Want Your Eclipse With a Side of Greasy Hash Browns? This Professor’s Got You Covered

August 11, 2017

Riffing off of a Twitter joke, a U. of Georgia professor charted Waffle House locations in the path of the August 21 solar eclipse.
On August 21 light from the sun will be totally eclipsed by the moon in a narrow path across the United States. At Waffle House, a chain restaurant in the South, cooks will presumably still serve eggs sunny side up.

A map plotted by Jerry Shannon, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Georgia, charts Waffle House locations in the eclipse’s path. Mr. Shannon created the map to riff off of a Twitter joke, poking fun at the different maps devised for fans of the solar eclipse. He made the map in about an hour with the help of NASA’s Earthdata visualization tool, he said.

While the map was inspired mostly in jest, Mr. Shannon said the attention it’s gained speaks to the power of maps — and the popularity of Waffle House.

Mr. Shannon, who also has an appointment in the university’s department of financial planning, housing, and consumer economics, spoke on Friday with The Chronicle about picking the Southern chain for his map, and how he orders his hash browns. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. What did you expect when you were doing the map? And what did you learn?

A. In terms of expectations, I study food access, and I’m used to working with store-location data, and that was one reason I chose Waffle House. Having lived in the South, I think it’s a really vital part of the Southern landscape, everybody has been to one, everybody knows where one is.

The expectation is that people would find it kind of interesting, and it might get some attention. The goal is on Twitter and other social media, especially as an academic, is to try to engage to build relationships. You try to get to know other folks, and maybe you haven’t connected with or have similar interests, in this case, doing geovisualization kind of stuff.

My expectations going in are maybe there’d be some connections that would get made. It’s definitely gone a lot further than I thought. There’s something about this map in particular, probably because Waffle House occupies such a kind of unique thought in Southern life, that a lot of people really had liked it and shared it.

Q. When deciding what restaurant or store location to map, was this the first one that came to mind, or did you want to pick something regional?

A. Something that you know people will respond to. There’s other Southern chains — a couple of options are Chick-fil-A or Krispy Kreme. All are based in the South, and people can connect to them as part of Southern culture, but they don’t have the same resonance I think Waffle House does, in part because they’ve expanded more nationally. And there’s something about the Waffle House locations, in particular, that is uniquely Southern.

I grew up in the Midwest, so when you come down here, one of the first things you notice is that these stores are everywhere. When I have family or friends come to visit, it’s one of the main places they want to try out while they’re here.

Q. What’s your favorite item on the menu?

A. Usually I’ll just get eggs, bacon, and hash browns.

Q. Do you do smothered, covered, or chunked?

A. The big question is how do you want your hash browns. I do usually smothered, peppered, and capped. [That means his hash browns are ordered with onions, jalapeño peppers, and mushrooms.]

Q. Tell me about seeing all of the different eclipse maps pop up. Have you learned anything different from those maps as well?

A. There’s been some really interesting takes on it. I mean, there was the original Sasquatch map, there was the UFO-sighting map. There was one "See the eclipse in a town called Eclipse."

I personally think one of the more creative ones was one that has a gif with Michael Jordan dunking a basketball. It’s where you can see the eclipse in a town called Jordan, and he dunks the ball right where the town of Jordan is. And of course Michael Jordan was a geographer, so we’re partial to him in some ways. [Michael Jordan was a geography major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.]

Q. Are you teaching in the fall?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you think some of your students may recognize the map, and do you plan on using it in your class?

A. I’m assuming that some students have seen the map. I would anticipate using it in part because we talk a lot about how maps can tell stories. As people who are learning how to create maps, or use maps, or thinking about what kind of stories do maps tell, who do they tell those stories for, looking at how a map like this circulates around — that says something not just about Waffle House or the eclipse, but the ways that we all relate to each other.

You know the role of Waffle House was a place that people get together, that they all have memories of, or experiences of. I spend most of my time on much more serious maps. This is the one that caught on, which is kind of crazy. At the same time it’s good to use these kinds of silly maps to point out the maps that you really focus on that are really the important ones, the role that those maps can have.

Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz is a breaking-news reporter. Follow her on Twitter @FernandaZamudio, or email her at fzamudiosuarez@chronicle.com.