Originally published Jan. 31, 2005 in The Daily Reflector | (c) 2005 Cox Newspapers, Inc.
If you picked the right booth in the dead of summer, sharp bits of exploded June bugs would pelt your skin like errant clipped toenails, ricocheting into your coffee. The wing dust of electrocuted moths would have you doubting the powdered sugar coating your fresh jelly-filled.
Our lives are filled with beacons, different lights at different times. And as my moody days at J.H. Rose High School drew to a close and I took to haunting the ECU campus like some Beat-era reject, it was the sinister blue bug death-light at the original Krispy Kreme that repeatedly beckoned me. I would sit in the rundown doughnut joint late-nights after leaving my retail job, one medium coffee, cream-and-sugared beyond reason, in front of me, pretending to study and listening to bored city and campus cops amid a symphony of sizzling insect demise.
Everybody has that place in their hometown that in retrospect begins to seem like the town itself. And it’s funny now that an all-night cholesterol palace with sweeping fingerprint smears on its pocked windows and weathered wooden tables carved with often physically impossible propositions and “Reggie + Jess = For-Ever!” should have come to occupy that place in my memory.
When people talk now about the old Krispy Kreme, they usually mean its first life at its second location, on the corner of 10th and Charles streets, where the third incarnation still stands.
But I mean the place two KK generations back, a half-block down from the long-gone Crow’s Nest. That first Krispy Kreme building would later became a paint store, and then a vacuum-cleaner hospital. It now sits empty, 40-ouncer beer bottles littering its leafy parking lot.
In retrospect, the dilapidated little hangout had what only a true believer would call charm. Hot in summer, cold in winter, with cramped, under-cleaned bathrooms reached by narrow back alley. And that bug-murder light, ever a-blazing.
But what it offered, in the wee hours, was a glimpse of this town’s otherwise underlit neon world, with refreshments included. Unkempt sorts would wander in and press upon you hand-written pamphlets foretelling an impending Rapture while 20-somethings with pupils the size of saucers attempted to navigate a simple sentence.
When Krispy Kreme moved to its current location, I had grave doubts. The bug-burner light: unceremoniously retired, and replaced by big, red Hot Doughnuts Now signs. The bathrooms: inside, and clean. The temperature: comfy. And the graffiti-carved tables had gone the way of impervious Formica.
But I made my peace with it: Coffee, and doughnuts. 24/7.
When I moved back east last May after nearly six years away, I knew what the hand of progress had been up to. I’d seen the change in other towns, where new KKs had sprung up like the weeds that had once flanked the original Greenville location’s vastly cracked parking lot. My old haunt was newly renovated.
The look is happy 1950s kitsch, family-friendly, bright. It’s a look that’s sent the Double K on an expansion spree wending as far away from its North Carolina home as, well, Hawaii. (When I think hula-girls and Don Ho, I now think chocolate glazed with sprinkles).
Not all that long ago, a guy in line with me at the Greenville KK said, “Boy, don’t you wish you’d bought stock in this company? I sure missed the boat on that one.” This was literally the third time I’d heard this said in a Krispy Kreme in recent months.
And then the KK doughnut bubble burst. Company stock took a big bite; the Double K had spread its dough a little thin. But don’t discount another sweet glaze of success for Krispy Kreme.
Jesse Cannon, a dearly departed friend who invested early in Coca-Cola, said to me once of the soft drink: “It’s just sugar and water. How wrong can it go?”
I say this to you: Coffee. And doughnuts. Sure, it’s no Enron, but then again …
Witness: I met Stew and Alice King, from near Oriental, visiting the local KK Thursday morning.
“We’ll travel anywhere to get to a Krispy Kreme,” Alice said.
A box of a dozen glazed sat open between them on their spiffy little round table with Space Age-y chairs – four doughnuts to eat, and eight to take home and freeze for microwaving later.
“When it’s a hundred-and-twenty-mile trip … “ Stew said
“You don’t eat just one doughnut,” Alice finished for him.
They made a special point of getting to town to coincide with that Hot Doughnuts Now sign ablaze, proclaiming in red neon the warm, sweet rewards within.
It’s no blueish bug-death glow, sure. But I guess any light’s a beacon if it calls you home.