No need to ahsk
Here's something I've never done before: blog from the road. It's not that I haven't felt the urge on past trips. As readers know, the blogging bug has bit me pretty hard. But I rarely want to drag a laptop around with me, and I've never found a comfortable place with an available computer and a good high-speed internet connection.
Until this morning.
It's just before dawn at an undisclosed east coast location, where I'm conducting business on behalf of my employer. I woke up in a strange hotel bed after just a few hours of sleep. Aware that it might be hard to go right back to sleep, I threw on some clothes and checked out a coffee shop, with an internet access sign on the front window, that my workmates and I drove by looking for a restaurant last night.
It's great. Well lit, comfortable, good coffee, four decent PCs beckoning, and a T-1 line. Excellent.
So here we go.
For those of you who don't already know where I am, here's the first clue out of the box: When we hit town at midnight, there was only one place open to eat, Waffle House.
Now I had seen these places on previous journeys to this part of the country. Heck, there's a Waffle House sign at every interstate highway exit in the Atlanta area, where we spent a long weekend last fall. They're ubiquitous, so much so that when we passed an exit without a Waffle House sign, my wife shouted, with a southern drawl: "What? No Waffle House?" But the family and I never checked one out.
In contrast, one of the members of my current travelling party was raised in Waffle House Country, and last night he showed us the drill. The menu at Waffle House is a single laminated sheet, two-sided, that invites the patron to feast on some realy scary-looking grub. You know it's bad when the closest thing to healthy is a bacon salad or a chili salad. Did you know there are 3,454,681 ways to enjoy their hashbrowns? Anyway, for 10 bucks a person, we partook.
Only the fellow who's a Waffle House veteran went for the breakfast section of the menu, which gets you a waffle and some grits along with your bacon, eggs, and hasbrowns. One of the guys had never seen grits before, and so this was a personal growth moment for him. Then I told my story about Taylor ham. As I suspected, no one, no one in the group had ever heard of Taylor ham.
Do you want your hashbrowns "topped"? the seasoned but friendly waitress asked me. Thinking about the heart-friendly options that I normally eat, I didn't even ask what that meant. I wasn't brave enough to go beyond a grilled chicken sandwich. I also ordered a half iced tea/half lemonade, whose taste vaguely reminded me of a zoo or a circus (and I don't mean that in a good way). Strangely, it grew on you as you drank it.
My colleagues and I chatted amiably as we downed our food. The place was empty except for two parties of two, one of which included a gentleman who was having a little trouble standing up, obviously after an evening in a bar. Shades of the White Castle and Blue Castle hamburger places after hours in my childhood haunts of Newark, N.J. I know where that guy's been, and I'm glad I'm not there any more.
But the best part of the Waffle House experience, in my view, was the music on the p.a., which was turned up pretty loud. After a few numbers drifted by in the background, there was a lull in the conversation, and we noticed that the version of Sade's "Smooth Operator" playing through the system wasn't the original. Indeed, a male voice was singing the song, and the new version had a bit of a country feel.
Then we noticed, the lyrics had been changed to "He's a grill operay-dahhhh, griiiiiiillll operay-dahhhh, grill operay-dahhhh, at Waffle House."
Ain't that America.