Many of late comedian Mitch Hedberg’s jokes have an air of succinct obviousness. Hedberg exceeded in casually pointing out what was right in front of us, to hilarious effect. Due, in part, to the universality of his weirdo observational humor, his jokes have had a long shelf life. Recently, this one was making the rounds on Reddit: “La Quinta [the ubiquitous roadside hotel chain] is Spanish for ‘next to Denny’s.’” Anyone who’s taken a road trip in the U.S. gets it immediately.
Coder John Reiser used an algorithm to find out exactly how many times Hedberg was right about the urban sprawl phenomenon. Using a GIS (geographic information system), Reiser was able to precisely locate the 29 instances of Denny’s/La Quinta pairings across the country. “So out of the 833 La Quintas and 1,675 Denny’s, there are 29 that are very close (if not adjacent) to one another,” Reiser deduces. “So, only 3.4% of the La Quintas out there live up to Mitch Hedberg’s expectations.”
However, once the geographical coding community was on it, a commenter on Reiser’s post known simply as “Chris” came up with another algorithm which extended the distance between franchises to 150 meters, giving more space for various parking lots, streets, and Taco Bells. This yielded an additional 20 combos, bringing the grand total of combination Denny’s-La Quintas up to 49, or 5.8% of all La Quintas. While Reiser found to his amusement that El Paso, TX, is home to two of the “Hedberg pairings,” “Chris” discovered, even more absurdly, that a location in Huntsville, Alabama features a Denny’s sandwiched between two La Quintas.
Hedberg’s joke was a subtle dig into the mundanity and existential despair we derive from the simulacra of driving by the same combinations of roadside franchises again and again (and the ignorance of white Americans, exemplified by George W. Bush notoriously referring to Spanish as “Mexican”). Baudrillard would be proud.
To dig deeper into Reiser’s methodology, check out his detailed blog post on the project. (Photo: Google)