Meet Me at Waffle House

At 2:30 a.m., I couldn’t sleep any longer.  Cruised into the Waffle House.  All told, six other customers and 2 employees.  The juke box was blissfully quiet.  This usually means everyone is sober.

The dancers from Southern X-posure are sitting there eating and laughing and carrying on like the young girls they are.  Their heavy makeup and false eyelashes still perfect after what must have been a long night.  Me, basically, in my pajamas.  There are two old guys in the back booth behind me.  I’m getting hard of hearing which is starting to annoy me and interfere with my people watching.  I think they were talking about Vietnam, but I couldn’t be sure enough to join the conversation.  Yesterday, March 29, was the Vietnam War Day of Remembrance.

I am sitting in a booth eating my usual: two eggs over easy, wheat toast well done and well buttered, hashbrowns with extra onion, and sausage.  Coffee.  Of course, coffee

The old guys leave first. Sure enough one is wearing a hat emblazoned with Army Veteran.

My waitress, a stunningly beautiful African American woman, offers to pour me more coffee. She is soft-spoken and seems shy. She too is wearing false eyelashes.  Is this a thing now?  Last year it was eyebrows, so I bought an eyebrow pencil.  I think I draw the line at false eyelashes. 

I surreptitiously comb my unruly hair with my fingers.  When was the last time I brushed it?  I don’t know.  At her age, I would have died before going out in public dressed this way, disheveled and none too clean wearing a ratty t-shirt and yoga pants. I’m old enough to know that death is too close now to concern myself at o’dark thirty with fashion and hygiene sensibilities for the Waffle House.

There’s freedom in old age, young un.  Freedom.  Those eyelashes look heavy.  What do you do when you need to rub your eyes?

The dancers are counting their cash now.  I must not look like a threat. It’s likely they don’t even see me. I am an old woman and thus invisible.  Stacks of ones, fives, and tens on the table.  A few twenties.  They pull out purses and wallets and tuck the cash away except for what they need to pay their check.

The waitress’s heavy-lidded eyes open wide when she sees the stack they left as a tip.  She quickly slides the wad of bills into her apron with one movement.  She has waited tables before.  For a long time.  She looks too young to be that practiced.

Now it’s just me and the staff. 

They begin talking.  And laughing. I strain to hear. I learn it’s been a slow shift; Wednesdays always are.  My quiet, seemingly shy waitress is still soft-spoken, but not so shy as she laughs with the cook.  It is good to see their easy banter.  She black, he white, both young with enough in common to laugh together in a semi-rural corner of Appalachia.

But then I suppose working at the Waffle House provides much fodder for laughter.  And rage.  As well as all the reactions in between.

I’m finished.  I take my check to the register and ask for a large coffee to go.  She rings me up. I add a generous tip.  I have to wait after she practically whispers, “I’ll have to make a new pot that one has been there a while.  Can’t let you drink that.”

And so, I slide onto a stool at the counter by the register waiting on my coffee, folding and refolding my storyteller’s license.

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