As a philosophy major and travel writer, I've had my share of both existential crises and road food. And in all my travels, I've found several great restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops to question your purpose in life while enjoying a quick nosh. Here are a few of my favorites.
Waffle House: A staple throughout the Midwest and South, Waffle House is, to paraphrase Karl Marx, "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation." Plus, you can get your Regulars Club card punched with every meal.
Try the All-Star Special while you consider that we're all just fuel for a giant economic machine that grinds us up in its endless hunger. Man or woman, black or white, the engine pities no one, from the day we start working to the day we die. But I hope you retire early enough to enjoy some of the fruits of your labor, because seniors get 10% off every Monday.
La Bamba Burritos, Champaign, Illinois: Nothing says struggling to understand America's unquenchable gluttony like chowing down on the famous "Burrito As Big As Your Head."
Inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre who said, "If I satiate my desires, I sin but I deliver myself from them; if I refuse to satisfy them, they infect the whole soul," La Bamba serves three sizes of burritos, mini, regular, and super. My favorite is the regular steak and chorizo with sour cream. It satiates most of my desires, but not so many that I can't go back the next day for Taco Tuesday.
Highland Bakery, Atlanta, Georgia: As you enjoy a soy chai latte and Thai peanut salad, gaze into the emptiness where your soul should be, if humans do indeed have one. Trace your fingers over the Friedrich Nietzsche quote you had tattooed on your thigh when you were a sophomore in college: "To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering." And leave room for a pecan roll. They're some of the best in Georgia.
Gusto Pizza, Des Moines, Iowa: Stanley Kubrick once said, "The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning," so you'll love the build-your-own pizzas at Gusto Pizza. Choose from 48 choice and prime toppings, including shrimp, eggplant, and green olive relish.
Ponder the meaning of life and your place in it over a 16" pie with Cajun bacon, pepperoni, Italian sausage, and Provolone cheese. And you can ponder at one of three convenient locations, Des Moines, Johnston, and West Des Moines near the Country Club.
Sprinkle some organic sugar into your cup as you realize this moment is your children's destiny in 35 years. You promise to be more creative as you gaze at the latte art in your cup. But you know your promise will be as empty as the journal that fell behind your nightstand last January 2nd.
Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, Oregon: Marcus Aurelius said "The longest-lived and the shortest-lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing." But when they come to Voodoo Doughnuts, the only thing they lose is their willpower.
Whether you're polishing off the Captain My Captain Doughnut (a yeast doughnut topped with Cap'n Crunch cereal) or the Lemon Chiffon cruller doughnut, you can also be sure you and the longest-lived man won't lose any weight.
But if you want to fill the hole in your soul with food (assuming you believe you still have one), try the Tex-Ass Challenge Doughnut, which equals SIX of their normal doughnuts! And if you can eat it in 80 seconds or less, you get your money back, to replace your lost hope for the world and our place in it.
Note: As Virginia Woolf once said, "It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality," so Voodoo Doughnuts only accepts cash, no credit cards.
You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.