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On Hash Browns and Buicks: The 1992 Roadmaster Limited

MSRP: $25,560 (as tested $3,300)

Engine: 5.7 liters, fuel injected, 190 horsepower, 300 lb/ft. torque

There are 2,100 Waffle House locations in the continental United States, with the clear majority of them sprinkled liberally throughout the southeast. It is impossible to drive down any meaningful stretch of I-10 or I-20 in either direction and not pass several dozen of them conveniently beckoning to you with their familiar signage and architecture.

Waffle House has not, to my knowledge or according to Google, ever won a single Michelin Star at any of their locations. They do not regularly take reservations, but, thanks to some clever marketing and heads-up branding, will accept them on Valentine’s Day. They have a frequent diner’s club card that will send you promotions and coupons for those who frequently find themselves at one of their locations, which are as far north as suburban Toledo, Ohio, and as far west as Glendale, Arizona. They offer a menu for breakfast and a separate one for lunch & dinner, although their full menu is available upon request. I’d tell you what’s on them, but, if you can conjure up any or every stereotype of an American diner, you already know.

If you’ve never been to one, frankly, that doesn’t matter.

Using nothing but the power of your imagination, you can see, smell, and taste exactly what this Regional House of Pancakes has to offer in terms of stereotypically Southern cuisine. Hell, it’s right there in the name. Waffle House is not a pop-up Noma or Thomas Keller property that’s drowning in critical acclaim for adventurous eating, accessible only by reindeer-pulled sleighs or squirrel suit or sailing yacht. Waffle House is predictable, safe, and a staple of disaster recovery footage whether it be tornadoes or hurricanes due to an unbelievably well-constructed supply chain and good old-fashioned buy-in from their employees.

If you were to have someone from any other country in the world with zero context or understanding as to what American culture is about, you could take them to any one of their aforementioned 2,100 locations and let them absorb and intake what Waffle House has to offer and they’d have a roughly 97% understanding of what we’re all about and what we’re dealing with.

And, if you wanted to get them to the full 100% immersion, you’d drive them there in a 1992 Buick Roadmaster Limited.

The Roadmaster, designed in the 1980’s for the sophisticated (according to the ad copy - this is not actually true) American luxury car buyer (again, that’s ad copy, and only sort of true, but mostly it is not). It was a body-on-frame dinosaur, one of the last of the species that had front row reserved seating for the meteorite that ended their one-time seemingly unchallenged dominance of the planet. It is nearly 18 feet long, seats six comfortably on two bench seats, and has the sort of fit and finish that makes that “luxury car” claim a prosecution-worthy offense.

This wasn’t a car for marketing consultants and whatever the 1990s version of a social media influencer was. This car is simple – you could walk into a Buick dealer without any knowledge of the car, take a hard glance at it, pick a color or two, specify leather or velour, and, with exceptional confidence, know exactly what you were getting.

The Roadmaster – and by the same token, Waffle House – is simple in both concept and execution. And while 1990s American cars and cuisine don’t often get high marks for complexity or subtlety, simplicity means that this effort isn’t half-assed or temporary.

The engine is understressed – 5.7 liters of displacement putting out 190 horsepower means it’s dead slow but cockroach reliable even with the expected deferred maintenance. The steering wheel angles the front wheels both left and right at varying degrees as specified by the driver’s inputs, and that’s basically everything that can be said about the handling. The suspension feels like it’s been tuned by Novocain and Enya albums, but over a decaying infrastructure and rural roads, or for someone who has to consume several hundred miles over the course of their day, it’s downright welcome relative to some of the more exotic washboards we find ourselves in from time to time.

If you’re convinced that you must take a trip from New York to Los Angeles, the right answer to “which car should I take?” is always “the one you have”, followed shortly by “something fun” and “something comfortable”. But if you wanted to indulge and maximize your cultural experience, you’d do it in a Buick Roadmaster. It’s bulletproof, simple, and Springsteen cassettes don’t sound this good coming out of whatever Bang & Olufsen system you’ve got optimized for your car. Proper Americana: scattered, smothered, covered, chunked & topped.

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