Why Is There a Denny’s on the Camino de Santiago?

Wanderlust is invading my dreams. The pandemic shelved six weeks on the Camino de Santiago, but the other night my mind decided to depart without me…

The inn is far enough off the Camino de Santiago to be lightly visited, even at the height of the pilgrimage season, but that is to my advantage, for I seek not salvation, but lunch.

The floor is flagstone. The beams in the ceiling are oak. The windows are leaded glass and lend a graceful distortion to the gentle rays of golden sunlight making their leisurely way through the still afternoon air. 

An old man in a beret sleeps slumped in one corner. His soft snores lend a pastoral feel to the atmosphere.

There are two tables, arranged at opposite sides of the large dining room. I sit in the far one. A middle-aged American couple sits silently at the other. The air between them glitters with the frost of marital discord even as the sunlight highlights their perfectly cut blonde hair.

The old man snores, the couple sits in brittle silence, and nothing happens. 

I watch the sun coming in the window angle across the flagstones. I ponder the grain of the oaken beams. I understand this isn’t Applebee’s, but it has been at least 45 minutes and a waiter has still not appeared. Suddenly one materializes and with much haughtiness delivers to the unhappy couple on ancient, rustic plates what appear to be twin stacks of silver-dollar pancakes, each with a single slice of banana, cut on the bias, on top. 

The unhappy duo is impressed with the presentation. It’s as if they’ve never seen a box of Krusteaz before and the word was actual and not ersatz French. There is no maple syrup, not even the fake shit made from corn, just some fruit preserve that might just be repackaged Smuckers marked up and labeled preserves so that it costs 50 euros a gram.

The waiter disappears once again, giving me sufficient time to wonder what wrinkle in time I’ve slipped through that has landed me in a tapas restaurant situated on the Camino and run by Denny’s. 

And then, suddenly, the waiter is at my elbow, and such is my stomach’s joy at the thought of a bite-sized version of Moons Over My Hammy that I choke on the Pavlovian flood of saliva that squirts into my mouth at the sight of his stained napkin and haughty profile.

No sooner are my hopes raised than they are dashed. 

The waiter has come not to provide me food, but to seek medical care. He holds his left hand in front of him. It dangles red and swollen, as useless as a bloodhound’s broken paw, and I watch his heartbeat pulse inside the angry pustule distorting his palm. Pus seeps from a crater at the center of the swollen mound. 

I would call it Vesuvian if I were in Italy, but I am not. Are there any volcanoes in Spain? I have no idea.

I look around me. The old man no longer snores in his corner. The pancake couple has vanished. Their table is a mess of broken crockery. 

Still, the waiter hovers beside me, his infected hand held out in front of him in supplication. Is this scene an outtake of one of Goya’s dreams? Rummaging in my backpack for a scalpel or a grapefruit spoon with which to lance the boil, I wonder if Anthony Bourdain ever had days like this. Then I think he must have had many worse ones since he killed himself. 

My hand closes around the handle of something cold and heavy inside my backpack, and the alarm goes off before I am able to see what I have found.


© Copyright 2021 by Jim Latham

Photo by Camille Minouflet on Unsplash