Memories of Denny’s, Jani Lane, and Watching Someone Die on the Inside

Before I get into it, the “I Want You” project is still in the works, with daily rehearsals of the material on all instruments. I should have an update late this week or early next week.

When I lived in Burbank, California, there was a Denny’s about 0.6 miles away from where we lived. I went there with my then-girlfriend, Catherine, and we hated it.

We had gotten used to a specific location, which was roughly 12 miles away. In Los Angeles terms, this is a very long distance.

We would drive there just about every weekend, passing roughly 9 other Denny’s restaurants. We were on a mission to get to the “good” Denny’s.

What made it so good was a waitress named Lawan. She was always on top of things. When we walked in, she knew that we wanted a booth and didn’t want to sit near families or children. She had been with them for about 23 years at that point.

Lawan, sitting with Catherine, reviewing dragon sketches on Catherine’s iPad.

Shortly after we’d sit down, she would show up automatically with two coffees, two waters, and a bowl of soup. My main soup was vegetable beef, and she knew that chicken noodle was a solid substitute.

We never had to ask for any of that.

Quite frequently, while at this Denny’s, we would encounter Jani Lane. Mr. Lane and I met in 1997 at The Concrete Convention, where he gave me a copy of the then-latest WARRANT CD. He was often there with his second daughter, Madison. She and my son would play at the claw grab game.

While the kids played, he and I would be standing nearby, both with dollar bills in our hands, ready for the kids to ask for more. We’d talk about music, but we talked more about life in general.

Jani Lane, front man for WARRANT. I agree with him, that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is by far superior to “Cherry Pie.”

It was fascinating, depressing, and eye-opening to hear him talk about his life. He basically had the life that I had strived so hard to earn, and yet never quite achieved. I’d get close, but never made it. Conversely, he DID make it, and it seemed to have made his life worse.

Ten years ago, on August 11, 2011, Jani Lane was found dead in the Best Western in Woodland Hills, which shared a parking lot with that Denny’s. The cause of death was alcohol poisoning. I hadn’t seen him for at least a few weeks before he passed, and will always wonder if things would have turned out differently, had our paths crossed during that time.

This Denny’s was leasing their space on the lot from the Best Western. When that lease ran out in early 2019, the Denny’s was torn down, and the Best Western got remodeled.

RIP, brother.

Before I get to the last story, this is a bonus one.

This Denny’s had a handicapped parking spot against the building. This parking space aligned perfectly with a booth that I liked. This booth had a high solid back, and on the other side of that short wall was the coffee station.

Every so often, an old person parking there would think they were backing up, but their car was in drive. As a result, their car would crash through the wall and destroy the booth. This happened at least 3 times.

Nobody was killed, but I felt like sitting there was a crap-shoot; some kind of adrenaline-inducing experience. So when I was feeling like taking risk, I would let Lawan know that we wanted to “sit in the drive-thru.”

Lawan was and is a magical server. She’s not too up-beat, and doesn’t seem to let anything ever get to her.

This was not the case for the new girl they hired. I call her a “girl” because she’s under 30. I tend to avoid females under the age of 30, most likely because they still use girly voices, which is annoying, because nobody ever taught them to use their woman voice.

She had to be 22 years old, fresh off the college cheer squad. Every time she would speak, all I could hear was, “V! V! Victory! Var! Var! Varsity!”

It was maddening. She was so perky, always smiling, always bouncing around. I felt an instant and unreasonable hatred for her attitude. This sensation was followed by another thought that quelled the ugly stress I’d feel by her presence.

I should take notes and watch her die on the inside.

It sounds bad, but this wasn’t me wishing cruelty upon her. It was more about me finding out what happens or how it happens when the world breaks people.

This was a curiosity to me, because when I had been using Facebook ten years ago, I noticed that many people I went to school with had changed rather drastically. The ones who used to be fun, light-hearted, and interesting had changed, switching from that to being serious, angry, and hyper-religious.

They effectively turned into the old people they didn’t like when they were young. While I am a responsible adult, I am still frozen in time, at around age 16. The things I did then that made me happy still make me happy. The music and movies I liked are still good. My mix of positive and negative attitudes remains constant.

I did change for the better, by improving on some of my issues related to Autism. But it’s all change for the better. Their change was clearly for the worse.

Every week, we would go back to Denny’s. And every week, I would have my pen and notepad, and would make notes on things that I witnessed that served as clear indicators that she was shedding her cheerleader self, to be replaced by a woman figure of some kind.

Over time, the pitch of her voice toned down. The nasally, heady sound of her voice was rounding out. Her smile slowly faded over the months. Her attitude with customers went from annoyingly perky, to something more settled and mature.

She went from that perky new kid who was going to change the world, to that regular woman with struggles, problems, less perk, and less patience.

One day, I could tell that she wanted to snap at a group of customers. The customers in question were cheerleaders from the high school across the street, Taft High School.

Was she annoyed with them? Jealous of them? This was where my notes began to lose clarity, because some big changes were coming up, and I couldn’t quite predict what they would be.

So I stopped taking notes, but kept observing on a more casual level for TWO years. Every week, we kept going there, as if our week revolved around seeing Lawan. Then, I’d see “our old cheerleader,” and be reminded that this was someone whose progress I was watching.

Over those two years, she did come off as depressed for about 4-5 months. It was like witnessing a pendulum swing. It goes far one direct, then far another. Over time, it will slow and come to a stop in the center.

That’s how I would describe her personality. Centered.

Clearly, situations change us. But all of this raised a bigger question for me. Can I change myself?

The answer is “yes,” although the idea of it being “by myself” is fallacious, for I often utilize the services of therapists to get where I want or need to be. I suppose the therapist only facilitates, monitors, and guides the changes. One therapist I had used a slogan, “The client is the ultimate expert of themselves.”

Good thing I was an expert, because he didn’t know shit.

What was I talking about?

I learned a lot by going to the same Denny’s, seeing the same waitress, encountering the same friend, and eating the same thing every single weekend for years on end.

When that location got torn down in early 2019, I took Catherine to Lawan’s new location, after asking around about where the displaced staff would be ending up.

Lawan gave us the same service, but it wasn’t quite the same. This location was set up differently and was more crowded. Plus, it was in Canoga Park, which is a BIG downgrade from Woodland Hills.

To give it all perspective, here’s a “tourism” video [1 of 2] about Canoga Park.

It is somewhat accurate, yet way too kind.

We had our final coffees, my final bowl of soup, and our final lunches before giving Lawan a big hug for the last time, while letting her know that we were moving out of California.

It was a bittersweet end of an era; the kind of thing that I would never have logically linked to a “good Denny’s.” It was one special location, with one special person who made a difference in our lives for over ten years.

When I stop and think of it, I still miss that Denny’s in Woodland Hills. I miss Lawan and Jani Lane. I miss having soup magically appear in front of me without having to say a word.

But I do NOT miss Canoga Park.

These videos are actually starting discussions in communities and slowly making a difference.

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Published by DrumWild

Writing about drums, music, and philosophy.

2 thoughts on “Memories of Denny’s, Jani Lane, and Watching Someone Die on the Inside

  1. I feel like I already know the good lady Lawan, just from reading what you wrote. Bittersweet tale it be. And it really sad, what happened to Jani Lane. Just like Gary Moore. RIP, Jani and Gary.

    Liked by 1 person

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