When I first got out of high school, I didn’t want to go to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do (and in many ways, I still don’t), but I knew that I wasn’t ready for more school. So, I entered the work force.
I had a crappy job. I worked for a newspaper (Gulfport’s The Sun Herald) in the back room. We were the last stop before the news papers went to the drivers. We put the advertising inserts into the papers (using giant machines called, oddly enough, inserters) and divvied up the bundles.
I worked nights. I could get time off to see shows. It was a life.
Before I started working there, my friends and I would hang out at the local IHOP to all hours of the morning drinking coffee. When I got the job, just around the corner from this IHOP, I would pop in before my shift and pop in afterwards. Without fail, someone I knew would be there – regardless of the time.
I had a large crew of friends and acquaintances and IHOP, along with a couple of other places, was our meeting place. It was the common denominator in our lives. Some of us listened to the same music. Some of us read the same books. Some of us went to the same schools. Few of us shared many traits. All of us shared IHOP.
What’s weird within any large group of friends that exists in a relatively small area (at the time, as the casinos were just getting started, Biloxi and Gulfport together had, maybe, a total population of 300,000 – 350,000 people), is when someone enters the group, who everyone else seems to know, but you’ve never met.
It happened. Not too often, but it did. One night I popped in after a particularly short shift at work and found someone new at our regular table. I didn’t know her, but several of my friends obviously did.
I’m not sure what attracted me to her at first. We started talking and just hit it off. She had lived in the area before – graduated from Biloxi High with some of the crew and moved out to Arizona with her mom to go to school. Things didn’t pan out there and she moved back to the Coast.
We talked more and made plans to see each other again.
We got married about a year and a half later.
Every time we went to the coast, we made a habit of stopping into the IHOP, at the very least buzzing the parking lot just to reminisce. Unfortunately, a very large storm hit the coast almost exactly one year ago. The IHOP no longer stands.
It’s sad that we no longer have that building as a physical reminder of our early days. But it’s refreshing in that while a building fell to a monstrous storm, our relationship has endured through its own turbulence. I mean, the flotsam and jetsam of life’s storms is a necessary evil and it’s refreshing that our port in these storms is the relationships we hold dear. Not something as fleeting as a coffee shop.
Oh, the storm took out the Denny’s too.