Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wo-Ho Wo-Ho, Its Off To The Twilight Zone We Go


The Waffle House: everyone's favorite late night dining experience or, more accurately, the only place that is still open when you suddenly and oddly get the munchies at four in morning. Most of you have probably had an experience or two with the Awful Waffle and the assorted cast of devious characters that are bound to have accumulated within its doors once the clock strikes two.
My trip to Atlanta to see Flogging Molly on the 4th of March provided me the opportunity to enter the premises again and wallow in nostalgia amidst the kind of atmosphere that more closely resembles a Dali painting than it does real life. Or, perhaps these people are just a lot more real than my puny earthling brain, unpolluted with the requisite dosing of various illegal chemicals, is able to endure.
I may have already alluded to the fact that this visit was not my first ride on the waffle rodeo. My college years and the subsequent attempts in the decade afterward to relive them have resulted in a series of late night trips to Waffle House and other late-night diners of its ilk. I have faded away from that scene in recent years as I have begun to move in different circles (read: become boring and old), but I still retain memories of trips filled with random characters straight out of a work by Stephen King, or better yet William Burroughs or Charles Bukowski, whose novel's realistic vein make them all the more frightening.
On two occasions I have even been evicted from the confines of the restaurant for my own disgraceful acts. Once on my twenty-first birthday, one of my good friends bought me all I could drink in exchange for my promise to vomit for him before the evening was out. A strange Faustian bargain it is true, but one I failed to carry out, although I did in the end find some unknown way of being sent from the rungs of one of the lowest levels of the ladder of our society. Frankly, I really can't even remember from the hearsay of my friends, who were only moderately better witnesses at the time, the reason for my receiving the proverbial boot from the WoHo proprietors.
I do have a much better recall of the second incident, when I composed the fiendish plan with my boyfriend at the time, to walk barefoot from my apartment to the Waffle House located over two miles away in Traveler's Rest. Yes, I am aware of how brilliant this plan was. Only the intercession of a divine force prevented our arrest that evening, when our somewhat intoxicated bodies somehow carried us the entire distance to the establishment, only to result in our swift exit when the employees noticed the absence of any footwear. Who knew they had such strict standards?
The most recent occurrence (thankfully) was not the fault of myself and my untoward infatuation with the demon rum. Post-concert hunger pains and the previous closure of other surrounding establishments resulted in our arrival at a Waffle House half an hour north of Atlanta. I landed in this parallel dimension around one in the morning with a posse that included my brother Colin and his friends Kevin and Joe, to find a nearly deserted interior. We opened the door and suddenly our lives took sudden twist downward and into the rabbit hole.
The reason for the lack of business was soon to become apparent. No psychopathic customer, drugged out hippie, or overly intoxicated Alastair was going to be the doom of this scene. The role of lead lunatic would be taken instead by one of the employees of this particular WoHo, and we were quickly introduced to his breathtaking madness.
An older man in his late fifties or maybe early sixties shambled slowly towards our table to welcome us into his house of horrors. I will let Kevin take over with his dead-on description:
"In the area a bit to the north of his neck, he had what appeared to be either a very small chin or an egregious overbite. It almost reminded me of a ventriloquist dummy...but it also didn't move when he spoke. Perhaps the person controlling the levers was not currently at the wheel."
We had apparently entered a Jeff Dunham show that was taking place somehow without the presence of Jeff Dunham. Kevin had more to say though:
"His glasses were a thick, square-like shape, kind of like the Stacy Keach specs in 'American History X'. The alarming trait was the slight tint. For some reason, seeing someone with tinted glasses indoors or at night, regardless of whether or not they have been prescribed, makes me uncomfortable."
In all honesty, quickly was probably a bad adjective to use for this gentleman, for nothing he did was worthy of the term. His first act, after we had waited five minutes in a diner with no other customers, was to present us with silverware. The process was undergone in an almost ritualistic fashion, each piece placed before us one at at time, with a delicate reverence one would think was reserved for the presentation of Communion at church. Not a word was spoken during this ceremony, with the possible exception of an incoherent mumble (a welcoming one or something slightly more sinister?) on the part of the waiter. He then waddled off, without asking us about drinks.
Our man returned ten minutes later, a good five minutes after we had clearly decided on what we wanted for dinner. After another muffled utterance on his part, we determined that he was ready to take our order. Somehow we stumbled through the process, with Joe helping things along by agreeing to have anything on his hash browns that the man wanted to put there (probably in retrospect an unwise request).
Kevin then made the unfortunate mistake of asking for a bit of the waitering. I will let Kevin relate this incident in his own eloquent words:
"He got irritated when I asked him for cream with my coffee, and upon his return lamented on how he only has two hands for about five tasks...maybe I was rushing him. Then he tried to make what seemed to be an incoherent joke about the situation, to which we replied with blank stares and a few eventual shaky laughs."
Once we were through placing our order, another man appeared, apparently out of thin air, to do our cooking. I could have sworn someone said, "bring out the gimp" shortly before he was beamed into the kitchen. This weirdo was a short dude shaped like a Bartlett pear, with a wispy mustache and an ethnic background based on Bulworth's advice to fuck until we are all one color. He did a nice job cooking our vittles and then disappeared once more. We discovered him again when we went to pay - he was sitting in the corner and appeared to be viewing some child pornography on a small laptop. He was the less talkative of the two, as recall he never spoke a single word.
Back to frightening individual number one, AKA the waiter, whom we will call Steve from now on in order to make it easier to explain who the hell I am talking about. This is a literary technique known as pulling shit out of your ass. No real reason to name the guy Larry and a heartfelt apology goes out to all Steves around the world upset by this completely arbitrary decision on my part.
Using the word frightening for Steve may be too strong a term, as I never felt in any physical danger during the whole experience (although I may be alone on that front), but rather as if we had walked into some sort of alternate universe where people huff glue and meander around like zombies while at work. Steve's wanderings took him over to our table, where he presented us with the check. Within moments he returned and took the bill away from us, with nothing but one of his patented grunts in way of explanation. I am sure he had a good reason to do what he did, but this act was just a bit of icing on top of the cake of insanity we were being served.
Our starving group, in quite a hurry to return to the real world, or at least anywhere but where we were, wolfed down the hash browns and eggs in front of us and dashed towards the counter in order to ante up with Steve, who was also the cashier. Colin made the unfortunate mistake of being the first to pay, and compounded his error by asking to have his check separated from the rest of the bill. Colin then received a tongue-lashing from Steve for having not mentioned this need earlier. None of us had a clue what he said, besides repeating the joke "walk-all-ova-ya" when seeing my brother's credit card in a sudden bipolar swing towards humor.
After what seemed like an hour of work pounding out arithmetic with the use of an old pencil and a calculator, Steve finally managed to total up Colin's massive bill, which included a bacon and egg sandwich and a water (the agua was free).
The three of us who still had to provide monetary compensation for our dinner quickly huddled up and found the money necessary to cover the rest of the meal. We yelled our farewells to Steve and hurried outside to Kevin's waiting vehicle. It was only then that we spoke and laughed about what had just happened. No one had been willing to utter a sound above a whisper while inside the Waffle House. The kind of lunacy we had witnessed inside was most deserving of that level of respect.
So, if you are ever in the neighborhood and looking for an interesting experience.....go one exit down and visit the Taco Bell instead, believe me, its just not worth it.

5 comments:

Ms. Red said...

I have for a long time come to accept the bizarre at the Waffle House. I think it is part of their ambiance. It certainly makes me feel better about myself the next day seeing the cast of characters that plays and works there. Well, I feel better about myself after I shower, and usually after I sober up anyway. Sounds like something from Arsenic and Old Lace

Anonymous said...

Perfect recall bro, you set the scene and described its weirdness in appropriate measure. If you wanted to add another minor detail you could mention that when he began separating the bill for my meal he was using an old calculator and a pencil to tally up my complicated bill of a Texas bacon and egg and cheese sandwich platter and a water. This took an unusually long time for my simple meal.

Viva la waffle!

-Colin

kevin said...

Stirringly accurate recollection of our descent into The Last House of Waffles. I too have a few minor details to add that I can remember.

- The man's name was Steve, working for WoHo since 2007; I like to read name tags.

- Traveling north of the name tag, he had a what appeared to be either a very small chin or an egregious overbite. It almost reminded me of a ventriloquist dummy...but it also didn't move when he spoke.

- His glasses were a thick, square-like shape, kind of like the Stacy Keach specs in 'American History X'. The alarming trait was the slight tint. For some reason, seeing someone with tinted glasses indoors or at night, regardless of whether or not they have been prescribed, makes me uncomfortable.

- His salt and pepper hair oozed wildly within the confines of his trusty hairnet, finally conforming to the shape of a shower cap.

- I noticed 'the gimp' almost immediately after the departure of the patrons eating before us. He was slumped over on the far counter, staring very closely at the screen of a laptop, which echoed the sound of children's voices. WoSteve would later watch the intriguing program with him after we got our food.

- During both rounds of tab delivery, WoSteve carefully placed our bill under the packet of grape jam atop the napkin holder to ensure it wouldn't fly away, a very thoughtful gesture indeed.

- He got irritated when I asked him for cream with my coffee, and upon his return lamented on how he only has two hands for about five tasks...maybe I was rushing him. Then he tried to make what seemed to be an incoherent joke about the situation, to which we replied with blank stares and a few eventual shaky laughs.

- A young couple entered the restaurant as WoSteve was calculating the rest of our tab, assuring me of two things:

1.) Time did not stop once we entered WoHo.
2.) The cycle was about to continue...

Alastair McCandless said...

Larry has been vaporized. Poor Larry. I will still pretend that I did not know his name for the interest of humor or rather my sad attempt at such.

Anonymous said...

The most irritating thing about the Awful Waffle is the constant yelling out orders. They'll do it right next to you while you're trying to have a conversation at your booth.