“You should eat a waffle! You can’t be sad if you eat a waffle!”
— Lauren Myracle
There’s a Waffle House every 4 miles from the Beau Rivage hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi to the nearest airport.
At least that was my experience upon walking into the Waffle House with a conference brochure and hotel pen on a sunny and blustery Tuesday morning. I was greeted by no less than half a dozen “Good Mornings,” from the staff. Coffee was served fast in a thick mug as I sat down. It was strong, black, and almost tasty.
After a wait of maybe 15 seconds, the waitress took my order. The exchange went something like this.
“What can I get for ya, hun?” she asked in a thick accent.
“Uhh, how about this,” I said pointing to a picture of the All Star Special breakfast.
“Uh huh. How ya want yo eggs?” she asked quickly.
“Over easy,” I replied.
“White and yellow?”
“Sounds good,” I said, not mentioning that suddenly my favorite style of eggs didn’t sound good at all when put in those terms.
“White, wheat or sourdough?” “Sausage, bacon or ham?” “Grits or hashbrowns?” “Pancakes or waffle?” She peppered me with questions.
I managed to answer in as quick a manner as I could, trying not to … waffle. I hoped I answered correctly.
“Be right back with that, baby” she said with a big smile.
As I settled in to wait, I took a sip of coffee and looked around the diner. There were at least nine people behind the counter, moving faster than any other waitresses, bus boys, or cooks that I’ve ever seen. I didn’t get more than two sips in before a loud chorus of “Good Morning” echoed across the diner, then another, and another. Then a “Sit anywhere, folks”.
Before I could turn around to see who had come in, a waffle magically appeared in front of me, along with buttery spread, a syrup container, a napkin and a fork. The waitress then confessed. “The rest will be out in a sec. Sorry about the wait, hon.”
I accepted her apology with an understanding nod as I wasn’t too put out by having to wait another 30 seconds for my bacon.
After it had arrived, in front of me, sat three large plates of food. Not knowing where to start, I chose the waffle. This was most likely due to the name association I had developed with the restaurant. It was golden brown, probably due to a pre-cooking saturation in lard or some other heart-stopping spray to keep it from sticking to the waffle iron and onto my arteries. It was delicious.
In fact, it was all delicious and I ate every bite, washing down my meal with a second cup of almost-tasty coffee. Through it all, there were numerous “Good Mornings,” and some chit chat with the waitress.
She said she was an assistant manager, although she didn’t look 20. She had played the elf during the Christmas party, but didn’t like the ensuing jokes. During that time, I also heard her say to another waitress, “You’ve got a dollar on table eight.”
That one little comment reminded me of how little these folks made, and impressed me with how hard they worked. And for what – dollar tips, bunions, and noisy working conditions? I have never been a waiter, but I hear it’s one of the highest stress jobs there is. My waitress was clearly a veteran, not because she told me she was an assistant manager, but because of her ruthlessly cheery efficiency. No doubt well-earned. She didn’t look like a mother, but I still wondered how many mouths she had to feed at home. How many mouths did the rest of the staff have to feed?
I got up to pay my $8.83 bill. Although my company would reimburse me if I used the credit card, I decided to also ask for some change as well. I signed the receipt and gathered up the dollar bills my waitress handed me.
As I turned to go, I felt my pockets. Where was my pen? I stood there for a moment, looking under the counter and around the cash register. Since no one ever seems to stop moving at the Waffle House, I attracted the attention of my waitress again.
“Whatcha need, hon?” she asked from across the counter.
“I seem to have lost my pen,” I replied looking under a napkin dispenser.
“Huh … Oh wait. … I took it!!” she laughed and handed it back to me. “You have a good day now, baby.”
I couldn’t help smiling as I got ready to go. The Waffle House may be low-budget and unhealthy. They may work their employees to the bone. But the atmosphere in this particular diner, on this particular Tuesday morning, was sunny with just a little bit of bluster as well.
I put a five dollar bill on the counter.