It was slightly after 11. The hot doughnuts had just come off the conveyor belt, soft and glazed, to be gathered up by women we could see, through a glass partition, working in the huge sugary baking area. Twice a day -- from 6 to 11 in the morning, and roughly the same hours at night -- this happens at the Route 1 Krispy Kreme franchise: The hot doughnuts glide down, the women bring them out, the round red "Hot Doughnuts Now" light goes on outside, and the people come through the door, so many people it's hard to keep track, some of them stuffing whole doughnuts in their mouths, and others, like the woman beside me, her fingernails painted an unusual maple color -- much like doughnut frosting -- eating theirs in spooned-up pieces. There are many vices these days that right-thinking people have sworn off, but somehow a soft hot doughnut is enough to make the most health-conscious forget their oaths. Catty-corner to me was a trio of twentysomethings deep into gym talk, saying things like, "Do you feel any soreness in your arms?" as they tucked into warm concoctions consisting, largely, of fat and sugar.
People come to the Krispy Kreme for their own reasons. I know a man who proposed to his wife at that formica counter, as well as a woman who enjoyed a pair of doughnuts with a close friend who soon would succumb to a chronic illness; though they did not know it at the time, the Krispy Kremes were one of the last foods he would taste. I come in part because I am a native Southerner, and as a Southerner I grew up with Krispy Kremes, which we sold, door to door, as children, and which my friends and I also knew as the sponsor of an eccentric local children's television show starring a man named Cactus Joe and his sidekick, Little Bitty Pete, a midget who also worked as a dispatcher for the Virginia State Police. I come because doughnuts bring back a very specific set of memories, but also because they give me an excuse to drive Route 1. -- By Liza Mundy