In case you are not from the South, if you are not close to the South, you have never been to the South, or you do not know a single Southerner, this is a Waffle House:
These little restaurants pepper the region, and they serve this kind of food:
Which is not particularly healthy fare, but hey, we’re in the South. And even if you’re diet conscious, sometimes a girl needs some eggs and grits. It’s allowed.
The weekend after I turned sixteen, I rode to work with my step-mother at the Waffle House she managed. I wore my new uniform top, the little orange number on the right:
Oh, yes. And it was polyester.
And I, mousey little Joyce, got an education in my first occupation as a hostess.
I had to learn how to talk to people. People who were not my teenaged friends and to whom I was not related. This part was the most painful. I had to try to banter with seasoned employees, and I had to communicate with customers – some friendly, some not.
I had to work really, really hard, and I had to work fast. When I was not seating customers, I was washing dishes. When I was not washing dishes, I was taking out the trash, or making coffee, or making gallons of orange juice, or filling ice bins or cleaning bathrooms.
I worked weekends and summers at the Waffle House until I finished high school, worked a different job during my first year of college, and then found myself back at the Waffle House, waitressing on the third shift.
I look back on those last few years with great fondness. I became great friends with some of my co-workers – in fact one is still one my best friends. I worked incredibly hard for ten hours every night, through the drunken bar rush and then the morning breakfast rush. I became friendly with police officers, gay bar patrons, business owners, and local personalities. I waited on Evander Holyfield and the three girls who made up the group TLC. I scraped grits from plates, reset the jukebox, and gave drunken customers grief just as well as I took it.
I recently saw a FEMA report naming Waffle House as one of the top businesses in terms of disaster preparedness. If FEMA comes into a town following a disaster and finds the Waffle House closed, then they know things are bad. I absolutely believe that. Reading that news item immediately transported me back to waiting tables to dim lighting, a limited menu, and only one of our four air conditioning units powered, following Hurricanes Erin and Opal.
Such hard, sweaty work that was, and I never realized that those were some of the best times of my life. I couldn’t see it then, all I knew was that I was tired, spending week after week going to school and then cramming 30-40 hours of work into 3-4 nights a week. I don’t know how I did it.
But now I am proud that I worked so hard. There is honor in hard work. To this day, that work that built my character serves me well. I see that character in my friends who worked there too. I’ll always be grateful for Waffle House for shoving me out of the nest and exposing me to such a range of types and personalities. Waffle House was something like a boot camp, the skills you learn there can prepare you for just about anything.
And now, I have made myself hungry for a waffle. Bon appetite, y’all.