(written and posted in 2002)
It was one of those places we jokingly swore we'd never set foot in.
Yesterday, though, Barbara and I paid a visit to one of the very citadels
of maya, the new Krispy Kreme doughnut shop at The Willows, Pleasant Hill,
At least we didn't go to The Willows just for that purpose! No, we had
shopped for groceries at Trader Joe's. As an afterthought, on the way out,
I decided I wanted to try a cup of Krispy Kreme's coffee.
Walking toward the newly-built structure, I experienced a kind of
bizarre parody of the approach to a pilgrimage site. The Krispy Kreme
building has features that bear a humorous and absurd, though (I hope!)
unintended resemblance to an eastern Samadhi! I also had the strange sense
that as we walked toward the building, we weren't getting any closer. The
edifice dominates the immediate landscape in such a way that, had it been
designed for a more "serious" purpose, one might call it "mythic".
The "doughnut mecca's" architecture included, for me, bizarre visual
reminiscences of the real Mecca's Kaaba, Egyptian temples, even Baba's
Samadhi, with small cubic structuresminus the Tomb's religious symbols, of
courserising from each corner of the roof. Another feature of the white,
rectangular building that reminded me of a colorful Indian temple is the
trim that runs all the way around the perimeter, just below the roof, in
several brightly-colored lines.
Amused to be walking toward something that might have arisen out of a
Roald Dahl novel or a fairy tale, we finally reached the transparent glass
door and went in. I was struck by the degree of chaos inside. We quickly
realized there was no way to get a cup of coffee except by queing up in the
rather long doughnut line, and I was quick to assert to Barbara that I still
had enough integrity to go elsewhere, rather than waste our time waiting.
That was when we spied the doughnut factory! Behind a clear glass wall,
to the right of the line, and with a special "observation deck" so that
children can get an even closer look, dozens of little blobs of dough were
making their way along a metal conveyor belt, part of a shiny system of
gizmos that brought to mind Henry Ford, Rube Goldberg, a clock's insides,
and, again, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", all in one glance.
Ravel's "Bolero" might be an appropriate sound track, as the pieces of
dough plop from an even more arcane mass of metal trays, rising and falling
by means of gears and pulleys, into a bath of boiling oil, then "climb" up
onto the conveyor belt and are moved ever forward in the enexorable process
of becoming a doughnut.
No holes were observable in the doughnuts while they lay on the trays,
and then, suddenlyvoilaat a certain point, holes! Part of the marketing
genius of the Krispy Kreme people is the inevitability of lively interaction
among customers watching such spectacles as they wait in line. Barbara and
I, for example, joined with people behind and in front of us to try to
ferret out exactly where, and how, the holes appeared. (I suppose the
appearance of the hole demarks the "doughnut form" from the "pre-doughnut
Anyway, at a certain point along the conveyor belt, the doughnuts enter
a sort of Niagara Falls of thick, white, liquid icing. Barbara and I had
recently seen at an airport pastry shop, the memorable figure of a woman
whose entire job seemed to consist of one-pointedly slathering Cinnabuns
with icing. I guess her job is history, or soon will be.
After the icing bath, the doughnuts roll along a little while longer,
before handlers either box them, place them in a display case, serve them to
customers, orin another spark of marketing geniusgive them out randomly
to the children, and even some adults, waiting in line!
What may be indescribableyou may just have to go and see for
yourself, if you dare,is the way watching the doughnut factory in action
makes a sort of idiot out of you! The whole process is mesmerizing!
Doughnuts, on the one hand a "forbidden fruit" of which none of us are
ever supposed to partake uninhibitedly, also represent a simpler, fairy
tale world, where "a little sugar makes everything better". The rhythm and
the shininess of the machines makes you feel like you're watching
"something". What you're watching is, in fact, practically *nothing*!
As Barbara remarked, the doughnuts Krispy Kreme puts out are mostly
air, with a little bit of sugar, flour, and grease from the oilnot much
more than a titrated "essence" of doughnut. Like one of the other
ingenious companies of modern times, Coca-Cola, the Krispy Kreme people
manage to create an aura of mystique around a product that is practically
nothing at all, and what little it is totally lacks nutritional value.
Barbara also pointed out that the '40s and '50s music playing inside the
doughnut shop takes one back to the days before nutritional labelling and
awareness were common.
I used to live in Myrtle Beach. Krispy Kreme was an old, southern
doughnut (the company uses that spelling, not "donut") company with three
stores in the Grand Strand. They were greasy, dirty places with no mystique
at all. I would occasionally stop there for coffee when I was driving my
In the past decade or so, some marketing genius has gotten hold of this
rockbottom company and made it the most "chic" thing going. There's still
"nothing to it", but Baba says there's literally Nothing to ANY of Illusion!
In fact, Krispy Kreme is an obvious metaphor for Maya itself.
I'll say one thing, though. Barbara and I had a great time standing in
line, talking with other folks, watching children whose faces lit up with
every bite of their doughnut and whose wide-eyed observation of the factory
put them in every bit as much a fairyland as at Disney World. Children also
delighted in wearing the paper Krispy Kreme hats they received as "favors"
that double as free advertising.
If there's any "moral" to this story, it might be: BUY STOCK IN THIS
(note, two years later: who would know the country would be overtaken by
Atkins, South Beach, and other low-carb diets? Krispy Kreme stock plunged
45 % this year!)