Impromptu Dinner at the Waffle House
I only went into the Waffle House on a whim. I was walking home from work at 6:30 in the evening, fully intending to go by the corner market and get a box of pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce, a head of lettuce and a bottle of salad dressing. I'd have my dinner of spaghetti and salad and then settle down to my nightly routine of drinking, reading, and listening to music.
But on my walk home I passed by the Waffle House on 7th Street. When I saw the place I remembered how much I loved it when I was a kid, when my family would have breakfast food for dinner. We only did this once every couple months or so, and when we did it I always thought it was the greatest thing; it was like we were cheating in a way, eating eggs and hash browns and biscuits when you were only supposed to have those things in the morning – the sense of going against the grain of societal ways made the food taste that much better.
The other thing I thought as I passed the restaurant was how much easier, and more pleasant, it would be to go into the Waffle House and have someone else cook my meal and clean the dishes after, then to do this all by myself at home. Also, I could avoid the hassle of having to go into the market and buy all that stuff – the market was too small, and at that time of day it was always packed with people angrily grabbing things they needed for their evenings after they'd completed another dismal day of work. Tonight I'd let them fight each other for aisle space and to see who could be first to get all their stuff and get to the register – I was going to the Waffle House for dinner.
My dinner of waffles, hash browns, and grits was so good, the atmosphere of the Waffle House so pleasant, when I finished eating I decided I didn't want to leave yet. I would stay around and drink some coffee before going home. Before I ordered the coffee, though, I looked around the place and noticed that it had become crowded since I'd been in there, to the point where people were now waiting for tables to open up. Not wanting to take up the table leisurely sipping coffee when others, still hungry, wanted to use it, I asked my waitress if it was okay for me to move to one of the open stools at the counter. She gave me a look that told me she didn't care what I did, so I got up and found a discarded newspaper, which I took to the counter, where I ordered coffee and started working on the crossword puzzle.
I was just finishing my first run through the Across clues of the crossword when I noticed that someone seemed to be hovering over me. I looked up and saw that it was the owner or manager of the place – a guy in his 50s who always seemed to be in a bad mood. Looking even more pissed off than usual, he glared at me and charged, “Weren't you just sitting at that table over there?”
“Yeah, but I finished eating so I came over here to have coffee so other people could use the table. Was that wrong to do?”
“I'm just wondering who you're planning to tip – the waitress who served you your food or the girl who works the counter.”
“I hadn't thought of that yet, I guess.”
“No, I guess not. And guess who has to stand here and break up the fight they're going to have over who gets your tip after you leave? You didn't think of that, did you?”
I see now that I could have told him that I would tip them both, but at the time I was so surprised, and so put off, by his attack that I was left dumbfounded and unable to defend myself. When I didn't seem to have anything to say for myself in the way of defending my thoughtless actions, the man simply grunted at me and stormed off to go yell at the cooks.
I should have just left then, but the coffee was good and it was looking like I had a real shot with this crossword. When the counter waitress passed by, I asked her for another cup of coffee.
“I'll have to charge you,” she informed me, her tone somewhere between the indifference of the other waitress and the hostility of the owner/manager.
“You guys don't give free refills of coffee?”
“Not when they're only having coffee. If they're eating we do, but when they're only having coffee we have to charge them for every cup.”
I started to tell her that I was an “I' and not a “they,” and that I had already eaten something, but she got distracted by another customer before I could state my case.
I decided that it would be much more pleasant to finish the crossword puzzle at home, in my own apartment, with a glass of beer and nobody being rude to me.
As I stood near the register, waiting to pay, I noticed the desserts the Waffle House had on display in a case there. I almost never eat dessert, but this was clearly not a night like other nights, so I decided I would take a hunk of pie home with me. I grabbed a piece of cherry pie, and then decided the blueberry looked better and grabbed it, then changed my mind again and took the cherry out of the case.
“Damn, you put your hands on both those pies!” a voice said, in an explosion that erupted from behind me. I turned around and saw that a man – another customer, who must have been waiting to pick out a dessert for himself – was standing there, and he looked twice as angry at me as the owner/manager was.
“You touched two different pies!” he charged, yelling so that a scene was being created. “And you're only going to pay for one! You think somebody wants to come behind you and buy a piece of pie you put your hands all over?!”
I looked around the Waffle House then, to see just how much of a spectacle was being created. Most of the other customers were indifferent to what was transpiring at the register, but the three staff members I had dealt with so far – the owner/manager, the waitress who'd served me my food, and the counter waitress – were all totally taking in the scene. Between the three of them and the customer giving me all the grief about the pies, the bunch of them looked like they had decided I summed up all that was wrong and bad in the world.
I took the piece of blueberry pie out of the display case and paid for both pieces, along with my dinner and cup of coffee. When he was ringing me up, the owner/manager called out to the counter waitress, “Did he have a refill?”
“No, he didn't want to pay for two cups,” she informed him, and this was another charge against me.
After I set down on the counter two different tips and explained which waitress each was for, I said to all of them, “You know, I could have been home eating spaghetti and salad in the privacy and comfort of my own apartment tonight.”
To that, the other customer looked at me, then the others, with an expression that suggested, ‘Damn, he's crazy, too! What's he talking about?'
On the way home I passed by a group of three homeless people. When one of them approached me I handed him my bag from the Waffle House. I said, “There's two pies in there. Don't ask me how the three of you are going to split them up because I don't give a damn how you do it.”
I left them slack-jawed and made the rest of the way home. When I passed the corner market I saw that the place was empty of customers and that my favorite employee there – a kindly woman who knew my name and who always made friendly conversation with me when I was in there – was working. She smiled and waved at me through the window when I passed by. I went in and bought some things I didn't need, just for her company. When she was checking me out she asked, “We didn't see you earlier – you must have done your grocery shopping over the weekend.”
“Nah,” I told her, “I just decided to have a relaxing dinner out.”
words: Brian Greene, North Carolina (more & more)
image: Greta Bolger, Michigan (more & more)
another relaxing dinner: When We Needed To Get Out More (#8)