James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Breakfast to Banish the Indignities of Modern Travel

A Breakfast to Banish the Indignities of Modern Travel

Biscuits in Atlanta

Our plane landed in Atlanta after an overbooked cross-country flight. I felt like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz as I reached for my bag. I hadn’t moved in six hours because I make it a point to stay seated on an airplane. Unbuckling my seatbelt and navigating over strangers, wailing babies, flight attendants, and crushed pretzels to reach the airplane’s stinking bathroom, and then pee while four people hover outside the accordion door, is one of the greater indignities of modern flight. I sit stoically at 36,000 feet, willing my bladder to contain itself.

At the airport I rode two trains and fast-walked to the car rental counter ahead of other people. I looked at my watch. It was past midnight, and the friends I was staying with were waiting up for me. I texted “In the car rental line!” and shuffled my bags ahead as the line moved.

“We’ve got a minivan—that’s all we can give you at the rate you paid,” the guy at the counter said. But I had booked a compact car, I explained. He looked at me and shrugged a shoulder. He didn’t even bother to shrug both shoulders. I alternated between sympathy for this man’s graveyard shift and irritation that he could, if he wanted to, give me another car. I reminded myself that traveling in an airplane and renting a car remain a rare privilege and that I should be happy right now. This is how people have fun, I kept telling myself.

“I took a moral stand on car rentals and I’m going to another counter.” I texted my friends, this time with a hard period and no exclamation point. I dug through my bag and found the remnants of blue corn chips in a bag. My stomach was jet-lagged and made whining sounds, still on another time zone.

I arrived at my friends’ home next to a Baptist church after 1 a.m. My brain and my belly were warring, both of them depleted and tired. My brain won and I fell asleep.

The next morning we went out for a Southern breakfast at The Flying Biscuit. I ordered a biscuit with eggs and gravy and subbed in fruit for the side of grits. When the waitress slid my breakfast in front of me, I finally relaxed. This green plate felt like home, a safe and sure thing I could depend on. The biscuit was fluffy and the gravy was a comforting shade of milky white, speckled with spicy black pepper and bits of chicken.

I finished off the last bit of biscuit and we paid our bill. The sun was bright and poured through the oak trees that lined the street. A plane descended toward the airport as we walked, and in my mind I rooted for the passengers—you’re almost there.

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