Every suburb has one: that late-night, bad-coffee refuge of shift workers, frustrated poets and bored teenagers. Zim's. Lyon's. IHOP. In my suburban hometown, it was Denny's.
I recently drove past the Denny's of my youth in Corte Madera. Except it wasn't there anymore. The building remained, but the illuminated rooftop sign was gone. From across the freeway, I could see discolored patches on the roof and walls where the cheerful signage had long beckoned passersby to get off at the next exit and come on in.
In my teenage years, I probably spent more waking hours at that Denny's than I did at home, especially on weekends and during the summers when curfews were relaxed and setting an alarm clock for the morning was unheard of. Denny's wasn't a place I ever planned to go to, but I always seemed to end up there. It was open. It was cheap. There was nowhere else to go. And most of my friends were already there. Countless times, I eavesdropped on conversations over the bathroom stalls only to realize that I recognized the voices.
My friends and I gorged on chalky milkshakes and oily grilled cheese sandwiches. We learned how to hang spoons from our noses and build French fry sculptures. We slipped logo'd coffee mugs, long-handled spoons and ashtrays into our purses. We drank a lot of coffee, and then wondered why we couldn't get to sleep.
Although I hadn't set foot onto Denny's faux tile floors for 20 years, I liked the idea that generations of bored teenagers after me still haunted those brown vinyl booths. But suburban teenagers are different these days, or so I'm told. A friend recently complained that she couldn't find any high school students to babysit, since they all have internships and too many extracurricular activities.