My wife’s grandmother lived in Nashville right before she died. A few weeks after she passed away, my wife, my mother-in-law and I went to Nashville to help clean out her apartment. We traveled in two vehicles. My wife and I were in my small pickup truck. We were going to transport bedroom furniture. My mother-in-law was going to bring everything else in her car. It was a long day full of memories. We also visited with my wife’s aunt and cousin. They lived in Nashville. I don’t remember how early we got into town but it was very late before we were leaving. I was ready to get home as quickly as possible but everyone else wanted to stop for a snack. That’s when we decided to stop at the Waffle House.
It was February of 1989 and really cold outside. The Waffle House was just off of interstate 40 traveling west from Nashville. It was around 1 or 2 in the morning when we stopped and the Waffle House was very busy. It is my understanding that there is a VFW at this same exit and whatever time we arrived at the Waffle House was just after the VFW had closed for the night. Like most Waffle House restaurants in this part of the country, there was a counter with several stools near the door. Behind this counter was the grill where all of the cooking took place. Where the stools ended, a series of booths started with a short wall running beyond where the counter ends. The wall was low enough that the people working there could easily access the tables from the kitchen area. Toward the front of the store, there were some tables against a glass wall. All of the walls in the restaurant were glass on the front side and all the way around to the glass door at the entrance. We sat in the first booth next to the counter. My wife and I were facing the counter and my mother-in-law was facing us and the front of the store.
It wasn’t long until we realized that nearly everyone in the Waffle House was crazy. First, there was a group of people in the booth immediately behind us. One of the guys in the group talked loud, talked a lot and had a voice like Gilbert Gottfried. Gilbert Gottfried has become one of my favorite comedians but at the time, he was more annoying than beloved. The next think I noticed was a guy sitting on a stool at the counter. He was wrapped up in a thick coat and hat. He also had a napkin in one hand and appeared to be nursing a small wound on the other hand. Behind the counter was a waitress who had a terrible hacking cough. She was also talking to the guy cooking our food. She mentioned that she had this cough for quite some time and was afraid she might have the flu. I noticed that while she was talking and coughing, she was putting away dishes. Plates that would very likely be used to bring our food to our table. Plates that may have been coughed on. Plates that were at least handled by a typhoid Mary.
The craziness seemed to subside for a moment and then the lady with the baby came in the door. This lady had been in the middle of town and was trying to travel to the east side of town. Here she was on the west side of town, lost, a small child and a dead battery on her car. She wanted direction s and someone to jump off her car. To add to the tension of the situation, she was the only black person in the Waffle House. There was a truck driver at the counter paying his bill who offered to help her with the car but he needed to go to the restroom first. The cook assumed that she was having financial problems and that she was on drugs. He was offering all kinds of advice about where she could go to get a job and off of drugs. It seems like there were other people at the counter joining in to offer more advice.
It was at this point that my senses became overwhelmed with the madness around me. Gilbert Gottfried was starting to get louder and louder. The black lady with the baby had taken all she could stand and started crying. Through her tears she said “All I want is someone to give me directions and jump off my car!” She sat on the stool next to the bundled man with wounded hand. At that exact moment, I noticed out the corner of my eye the coughing waitress. She was getting off work. She was talking and coughing and trying to push open the door of the Waffle House with her butt. The problem is, she wasn’t at the door. She was pushing against the glass wall right next to the door. At that exact moment, the guy nursing the wound on his hand reaches over to the black lady and says to her in a tone that can be best described as a 45 RPM record being played at 33 & 1/3, “We’re all nice people ‘round here.”
That’s all I could take. I busted out laughing. Seeing any of these things happening by themselves might have caused a few snickers, knowing glances and whispers. I could not contain my amusement at the people around me and I proceeded to laugh so hard, it hurt. I don’t know how many of these people were regulars at the VFW but I was tempted to drive to Nashville regularly just to see the show.
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