Saturday, April 25, 2009

Waffle House

Waffle House is the kind of place I'll go on a dare, a late night or an 800 mile road trip. Waffle House is my idea of living on the edge.

Ken Burger is a former sports writer for Charleston's Post and Courier Newspaper, and most of what he pens now is the run of the mill human interest story.

Cedar Posts worked for a "hard news" editor, who earned his stripes as a crime reporter. He lived the motto "if it bleeds it leads" which pretty much sums up why my career in journalism never took off. Though the considerably less than six figure income I'll admit was never attractive.

Ken enjoys the career I didn't find, and in doing so he has the chance to watch and observe, then with hopefully some eloquent words tell us what he has noticed.

And so here is Ken's observation of a waffle house waitress:

$20 Waffles is Money Well Spent - By Ken Burger

You're staring at the plastic menu that doubles as a place mat when she arrives at your booth, her mousy-brown hair a mess, her name tag slightly askew.

Somehow you know that no matter how bad your day has been, hers has been worse.

That's because you just exited the highway where life goes by in a blur. You're on your way somewhere. You have a mission, a destination.

She, on the other hand, exists not far from this small, wayside restaurant that welcomes all comers with the same ageless greeting, "Welcome to Waffle House."

When it comes to fast food, travelers can spot the big yellow signs a mile away. You get what you pay for, and you're in and out in short order.

That's the beauty of Waffle House, which seems to have restaurants on every exit of every interstate in the South. Sometimes on both sides of the highway.

But in addition to food, they also serve as a microcosm of life on the edge in America.

All you have to do is listen to the chatter of the women behind the counter.

Working a double

Somewhere between ordering your waffle and the arrival of coffee, you inevitably pick up on the life and times of those who work in these 24-hour diners.

It goes without saying, life ain't easy or they wouldn't be working the midnight shift at Exit 26. The hours are long and the work is hard. Pleasing hungry people is a chore, but it's a steady, honest living.

The waitresses often come from a slice of America overlooked by demographers. The overworked poor. Somewhere along the way, they fell through the cracks, onto hard times, caught in a whirlpool of misfortune, but willing to tread dishwater until the tide changes or something better comes along.

If you listen closely, between the clanking of dishes and orders being shouted out to the cook, you'll hear them talking about life in the slow lane.

Boyfriend's in jail. Kids are sick. Transmission's slipping. Taxes are due. Credit card's canceled. Working a double. Throat's scratchy. Feet hurt. Dog had puppies. Again.

What sounds like a country music song on the jukebox is suddenly asking if you want grits with that waffle.

You say no, thank you, ma'am.

A charmed life

In this crapshoot called life, I ended up a little north of normal.

It's a charmed life I lead, being able to write for a living. I know that and appreciate which side of the counter I'm on when I venture into the world of waffles.

Like most folks, I'm in a hurry to get where I'm going and eating is just a necessary part of the journey.

But when I parachute into these ladies' lives, I'm always struck by their sense of humor, valor and ability to overcome despite some pretty overwhelming odds.

That's why waffles are the most expensive thing I eat. Because every time I stop, I end up leaving the lady with the mousy-brown hair and tilted name tag a $20 bill for a $2 waffle.

It's worth it just to see her smile.

Yup! Ken, Waffle House is always a reality check.

Cedar Posts writes "The Waitress" from January 2007.

Expand your knowledge of Waffle House lore with this article in the Atlanta Magazine Waffle House.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding article Cedar! I have often "people watched" in the wee hours at a Waffle House or similar type place while working graveyard shift. There are fantastic stories to be told in these small places in time. Good food, fair price, priceless entertainment.

Anonymous said...

If you have never been to a Waffle House...imagine a Gas Station Bathroom that serves awful Waffles....

Heather Solos said...

My first job was a as WH waitress. I was too young to know how sad it was to be 16, working 3rd shift, taking doubles whenever I could.
I'm glad it's a time so long gone that the experience feels surreal. Yet, it's a part of who I am. A reassuring idea that knows even when life gets hard I'll persevere without wallowing in misery.

CedarPosts said...

Heather you rock! I think everyone should wait tables at some point in life. It gives you perspective and tolerance.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding perspective on a place I have taken for granted on too many occasions…but no longer.