Deals, Dares & Reviews To Help You Savor Your World.
It was still dark when we pulled off the interstate, but the Waffle House was already doing a fair smattering of business under its monstrous yellow sign. We parked next to a cluster of mud-streaked pickups and unfolded ourselves from the car, yawning and road-weary. Our bones creaked and cracked in protest as we lurched across the parking lot.
Two steps inside the door, we were hit by a cloud of cigarette smoke (you can still smoke inside a restaurant down here??) and a wall of hard stares from the men seated at the breakfast counter. Ham murmured a polite ”good morning” as we brushed past on our way to a corner booth. No one else spoke, and the message in their silence was perfectly clear: You are not welcome here.
We instantly understood. As an interracial couple, Ham and I are long accustomed to overt gestures of disapproval and prejudice. We’ve been glared at, stared at, flipped off and pointedly ignored so many times over the years that we’ve learned to shrug off the hostility, even to perversely enjoy it. Still, we were alone in the dark wilds of Southern Missouri, land of God, Guns and Country, where big-city niggras (especially those accompanied by white women) are wise to be wary. We’d have our breakfast and get back on the road.
Our waitress offered us a tight, tired smile and coffee, and we accepted both. She was small and pale and faintly pretty, an anemic version of some young actress we couldn’t quite remember — Kirsten Dunst, maybe? Parker Posey? I wasn’t surprised to see that her name tag read “Amber.” She memorized our breakfast order without writing anything down: eggs over easy, hash browns with cheese, waffles and a side of bacon for Ham, a tall glass of orange juice. Then she did the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen a waitress do — she walked over to the griddle behind the counter, picked up two eggs, cracked them open and got them sizzling. Then she threw on a few skinny slices of bacon, poured batter into a waffle iron, and popped two slices of bread into the toaster before moving on to pour fresh coffee and make change for the men at the counter. Apparently she was the only employee in the place: hostess, waitress, cook, cashier and dishwasher all rolled into one. My heart went out to her. This must be a really hard place to work, and I knew this area was a hard place in which to live. I’d grown up, gone to college and tried to eke out my own living very near here long ago, and it was rough. I was sure Amber was happy just to have this shitty job, but I wondered if she ever dreamed of escaping away to New York or Hollywood, or to Chicago like I did, or to anywhere. To anything.
Ham and I chatted quietly as we waited for our food. He squirmed a bit in his seat, uncomfortable with his back to the door, but the men at the counter were ignoring us completely now, engrossed in their own conversations about deer hunting and high school football and that sumbitch Obama. I watched them watch Amber’s ass as she cooked, and I wondered if she would someday marry one of them or a guy just like them, maybe buy a little trailer house, have a few kids, finally quit working here when her feet or her back or her looks gave out.
When she plated our breakfast and brought it to us, I stopped her. “Can I ask you something?” She looked at me sideways – no doubt she’d been asked plenty of bullshit questions in her young career. “I have never seen a waitress cook like that before. Very impressive! But what happens if you get really busy? What happens if some drunken bachelor party wanders in?”
I didn’t ask what I was really wondering: if she was ever afraid that some psycho would crawl in here from the blackness to rob and rape and leave her huddled and crying on the floor while he melted back into anonymity on that dark interstate. Or if she ever wanted to just throw down her apron, hop the counter and drive as fast and as far down that road as she could and never look back.
“If we ever got really busy, my manager would come out and help me.” She shrugged that tight, tired smile again and walked away, and I found myself relieved that at least she wasn’t here completely alone. Ham and I finished our breakfast (she had done a good job!) and when we paid our check, I overtipped. A lot.
As we moved toward the door, past the broad, flannel-clad backs of the men at the counter, I noticed that Amber was watching us and waving a small goodbye. She looked sad and small and desperate, and I suddenly wanted to go back and scoop her up and run with her to the car, to drive her far, far away, to save her from this forlorn place. I wanted to show her that the interstate next to her little Waffle House leads out, out there! to an enormous, curious, amazing world full of exotic places and thrilling adventures and brilliantly diverse people to share it all with.
Instead, I just waved back at her and walked quietly to the car with Ham. We were miles and miles away down the dark highway before she finally slipped from my mind.