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Zen and the Art of Doughnut Day

A reflection on pastry and perseverance.



There are three ways to approach a situation in which the length of time you spend waiting on something is inversely proportional to the value of the item on which you are waiting.

Let’s say, a doughnut that sells for $1.20 plus tax, but on this National Doughnut Day, in my case at Duck Donuts in the Shops at Willow Lawn, will be given to you at no charge with the purchase of a beverage, in my case a large coffee that goes for $2.35.

Approach No. 1: Run the calculations.

“I drove all the way from Short Pump for this?” a woman gripes to the person next to her. It perhaps is a good-natured attempt at humor, one of those stabs at bonding with strangers that everyone makes to ease difficult circumstances, like getting stuck in an elevator, or facing an emergency landing in an airplane, or enduring the garter ceremony at a wedding reception. Or it could be that she’s been sapped of her will to live through the rest of her Friday. I didn’t ask.

Was her drive worth it? Mapquest determines that the ride from Short Pump Town Center to Willow Lawn is 9.41 miles. For a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon on gas selling for around $2.69 in the Richmond area, that’s a cost of $1.01, plus wear and tear. If she drove for work, and was being reimbursed by her company at a 37-cent mileage rate, one current standard, the expense amounts to $3.48.

Add the $1.20 doughnut and that’s a free $4.68 right there.

Approach No. 2: Bail.

The doughnut fryer moves at its own pace, disdainful of your next appointment. The movie in your head plays in ultra slow motion, a bead of sweat falling, falling, like time’s standing still, a cinematic second-hand on the clock that’s ticking with a thumping echo.

The crowd closes in. There are two kids in pajamas. Retired couples. Guys in gym shorts. Two recent college graduates who realize they were both dance majors and what do they do now and isn’t that something. Workers dressed for work, likely gathering an excuse for being late to their morning meeting. A woman on a cell phone talking about bills. People taking pictures for their Instagram accounts about how they bought a doughnut on National Doughnut Day. Writer thinking about an essay on National Doughnut Day. Man outside in a chair, striking up a conversation about the unseasonably cool weather: “It’ll be nice when June gets here, huh?” Construction workers passing by, a jovial mother with two toddlers, one crying. Lots of murmuring about which order number you are, with knowing looks about how long you’ll wait. Optimistic new arrivals, “Oh, this doesn’t look too bad!” That bead of sweat finally hits the floor like an Acme anvil on Wile E. Coyote.

Those are the people who leave, dejected and doughnutless, with only a beverage in hand. Quitters.

“Boys, there ain’t no free lunches in this country,” goes the quote from legendary executive Lee Iacocca. “And don’t go spending your whole life commiserating that you got the raw deals. You’ve got to say, I think that if I keep working at this and want it bad enough I can have it. It’s called perseverance.”

Approach No. 3: Create value.

If you’re investing time in waiting on a $1.20 doughnut, the only way to make it more valuable is in the wait itself. There is something to be said about letting your mind wander into a state of serenity, and maybe especially on National Doughnut Day.

The Buddhists might call it mindfulness. Presence. Being. We are told to live in the moment. Find peace amidst the swirling chaos. Let the doughnut fryer not frustrate, but mesmerize. Stare at it. Get lost in the batter falling into the oil. The slow flip, the cooling racks. The graceful hands of a 51-year-old behind the counter, spreading the pastries with glaze, sprinkling with toppings, filling the boxes. She is on her second cup of coffee, she says. That is how she is getting through this. And smiling.

“Mom always said smile and the world smiles with you,” she says. “We hated it, but it stuck.”

And she hands over the doughnuts, 54 minutes after my order is placed. “All good things arrive unto them that wait — and don’t die in the meantime,” Mark Twain writes.

And maybe that is Approach No. 4: Stay alive.

I am alive. I have a doughnut. And a gift certificate for a bucket of 18 more — at no charge — which a gracious Duck Donuts employee has handed out to the ones who stuck with it.

Free doughnut, indeed.

I haven’t eaten mine yet. I’m saving it for later.

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