Fifty years ago, it was the smell of warm sweet dough fried up and made throughout the day that brought lines of people in to this small chain of New England coffee shops. While waiting in line you could glimpse the back room and watch dough being mixed in silver vats, then placed onto trays to be shaped, frosted and decorated. If lucky, your favorite variety will have just run out with a warm, steamy batch quickly on its way. Now the sugary deep fried carbs, all grease and glaze are packaged in a factory in a limited amount and shipped in each morning lasting only until they are sold out. But the pink and orange styrofoam cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, watery and weak but oddly still good are worth a trip in once in a while. By mid day there are no long lines in this small town coffee shop, only scattered patrons running in and out and maybe a few people under florescent lights sitting quietly in a white, sterile emptiness. The workers keep the smell of anti bacterial cleanser wafting from the floor and tables by regular cleaning throughout the day in this 2014 FDA approved iconic chain and where there remains a kind of packaged nostalgia. The DD logo appears on billboards, TV, at sports events, its counters found under bright lights at train stations and airports, tucked away in the back of late night convenient stores. It has become a big business and has grown its presence across continents and oceans, staying current decade after decade, coffee and donuts, plus… the familiar colors flash. And still alive, the memory of crowded tables, counter and stools, Sunday mornings and families after church, a dozen donuts, the parking lot filled, teens, motorcycles and Hell’s Angels, a cup of coffee for 60 cents, a cardboard sign with a hand held out, the weekday rush of businessmen and woman, policemen and workers on break, busy and well lit late nights. And retired old men sitting at the counter with an endless cup of coffee poured into a real mug. No one noticed the cigarette butts dropped on the floor, half swept up but still scattered under their feet. Or all the cigarettes in hand with smoke trailing up, mixing with the smell of hot coffee and fresh donuts made ‘round the clock.’
My husband and I pull into the strip mall to get a cup of coffee. It is one of those late, blank afternoons that seem to come at the end of summer, no longer linear but laying on its back, as if time were trying to stand still for a moment. Around the back of the building next to the dumpster, there is a worker on break wearing a hooded sweatshirt. I watch him as he flicks his cigarette and enters the donut shop.