I’d never been to Waffle House. I’d heard that it was smoky and dirty and “totally sketch,” to use the words of one friend, especially after midnight.
It was 12:30 AM, and my friend was driving me home from a birthday party, when I said, “Let’s go to Waffle House.”
Naturally, this suggestion was met with, “Why?” I answered, “Because it’s an experience. Because I want to have experiences. And going to Waffle House in the middle of the night is an experience. I’ll give you ten dollars. And buy you a hash brown.” And he loves hash browns, and needed gas money, so we set off for Waffle House.
When we walk in, it’s smoky and dirty and full of all kinds of people. The waitress who took our drink orders was all you can imagine: a middle aged woman with a smoke-tinged, southern accented voice, the kind of person you imagine might have a stereotypical waitress name, like “Flo,” and call you “honey,” and know your name if you come in often enough.
The guy who brought our food is young, possibly a little stoned, and with ridiculous hair. He has to keep his head sideways to keep it out of his eyes, and when he asks about the check he says, “Do you want to get together, or separate, or…whoa. Get together. That sounded wrong.” I stare for a minute. Stoned? Or just stupid? I can’t get a good look at his eyes; the hair, remember?
The people in the booth across from us are college-aged, a guy in a hoodie and a girl with a t-shirt with faded Hebrew writing across the front. Not too interesting, until someone who knew them comes in and says, “Wow, you guys have been here for like five hours.” Five hours on a Friday night at Waffle House…Interesting.
Over two booths in the corner, there is a sign that says, “non-smoking section. Every Waffle House in America has a Non-Smoking Section,” however, that’s very nominal. Most people in Waffle House smoke, and you’re not too protected from it by sitting in those two booths.
There is a “Did You Know…” trivia fact on the back of the receipt. It says that in the jukebox at every Waffle House, there are songs written just for Waffle House. One is about raisins in toast. I can’t come up with any change. Too bad. I’d have liked to hear those songs.
We stay in Waffle House for two and a half hours. Many people in Waffle House past 2AM seem to be intoxicated and/or crazy, but you’d be surprised at how many seemingly normal people are spending time in Waffle House in the middle of the night.
We talk about life. We talk about the future and our plans and ourselves. We tell silly stories and complain about how awkward it is when M and W, a couple, hang all over each other in public, and then can’t stand it anymore and go out to the car and we all pretend we don’t know what they’re doing in there. We talk about how all friendships are unbalanced equations; one person always cares more than the other. I’m always on the wrong side, the side that cares too much. I’m on the wrong side with our friendship, but it’s okay because we talk about it, and that makes it more okay somehow. We talk about everything. We watch people, from the group of women in fancy clothes to the gangster-types with bloodshot eyes. We wonder who puts Worcestershire sauce on what at Waffle House. We eat our hash brown and drink our cokes, and it’s an experience.
That’s what I want out of life: experiences. I want to sit at Waffle House for two and a half hours in the middle of the night. I want to get lost driving to the dollar movie theater at 10pm on a Tuesday. I want to shut my eyes, spin, pick a direction, get in the car, and go. I want to see where I end up, who I see, and what happens. I want to watch life happen in weird places. I want to find a hole-in-the-wall Salvadoran restaurant in a strange city.
That’s part of what I want from New York. I want to be in the city that never sleeps because the craziest things happen in the middle of the night. I want the experiences, and I hope that I can find someone to share them with. The friend in the Waffle House story is someone who is sometimes cooperative with my weird desires, but in a tolerant, indulgent way. I want somebody who wants to do these things as much as I do, not because I think anything specific will happen, but because I just want to see what might happen or what I might see or where I might end up. Is there anybody out there who’s this crazy? After mulling it over, I’ve decided that there’s one person who might be: a fellow writer. Don’t we always want to people watch and see what stories come out of it? Don’t we always want to see new places and meet new characters? And don’t we always want to come home and write it down, like I’m doing now?
I can still feel the smoke in the back of my throat as I write this. I’m happy.