January 12, 2009

Moving down the counter


The South's answer to the local pub is the waffle house... The appropriate time to visit is, of course between midnight and four thirty a.m., usually after some sort of hectic event, be it drinking, working, or just spending a ridiculous amount of time in the car.

It is a place where harsh fluorescent lighting washes the cobwebs out of your head, or simply forces you into a stupor of glazed apathy.. I haven't figured out which...

On the first few trips you don't seem to pay much attention to the customers inside, as you are generally with a group of drunken people celebrating new found freedom from parental units. You make noise, give the waitresses a hard time, and find joy in doing things to the salt and sugar. There is the absolute amazement associated with discovering that there are actual "waffle house" theme songs on the jukebox... "we have one and eleven"... So you must play them each time you go in for at least half a dozen trips.

As you get older you begin to notice that the seating arrangement for these hours is very pronounced. The younger crowd fills the booths in drunken revelry, while the the older you get the farther around the place you move until you wind up alone at the end of the counter and know all the waitresses by name and number of children...

The only saving grace is that you get to have some interesting experiences and conversations along the way. Nights of dead silence with no other customers in the place except for you. Then there are times when you can't seem to get in the door. They may be over run with teen prom victims, tired bar victims, over the road truck drivers, or that obnoxiously loud family from somewhere's else...

We like waffle house for what it is.. unchanging... Regardless of staff turnovers, season, geopolitical standings, weather, state of sobriety, etc... the place is always the same.. You have to love that. In a lifetime of patronage you can witness everything from divorce, to fighting, to death, to marriage, to birth... all at a waffle house. You can do so while enjoying your pick of fine culinary experiences to keep you company, the ultimate voyeuristic station. Each time you walk through that door, you know that you will be met with, "Good morning", from the staff, and that grease - tinged with burnt powder sugar smell that permeates every fiber of cloth in the place.

The food is awful, the coffee bland, the cooking ridiculous, the waitresses.. well.. you just have to experience them... They seem to work their way into many places... I love the story of a cousin who had a husband that spent way too much time at a local waffle house and was subsequently followed... The evening ended up in a bloody ass beating, on the side of the road, when she pulled the girl out of his car and proceeded to teach her why you don't, "Mess with nobody's man"... what happened to him, I'm not sure, but where else can you go from that scene but upwards, right? "Yes sir officer, that's my wife... Yes sir, she beat up that woman... Yes sir, she's wearing a waffle house uniform"... at that point even the police are laughing at you...

I stopped in there a while back, it had been a long time since I had visited. I was on the way back from a one day trip to Savannah that didn't begin until late afternoon and included no time for stopping for food. Everything was exactly the same as the last time I was there. It was a Friday night/Saturday morning, about two thirty and I was hungry... Not the "hmmm, what do I feel like having" hungry, but the "I need to feed like a great white" hungry... Steak and eggs with hasbrowns all the way will get rid of that feeling in short order.

I just grinned when I heard the salutation and found my way to a seat after the perfunctory restroom visit.. same floors, same smell, same graffiti on the walls in the bathroom... I ordered my food and found myself in a discussion with the few other people sitting around about the prospects of our newly elected leader being in office, when the relative quiet of the place was interrupted by a group of twenty somethings newly introduced to alcohol. They came floundering in, laughing and jumping about the place as drunken youngsters do. The meal passed in personal solitude as the younger folk made a ruckus and kept the waitress busy with inane requests and attempts at humor, laced with sexual innuendo... She played right along.. Indeed, I noticed that none of the other people inside seemed to mind the noise they were subjected to, we had all slipped into some sort of dream sequence, reveling in days gone by. It was then that I noticed my place at the counter... only four or five seats from the last one, which was occupied by a rather tired or drunk looking guy who was positive that obama was the answer to all the evils that have befallen our great nation... I was frightened and paid the bill quickly, gulping my last few swallows of burnt coffee...

As I headed for the door in seeming fear for the end of my days, realizing that I had almost made my way completely around the building seating wise, I couldn't help but laugh at myself and snap back to reality when the waffle house theme song number one kicked up on the jukebox and the younger people inside began to dance about the place and laugh hysterically, there was just something comforting about it.

7 comments:

boo said...

I'm sure there is nothing quite like the Waffle House Experience. The closest thing we had out here was endless nights of debauchery getting kicked out of every Denny's in Southern California. Ahhh, the days of the theater and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The waitresses you describe bear an eerie resemblance to the ones I remember tormenting in my youth.

The Angry Georgian said...

Ah, one of my most favorite places to eat in the whole world. You just can't beat a two fried egg meal with grits and toast and a double order of hashbrowns scattered, smothered, covered, and chunked.

C.S. Perry said...

Sometimes I think my whole is scattered and smothered.

Scott said...

I have a theory that each Waffle House hires young waitresses that never leave and age with the restaurant. If you go into a 20 year old Waffle House you'll find tired and worn waitresses. If you go to a new WH the girls are young and peppy. I based this theory on observation, but I was probably drunk so it may be incorrect.

Bethany said...

Cool blog, excellent writing.
Here's to Waffle houses!

Just me... said...

Then, it was at US84 and I-75.. Just east of the interstate.. Great place at 3am after Stan's closed for the night.. Always weird and wonderful... :):)
Now, I'm no longer 20-something and Stan's is closed for good but the WH is still there, feeding the drunken masses huge quantites of greasy food... A sure cure for the dry heaves, if nothing else... :):)

ucmama said...

makes me a little homesick...The northernmost one I can find is in Toledo. I always make sure I go when I visit GA.