Man of the Year

My waitress has a weathered face. At first glance, I’d guess she’s old. But she’s not old. Just weathered.

Waffle House is quiet this time of evening. The sun has set. I’m on my way back home from Montgomery.

There are eighteen-wheelers in the abandoned parking lot next door. Most of the world is winding down for the night.

My waitress has a weathered face. At first glance, I’d guess she’s old. But she’s not old. Just weathered.

She asks what I want. I order three eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, toast.

“White or wheat?” she asks.

“Surprise me.”

She reads my order to the cook. I never get tired of hearing them do that.

A kid is mopping the floor. He’s tall, skinny, tattoos on his neck. He looks like he just graduated.

“You mean he KICKED you OUT?” the kid asks the waitress.

“No,” she says. “I left.”

“Really?”

“And I ain’t going back to him. I’ll sleep in my car if I have to.”

The kid leans on his mop. He has a young face.

He says, “You could stay with me and my brother. I can sleep on the couch.”

She smiles. Her teeth are stained, she has lines on her face, but she is handsome.

“That’s real sweet, E.J.,” she says. “But I can’t.”

“Well, you CAN’T sleep in your car.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“C’mon,” he says. “We got Netflix and everything.”

My food’s ready. She hands me my plate and asks if I need anything. And because I’ve eaten enough Waffle House food to own stock in the corporation, I know exactly what I need.

“Ranch, please,” I say.

The kid goes on, “My stepdad used to cheat on my mom, too. She SHOULDA left him, but every time we’d leave, we’d always end up back with him, ‘cause we didn’t have nowhere to stay.”

The woman brings my packet of ranch. I drown my hashbrowns within an inch of their lives.

“I’m not gonna impose on you and your brother, E.J.” she says. “Please don’t worry about me.”

“You’ll have your own bathroom and everything. We’re really good guys, I swear, just for tonight.”

She laughs. She’s probably thinking what I’m thinking: youth.

She asks if I need anything else. More ranch. A warm-up on coffee. I explain that I am fine as wine in the summertime.

So, she hands me my ticket and wanders outside for a smoke. I see her through the window, lighting up.

The kid follows. He’s still pleading his case to her, talking with his hands. She lets him carry on.

Then, her dam breaks. She places her head in her hands. The kid wraps his arms around her. They stand like that for several minutes.

They walk inside.

She’s removing plates from my table, asking if my meal was okay. She smells like menthol lights.

The kid is dialing his cellphone. “Hey Nick,” he says. “I need you to go to Walmart and buy some new sheets for tonight.”

He finishes his conversation and hangs up his phone. He’s pushing a mop again.

“Thank you, E.J.,” she says.

“You ain’t gotta thank me. I just wanna help.”

Well.

You did, E.J.

21 comments

  1. Connie - July 13, 2017 1:23 pm

    There are still good people in the world. Thank you for sharing them.

    Reply
  2. Cathi Russell - July 13, 2017 1:55 pm

    Listening to what people are really saying, instead of their words, is such a valuable skill. And beautifully telling the story is an even more valuable skill. Thank you Sean for combining the two!

    Reply
  3. Malissa Clark - July 13, 2017 2:13 pm

    I love getting my daily email. I actually look forward to it. It brightens my day. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Catherine - July 13, 2017 2:24 pm

    I echo what Connie and Cathi said. A story worth telling.

    Reply
  5. Bobbie - July 13, 2017 2:38 pm

    I love Waffle House, and it’s people!

    Reply
  6. Serena - July 13, 2017 2:49 pm

    Love your Waffle House stories. Keep them comin’!!!!

    Reply
  7. Adam Quay - July 13, 2017 2:56 pm

    My favorite part of this story is that it took place in a Waffle House. I was part of the crew that opened the WH at Exit 145 off of I-26 in Orangeburg, SC back in the summer of 1986. I was 18 years old, just graduated high school and ran the grill on any/all shifts. I still cook food the Waffle House way and whenever I visit one, I give my order to the waitperson in the same manner they call it in to the grill. I invariably get a quizzical look in response, followed by “Did you used to work here?” Love your writing Sean!

    Reply
  8. Cathleen Hall - July 13, 2017 3:05 pm

    What a great story. There are still people that care. Refreshing.

    Reply
  9. Mary Hennis - July 13, 2017 4:45 pm

    God puts people in your path a lot of times, when you are unaware. What a great story. I bet there are many more out there like it.

    Reply
  10. Mary Hennis - July 13, 2017 4:47 pm

    God puts people in your path many times, when you are unaware. I bet there are many more stories out there like that……..you will find them….I bet

    Reply
  11. Sandi - July 13, 2017 4:53 pm

    Majority of the people on this planet can HEAR, but very few are actually skilled in the art of LISTENING. Active listening is quite rare, because so many folks are chronically busy checking their cell phones during a live conversation that they do not even make eye contact with the person who’s talking to them.
    Sean, sincere thanks for actively LISTENING to those around you and making a positive difference for good in this pressure-cooker world. We need more fine people like you!

    Reply
  12. Wendy - July 13, 2017 5:04 pm

    Thank you, Sean. You never fail to inspire!

    Reply
  13. Carolyn - July 13, 2017 8:59 pm

    Yes! Man of the Year!!

    Reply
  14. Patricia Gibson - July 13, 2017 10:37 pm

    Such an angel! Life is good

    Reply
  15. Margaret Parker - July 14, 2017 1:36 am

    Another good story…
    Thanks!

    Reply
  16. Margaret Parker - July 14, 2017 1:37 am

    Thanks for another great story…

    Reply
  17. Jack Quanstrum - July 14, 2017 3:28 am

    Sean, you have done it again. What a great story of the good in people. And the Flair you used to describe the Waffle House, the food, the sights and smells where extraordinary. Keep it up!

    Reply
  18. Kathy Burgess - July 14, 2017 5:17 am

    lovely. I have taken long car trips and eaten 3 meals a day at WH. Always saw/met at least 1 person I knew needed a mothers kind of love. Just love that place.

    Reply
  19. Linda acres - July 14, 2017 6:34 am

    Sean, I can’t always read your stories because they add another little crack to my heart, which is already broken.

    This one was beautiful. She’ll go back to him of course but that boy has t lived long enough to know that, yet. But while there are boys like him, there’s hope isn’t there.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  20. Janet Mary Lee - July 15, 2017 6:35 am

    There is a special Waffle House in Columbia, S.C. that takes really good care of my step-mother. We live far apart, but they watch over her like she is gold, and some of her best friends she met there. And they are wonderful salt of the earth people. Did you know that disasters are analyzed by the number of people that can make it to a waffle house, as they are there for us often 24/7. And they open darn near no matter what! What a great story! But dang, couldn’t you have ketchup on those hash browns instead of ranch! LOL!

    Reply
  21. Janis - July 16, 2017 11:39 pm

    Part of God’s redemption is using those bad experiences we wish would have never happened to nurture compassion for someone else going through similar circumstances. That young man’s compassionate offer stems from what he wishes had been available to him and his brother and mother, when they were in the midst of their own struggles and their hopeless search for options and solutions. He knows that feeling and would not wish it upon anyone. Sean, you witnessed a divine appointment! God bless E.J….and that brave waitress.

    Reply

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