Chez Gaufres

[Still not part of the Schmoop Saga. Please be patient.]
Some of you know my boyfriend, and if you do, you already know about his crazy passionate love for the Waffle House.
I can understand it, sort of. I have been attached to certain diners myself. I still cherish fond memories of Louie’s Cafe in Baton Rouge, for example, although I don’t have any desire to go back there and see the place again. Some places are better remembered than re-experienced. I can say that I like ordering breakfast from dingy little diners, but I would really rather have some good biscuits and honey, or hash browns, or some non-greasy egg-based breakfast while playing Tom Waits’ “Night Hawks at the Diner” in my head.

(I still can’t find traditional biscuits I like in Austin. It is very sad. I wish Threadgills would make them again.)
However, I have never had any fond memories involving a Waffle House, or for that matter, an IHOP or a Denny’s or a Shoney’s. Growing up, Waffle House was truly the bottom of the barrel, a place where you had to be pretty desperate to stop while on a road trip.
The only Waffle House in the area where I grew up, as far as I remember, was one off I-10 in Kenner. I was there once, a couple of months before I graduated high school, and I don’t even think we went in the place. I think we stood around outside.
What happened was that my high-school boyfriend and I were riding back from a weekend trip to LSU along with a high-school friend of mine. She was not very experienced in highway driving, so she had a million and one little rules and rituals and idiosyncracies. She also disliked my boyfriend.
Anyway, she didn’t like playing her radio, or maybe the reception was crappy, or she didn’t have a tape player … I can’t remember. What I remember is that I had a little portable stereo and my boyfriend pulled it out of a bag and started playing a Rolling Stones tape. I thought it was amusing, but my friend got annoyed and asked him to stop. Then she told him to stop. Then she threatened to stop the car and make him get out. He thought this was all very funny. I knew she was mad but he didn’t seem to understand and turned the music louder.
So she pulled into the Waffle House and told him to get the hell out. I could stay in the car if I wanted, but I was being a loyal little girlfriend at the time (dummy me) and so I got out with him, dragging our weekend luggage with us. We called his mom from a pay phone and waited outside the Waffle House and argued a bit until she showed up.
The point is, I thought the Waffle House was so nasty that I didn’t even want to go in there to wait. Sticky tables, scary waitresses and customers, and a smell brought on by decades of unceasing cigarette smoke. Ecch.
I do remember actually stopping and eating at a Waffle House once, though. It must have been about 10 years ago. I agreed to go on a family road trip to a Georgia resort that my parents like to visit every year. We thought it would be fun for us all to go for once, just like vacations when we were younger … besides, it was the only kind of vacation I could afford at the time.
We left my parents’ house in their Ford van at about 5:30 am because my dad likes to get an early start. My sister was in a pissy mood (for the entire vacation) because my parents wouldn’t let her boyfriend come with us, and they wouldn’t let her stay home with him. (She later married him. Oh, if only she’d known.) My youngest brother was too young to do much more than sit in the very back of the van and sleep and amuse himself.
But my other brother (the one who’s married and has kids now), he took the prize. He had been out at a friend’s party and didn’t get home until 4:30 am. My dad figured this out by touching the hood of the car when he went to load the van for the trip, and the car hood was still hot. My brother was exhausted and still half-drunk and he took up an entire row of seats, passed out and slightly drooly and rather gross. My sister and I wanted to paint his toenails while he was asleep, which I thought was perfectly in the spirit with a good old-fashioned family road trip, but my mom told us to cut it out.
Somewhere around Montgomery, Alabama, we were all starving and tired of being in the car and we wanted to stop somewhere to eat. No, we did not want to eat half-frozen bagels or half-drowned sandwiches from the ice chest. Also, some of us had to pee. My dad agreed to stop at the first decent dining establishment he could find.
He found a Waffle House outside of Montgomery. We all staggered out of the car. I swear my hungover brother was sleepwalking.
It was a typical Waffle House, somewhat dingy and sticky but not as horrible as my high-school self would have imagined. We found a large booth in a corner, separate from the counter. It was still morning and the restaurant had a fairly good-sized crowd, but wasn’t crazy-busy. A scrawny waitress half-heartedly took our order and didn’t get it so wrong that we felt we should venture to complain.
My brother woke up fully about halfway through the meal and took a good look around us. He turned to my dad, and said in what I am sure was meant to be a whisper, “Dad, we’re the only people in here with all our teeth.”
We tried not to laugh and looked around, terrified that someone might have heard. But no, the other patrons were absorbed in their breakfasts, or conversation, or whatever. In looking around, though, we saw what my brother had seen: people who looked like they ate every meal at the Waffle House, and who had never seen a dentist in their lives. This wasn’t a truck-stop diner, it was a diner full of very unfortunate people.
This made us all want to laugh more. We managed to restrain ourselves until we got back in the van, and then everyone burst into laughter, partly from the effort of suppressing it. Well, everyone except my brother, who passed out on the seat again.
But that’s what we all remember about that particular vacation: the Waffle House in Montgomery, Alabama, and my hungover brother.
So fast-forward to last November, when my boyfriend and I are driving back to Austin after visiting my family in the New Orleans area, and my boyfriend is getting really hungry. I told him to hang on, we were nearly to Lafayette, we would find something soon.
And then he saw a Waffle House. It was love at first sight.
“Can we stop there? Please, please can we? I really need to eat. Can we stop at the Waffle House?” And so on. I relented. I could not resist.
It was not a bad Waffle House as they go, and the waitresses were really nice. We had a big cheap breakfast, which turned out to be a very smart idea since later that day we got stuck in a Houston storm and didn’t get dinner until very late. Anyway, my boyfriend was completely charmed, and he said that maybe someday we could buy a Waffle House of our very own.
A month or so ago, a brand-new Waffle House opened in South Austin. He passed it while driving in the area and of course, he had to stop. He reported that tons of people were training behind the counter, his order had been a little screwed up, but it was all right and he was happy because … well, it was the Waffle House. I knew I would have to go with him sometime.
The opportunity presented itself last Saturday night. We skipped Eeyore’s because the weather was just too rotten, cold winds blowing all afternoon. However, my friend Connor went and had a wonderful time and stayed all the way to the end, enjoying himself in all the ways that people who go to Eeyore’s frequently do enjoy themselves.
We stopped by his house later that night to drop off some beer and pie from dinner, and to find out how Eeyore’s went, and to let him call us pussies for staying home. Connor confessed that he hadn’t really eaten since breakfast, and of course what better place for us all to have a late-night snack than the Waffle House.
We very nearly didn’t make it there at all because Riverside was blocked off by police for some weird reason. We pulled off in a parking lot to decide what to do … and the police block vanished. It was Fate. We had to go to the Waffle House after that.
We got there during a Saturday-night rush. We grabbed the last empty booth by the counter. I noticed immediately that at least a dozen people, I am not exaggerating, were working behind the counter. Training was still going on. The place itself did look new and not dingy but it still had that Waffle House personality.
I ordered hash browns (scattered, smothered) and the guys ordered full breakfast plates and then we realized that because of the training and the rush of customers, it was Shout-A-Rama behind the counter. The area back there was not that large, but still I watched one woman stand ten feet away and shout out requests very loudly instead of, say, walking five feet and using a more indoor-appropriate voice.
Fortunately I managed to cross over pretty quickly from irritated to amused. They got louder and it only got funnier. At one point these loud thumping noises came out of nowhere and that was funny too. Conversation was difficult at best.
Meanwhile, poor Connor simply could not stand all the noise after his long day at Eeyore’s and he got crankier and crankier. And you know what? That was funny too. He’d grimace and I’d giggle more. My boyfriend was cross that somehow his hash browns had been covered in cheese, but he still retained his deep and abiding Waffle House love, and seemed more entertained than annoyed overall.
On Monday, Connor apologized to me for being grumpy about the Waffle House and said he was sure he would enjoy it more when he was well-rested and sober. I added that we ought to wait until the new employees had more training, and perhaps also not go during a peak rush time.
So I am not the anti-Waffle House woman I was back in my younger days. I guess these things happen when you are involved with someone. You have to compromise. Besides, it is so cute to see him waxing rhapsodic about the Waffle House. I don’t think we’ll buy one, and I don’t think it’ll be a regular breakfast hangout (Dan’s is better and also closer to the house, and my boyfriend makes the best pancakes I’ve had in Austin) … but when someone you love is so enamored of something, you can’t always dismiss it entirely. Unless it’s Linux, but that’s a story for another day.

5 thoughts on “Chez Gaufres”

  1. non-Schmoop is fine when Waffle House is the topic. 😀 One night when I was in college, I drove thirty minutes to Thomasville, Georgia just so I could order some hash browns (scattered, smothered, and covered). Of course, had I been in better possesion of my faculties, I’d have remembered there was one on the outskirts of Tallahassee. But 2:30am road trips were always fun. 😉

  2. Very funny story, Jette. Kevin Costner and Rene Russo made me do it – after seeing “Tin Cup”, we had to try a Waffle House. Not terrible, but really slow.
    There’s supposed to be a funny line about waffles in “The Ladykillers” but I didn’t see that movie yet.
    BTW, went to “Robot Stories” and heard Q & A with the director at the new Arbor tonight – wonderful movie and interesting guy. I think the movie plays all week.

  3. Proper WH protocol calls for the standing and shouting thing. I almost never see anyone do it anymore (I am a connoisseur of The House myself), and probably the only reason you got to see it is because they were still in training.
    (If you can look over the counter, sometimes you’ll see the standing spot marked off on the floor.)

  4. Waffle Houses vary with neighborhood, just like any other fastfood place. The ones in the suburbs are often nice, clean and cheery and I’d eat breakfast there without complaint. The ones on the highways through economically depressed places, and in poorer neighborhoods? Heesh. Don’t touch the counter. You went to a Waffle House in Kenner? Aiee. Glad you lived. (My only acquaintance with Kenner is the airport hotel I got stuck in there, where the door didn’t lock and I spent the entire night with a table pushed up against the door and one eye open).

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