In February, my solo road trip through South America was resumed. It had been two years. On these trips I meet my wife, who flies to Florida; we visit relatives, enjoy a short respite from Illinois’ winter and drive home together.
I travel to places few people see. I’d driven through a string of small towns on two lane W. Va. Route 250 in the Appalachian hills. It was slow going. I missed the free motel breakfast so I joined the river that was flowing south on I-77. In just under an hour the Buick’s grille nosed over the Virginia state line. I had covered 72 miles. It is so fast.
The interstate is a web of similarity that has been purposely created to avoid towns. Interstates run through large cities, but small towns appear only on exit signs. Interstate travelers rarely travel to small towns. If drivers need to travel more than a quarter mile away from the interstate, they’re angry. We want gas stations and restaurants close to the road.
I was searching for a chain restaurant that could only be found in the South. I saw it, a yellow and black sign, just outside Wytheville, Va.’s exit. Waffle House
I sat at the counter next to the griddle, my favorite place. A waitress brought me a mug coffee. Something was different.
They had sealed off a section with yellow tape. There was one male chef, one woman training him, and two waitresses.
“What’ll you have honey?”
It’s a pleasure for me when waitresses call my sweet names. Can’t help it. Before I opened the door, I knew exactly what I wanted.
“Eggs sunny side up. Wheat toast. Grits. Hash browns scattered, smothered (Waffle House lingo for grilled onions), peppered (with Jalapenos), and diced (with diced tomatoes). Large milk when you bring my meal.”
“You got it darlin’.”
The male cook stared intently at the slip. He broke eggshells very deliberately.
A waitress shouted “New Order!”
“Scrambled, hold the grits!”
My waitress, who was pouring me my coffee, chimed in. “Think you can handle that, Kevin?”
Kevin shook his head with a forced smile.
“What’s with the closed section?”I asked.
“Sugar, we’re dying for help. That cook training Kevin, who’s brand new, is leaving tomorrow. The other waitress has only been here a week. We’re lucky we’re even open.”
A bell rang. My waitress turned and brought it back. We looked at it.
“It’s wrong ain’t it?”
“Yeah. It’s covered.”(Covered in cheese. “I didn’t order that.”
“I’m so sorry.”
She took it and turned around. “Damn it Kevin, you got to get this right.”
Kevin put the hash browns in the trash, then left me eggs, toast, grits, and continued to do so. Kevin brought the plate to me when the hash browns were finished.
“Sorry for making you wait.”
“Don’t worry about me. You got enough critics.”
“I’ll say. This may look easy but it’s not.”
The eggs were just warm. The toast was cold. The hashbrowns were delicious.
When the pandemic screws up Waffle House you know the country’s in trouble. I hope it’s going better in Wytheville now. I wouldn’t bet on Kevin still being at the griddle though.