Monday, August 30, 2010

Waffle House

Sunday August 29th 2010
Waffle House, White Bridge Rd and White Bridge Pl, Nashville, TN

Late 90's, I’m twelve maybe thirteen years old, soaring down the interstate in the back seat of my parents Toyota counting South of the Border signs, in the good old American south for the first time on our way to visit family in Florida. And shortly after our entry into that state, in its humid vegetation heavy north, I was struck with the sudden urgency to urinate. Not taking my shyness and awkward social hesitations into account, my parents pull up to a Waffle House and tell me to run in. I’d seen the signs before, in fact they plagued me like a stalker taking the “remain at a fifty foot distance” part of their restraining order far to literally, their black and yellow logo like an evil bumble bee lurking on every exits food sign. My shoe clapped up a cloud of dust as I stepped out of the car, I was in a vacant wasteland save for the explosion of subtropical plant growth and the occasional passing of a dented pick up truck. Had it not been for the pressing need to relieve myself, a call which would not go unanswered, there is simply no way I’d have crossed through those doors. Desperate times.
I knew it couldn’t go well, but there was nothing that would have prepared me for a reality this harsh. Timidly, I eased my body through a narrow crack in the doorway. My mind was simultaneously consumed with getting to the bathroom as fast as possible and remaining undetected by the staff and customers, I saw no reason why both couldn’t be accomplished if I kept my focus. The problem is, I didn’t, letting the door slam behind me, causing a chain reaction of heads turning in my direction and their eyes laying upon me. Heads and eyes which combined with stubbly facial hair, teeth suffering from years of neglect, skin tainted by a lifetime of smoke exposure, thin scraggly strands of hair escaping from a tightly affixed ball cap, and stares as blank as a page, formed the faces of more motley a cast than any movie could ever wish to portray. Flies buzzed about in rhythm with the faint country twang emanating from their dust laden jukebox. All were silent. I found myself in the lair of a species I’d never known to exist. They ain’t got no Waffle House in Rhode Island.
It was certainly a scarring experience, but as the years passed and I began to venture into the south as an adult, it didn’t take too long for me to figure out that Waffle House was pretty much the cheapest place around to get something to eat, and although I would dwell on that extraterrestrial experience I had that day with a fear I couldn’t shake, I again crossed through those doors with every ounce of bravery I had, and in time got used to it. I’d never seen any southern fried freaks that bad before, but I’ve seen worse since.
As breakfasts that blurred the line between early and late became a more common occurrence in my travels, Waffle House became associated with being away from home. If I was at a Waffle House I was somewhere else. Because why, in your city of residence, with access to a kitchen, and/or knowledge of a better place to eat, would you go to Waffle House? Not for a cup of Bert’s Chili of course. Or for a plate of scattered, smothered, covered, topped, and capped hash browns. These were novelties that one ate in absence of another eating choice, b- for sustenance, and a- for traveling traditions sake. Yet now, in a turn of events that could never have been foreseen or believed by my youthful post initial Waffle House experience mind, I live (according to Google Maps) 0.7 miles from one. I drive by it EVERY DAY, and it reminds me of where I am. “It would feel so weird going there.”, I said aloud the other day, and of course less than a week later, it happened.
Some of us at least were anticipating the arrival of one Scott Otis, fellow Rhode Islander, and professional antic enactor. Who wasted no time, getting right down to business, folding his leg in half on a tire swing nine hours into his one week stay, breaking it so bad that the severed bone became exposed, overlapping the skin in which it should have been incased, ending up like this.

Pure gore. The rest of us chatted about it uncontrollably after the paramedics took him away, tied to a stretcher, pleasantly distant on morphine, and broke our topic of conversation only for one brief moment; to decide to go to Waffle House. It was 4:30 AM, we’d been up all day, but when you get a glimpse at your friends protruding and shattered bone, the necessity of sleep escapes you. So the four of us headed on over, our thoughts in other places, the image of Scotts misshapen leg stuck in our brains like the screen saver on a frozen computer, and ordered our food.
Most of these things dawned on me afterwards, as I wasn’t exactly clear headed or I wouldn’t have been there in the first place, but their staff presence was much higher than it should have been for the hour it was, I mean I know the elderly do some weird things, but 4:30? There were about ten people working. And then when John Adams tried to order, “I’ll have the two eggs with sausage...”, he was cut off by our waitress.
“We’re out of sausage. Actually, we’re out of sausage, bacon, ham, and t-bones.” The fact that a breakfast restaurant would be out of all their breakfast meats is totally absurd, not to mention awful for business, and when Adams was either about to say it was ok, or start freaking out, Val burst into a fit of tears triggered by the mention of being “out of t-bones”, because we knew all too well about that didn’t we. As you may expect this took our waitress by surprise. “Did I say something?”, she shrieked with concern, jumping a few feet back with her hand to her chest. We explained to her that yes in fact she had, composure was regained, and the ordering process completed.

I basically get the same thing every time I come here; two eggs scrambled with cheese, hash browns ‘covered’ with cheese and then loaded up with ketchup, some pieces of overly margarined white bread toast, and several cups of watered down black coffee. I know, its disgusting, but what are you supposed to do? It all goes down real easy, heavily lubricated with liquid grease, and the flavors although varied all end up tasting pretty much the same, gelling together into one indifferent mash. Classic diner mediocrity (see my entry: Richmond Diner).
Far from satisfied, far from pleased, we sailed away from the Waffle House in Old Vanny, away into the streets, shielding our eyes from the burn of the morning sun. We found out later from a friend who attempted to dine at that same Waffle House only hours before that they had just been hit with a ‘50' health score! Betty’s Bar and Grill, not a filthy place, but described as clean by no one, has a ‘93'! This explained the high staff presence, all cleaning odd corners of the restaurant, and their lack of breakfast meats, as they had a one day grace period to get it back up to respectable operating standards. I suspect they did nothing to notify us of this situation, but it’s possible we were just too out of it to notice, I mean there really wasn’t anyone else in there now that I think of it.
The real question though, is was it as weird as I thought it would be, dining at a Waffle House and taking the 2 minute trip back home? Had I done so at 7PM after a day of clean living, I could only imagine myself feeling stumped and perplexed at the rapid degradation of my mind which allowed me to do such a thing. After a long night ending in a major injury and hospitalization, its no surprise we ended up there, there wasn’t even debate about it, we all naturally came to the conclusion that’s where we’d go to at least make an attempt at getting back to normal. Sleep came on strong after my short journey home, and although it was only days ago it seems as far away as my first visit. So to answer my question, no, it wasn’t that weird, it wasn’t the space time continuum shattering event I expected, Waffle House has changed for me since my first trip, and looks like it will continue to from now on.

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