontaneous holiday.

Driving back to Atlanta, I turned to Anders and said, “I think we just came from the year I was born.”

Completely perplexed by this experience, we still to this day are unsure what happened.  Did we time-travel? Was there a break in the space-time continuum and we experienced it?  If anyone reading this has ever had a similar experience and maybe has a better idea of what they may have experienced, please share.

It’s also completely within the realm of possibility that Anders and I walked into an old IHOP with outdated décor and piped in music from the 70s channel on Pandora and very odd employees.

Anything is possible.