Homemade donut shops are a big thing in the rural West. If a deteriorating town along the back roads has any business, it’s probably a donut shop. And not a squeaky clean and bright national chain like Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donuts, but usually in an abandoned laundromat or ex-burger joint. I’d been driving past them for a week.
After my night camping in Goodlett, Texas, I stopped at my first—for coffee. It was dark and empty of people except the clerk. Surprisingly, he was a Cambodian. He explained to me, in a still thick Asian accent that his aunt in New Orleans owned the shop, and he managed it. His one employee came in at 2am to make the donuts, then left by 9am. He came in at 6am to run the counter. He could make the donuts, but didn’t like it, and certainly did not like coming in at 2am. Most Western donut shops close at 2pm, his favorite thing about the job.
I wondered how he felt, being in this lost place, so different from his home. He told me there were maybe 4 Cambodians in the town, and he missed home. He urged me to visit Cambodia because it was so lush and beautiful. Quite unlike the dry and barren Texas panhandle.
A car beeped at the drive-up window. It must have been a regular customer, because the manager handed her a ready-made box, the size of a giant pizza, with at least 2 dozen donuts of different colors, toppings, stuffings and shapes. I asked him if he ate donuts.
“No, they’re very unhealthy. Asians eat fresh vegetables; healthy food. Americans eat the wrong things, they only eat food from cans, no fresh vegetables. So they’re fat and sick.”
“Well, I’d say you’re contributing to that aren’t you?” I asked.
“I don’t care, they eat what they want, but they should know better.”
I paid for my coffee, and he handed me a neatly folded paper bag. “Something for your trip,” he said with a smile.
It was six glazed donut holes. I thanked him with a smile and wished him the best. Out in the van, I tasted one. Greasy, sickly sweet, gummy. I pulled into the Walmart at the edge of town—the one that had obliterated most of the local businesses on Main St. I needed a bottle of super-strength bug remover for my windshield—a necessity after a couple days of deep South driving. The donut holes, despite the kindness of the donut man, I slipped quietly into the trash bin out front.