My junior year, I went to an LSAT-prep course. I flipped over my test and thought, ‘You bastards.’ I walked out and went to Waffle House. That’s where I had what I call ‘The Waffle House Epiphany’: I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I wanted to make a dent in the universe.—Alexis Ohanian
One of my favorite greasy spoons anywhere is the Waffle House. It really doesn’t matter which one. Pick one. The menu is consistent across each and every one and the food is going to come up exactly the same every damn time. Long, long ago, when I was traveling a lot, spotting the black and yellow Waffle House sign from the Interstate had the ability to bring joy and happiness to my soul, and sometimes my bladder. You don’t have to worry about whether it’s open. Every Waffle House is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, regardless of the weather.
Back in the winter of 1981 (I think), my brother and I headed out on a trip from Red Oak, Oklahoma (Southeastern corner, get a magnifying glass) to Chattanooga, TN. The plan was to get on Interstate 40 at Ft. Smith, Arkansas (pronounced as though one were talking about Noah’s vision: ark-an-saw) and drive as far as Nashville, spend the night, then finish the next morning. However, by the time we reached Ft. Smith, it was starting to snow. Hard. By the time we reached Little Rock, anyone who dared drive more than 20 miles an hour was in a ditch. We crawled, afraid to stop for anything until we just didn’t have any choice. Finally, somewhere North of Little Rock, we had to get gas. We knew that if we stopped we might not make it back onto the Interstate, but we didn’t have any choice.
Then, up ahead, through the blowing snow, was that wonderful Waffle House sign. We almost cried. We eased off the Interstate and up the ramp, bought gas, then slipped around the corner to the diner. There was more than a foot of snow outside, but there were two open seats at the counter, the coffee was hot and fresh, and they had plenty of hashbrowns and chili.
Having such a tight, almost familial relationship with Waffle House, any time it shows up in the news I take notice. Most stories are rather innocuous, but every once in a while something happens to surprises me. This time, it was a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about a woman, obviously disturbed in some form or fashion, stripped down to nothing and going nuts inside the Kennesaw, Georgia Waffle House. No one seems to know why, but the woman was throwing what folks down South call a real hissy fit [I’ve no idea what a fake hissy fit would be]. She was throwing plates. She was throwing platters. She was punching patrons. She even punched a cop! While the article says she’s being held without bond, I would imagine a nice Cobb County judge has placed the dear soul in a mental facility for evaluation.
My first reaction: I KNOW THAT WAFFLE HOUSE!! It was on my way home the last four years we lived in Atlanta. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve hit that particular counter at 3:00 in the morning in desperate need of some hashbrowns, scattered, smothered, covered, chunked and country. If I was especially in need of heartburn (it happens), I’d substitute topped in place of chunked. If you don’t understand, I’m sorry. Waffle House has its own language when it comes to hashbrowns. I could translate, but that would just ruin it. The folks down there are just as warm and sweet as a chunk of peach cobbler right from the oven.
My second thought goes out to the poor staff that had to stay and finish their shift. Other restaurants might close and send the staff home for the rest of the day, but not Waffle House. People traveling I-75 depend on that little diner being open. Of course, this is Georgia we’re talking about. Norcross, GA is the home of Waffle House. There is, with no exaggeration, a Waffle House at every Interstate exit across the state. I’ve seen them weather some crazy events and just keep right on cooking. They might have to limit the menu on occasion, but they’re still open! At least they had a good story to tell!
My final thought, though, and this is the most important one, is for the dear woman who, for reasons not explained and certainly beyond our understanding, decided this course of action was the most appropriate one to take at the given time. As funny as the story is, and there’s no harm in chuckling about the story, mental illness is absolutely, positively, without exception, no laughing matter. We cannot know, and probably don’t want to know, what manner of demons are chasing this poor woman. Despite her actions, she’s still human—she’s still one of us. She deserves our respect and sympathy, not our pity nor our ridicule. Whatever is plaguing her, we hope she is able to find relief soon.
There aren’t nearly as many Waffle House restaurants up in this neck of the woods, but I may make Kat drive me over to one today. I have a real hankering for hashbrowns now. And who knows, maybe we’ll discover a new art model while we’re there. It’s Waffle House; anything can happen.