Sunday, February 18, 2018

a love story

Do y'all have a Waffle House restaurant where you are?  Google says they're in 25 states in the US.  I know they started in Georgia, so I'm not sure if it's mostly a southern US thing or if it's an east coast thing or what.  If you have a Waffle House near you or if you've ever had the joy of eating in one, this will be a funny story.  If not, I guess you just need to know that Waffle House is a roadside diner/greasy spoon.  While the word "waffle" is in the name, I lived half my life before I witnessed anyone actually ordering a waffle in the restaurant.  When they did, I laughed out loud.  They specialize in breakfast plates, heavy on the grease and they used to brag that they sold more steaks than any other restaurant (think thin, flat and tough).  They're usually plopped beside almost every other interstate offramp and it's the kind of place you can expect to be called "honey", "sugar", "sweetie" or some other syrupy knickname while you're inside.  It's a dinner and a show kind of place, but the show is free.  One time years ago, our waitress told us the story of how she stabbed her ex husband while she served us and called us "sweetie".  

If you're unclear, we love it.  The food may not be healthy, but we love it.  And you know how we love to people watch.  In fact, the Waffle House is an important part of our family Christmas tradition.  They're open 24/7, 365.  

A couple of years back I remember walking out of our local Waffle House and seeing a pink piece of paper advertising a special Valentine's Day special and inviting customers to make plans to bring their date to the Waffle House.  I pointed it out and laughed with G about it.  Back in high school, the ironic kids would take their dates to the Waffle House to be funny and cool.  I assumed no one, ever, in the history of mankind would have taken their date to the Waffle House on purpose, for real.  

G and I don't really do anything big for Valentine's Day.  We've been married 20-something years and we're pretty much over it.  After about 10 years we stopped buying into the nonsense and started spending money like semi-responsible people.  This meant no more overpriced roses.  Grocery store roses or tulips were more economical and tulips could be planted.  G would rather have a pack of Hershey bars than any of the finest chocolates from Belgium anyway.  And once kids came along, we pretty much had constant 3rd and 4th wheels on our Valentine's dates.  

So last Wednesday on the 14th, G was tired and not in the mood to cook.  We considered our limited local options for food and quickly settled on Waffle House, figuring the other places could be more crowded for dinner on a big date night.  We rolled up one interstate exit and when we rounded the corner past the trees we saw the small parking lot full of cars.  That's when we remembered the little pink paper from a couple of years ago.   As we turned in and looked for a parking space, G and the kids were already running through a list of alternative restaurants.  But it was too late, I was interested.

The blinds were pulled down making it appear dark inside.  There were hearts and decorations all over the windows.  The place was packed and the people inside were dressed up.  No one dresses up for Waffle House.  The manager was inside with a black suit and his kid was working as the doorman also wearing a suit.  This was awesome.  I had to go inside.  I pulled the seatbelt off and looked at G.  She said, we're not waiting forever just to eat at Waffle House.  I argued we wouldn't have to wait long because there was only one family waiting in front of us.  She said, "We don't have reservations."  I laughed so hard.  The very idea of getting reservations to eat at Waffle House is still hilarious.  I was still laughing as the little kid opened the door and asked if I'd be dining with them this evening.  All I could think to say was "Look at you!".

I walked in and the manager approached me with a smile.  "Happy Valentine's Day, Sir!  Do you have a reservation?"

I didn't laugh in his face.  But I did laugh.  But y'all, all the lights were covered with pink paper for romantic lighting.  There were pink and white tablecloths on all the tables.  There was a red and white Christmas tree in the corner with red hearts hanging all over it.  There was a photobooth set up for couples.  I was going to eat there so I could take it all in.  

We waited about 15 minutes to sit down.  Without a doubt this is the longest I've ever waited to eat at a Waffle House.  Heck, I've had entire dining experiences there that didn't last that long.  But we waited and watched people.  People seemed to be eating salads, which we didn't know Waffle House served.  Some were getting desserts.  When couples would finish eating, the manager would walk them over to the backdrop and take their photo with one of those hipster instamatic cameras.  There was a youth group from a church.  There were several white haired couples.  There was a young couple who seemed just as surprised as us.  But everyone was smiling, laughing and happy.  

We were seated at the lower counter in four consecutive stools.  There was a white plastic tablecloth with lace hearts glued on it.  There was a candle romantically flickering for about 10 seconds before Blue blew it out.  They handed us special menus with salads, steaks and desserts.  Of course we opted for the traditional greasy breakfast but it was every bit as enjoyable as anything else.  With counter seats it's easier to watch the show as you overlook the open kitchen.  One of the waitresses and one of the cooks had a secret thing going on.  There were a couple of low key touches and brushes as they passed.  Not sure if this was a secret from the manager, so don't tell on them.  It seemed appropriate for the day.

The cool thing was, everyone was so happy.  It was like we were all in on the joke and no one was really the butt of the joke.  Waffle House knew it was quirky and weird and they went all in on it.  The patrons knew it was goofy and they dressed up and held hands and played it up.  Everyone was winning.  It was so great.  This was marketing genius.  This restaurant that truly suffered on one particular night of the year developed a goofball idea to bring in customers and it worked.  I was so proud of them!

When we got up to pay, we got the whole family in front of the backdrop for the instant photo.

The manager thanked us for coming and handed us our photo and we laughed all the way home.

Also, I bought G a pack of Hershey bars, so we're good.

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