T-Bones and Coca-Colas

At the register, the waitress asks how his night’s been. She is only making polite conversation, but he answers, “Awful. Almost got killed on the interstate, changing my own tire. Those kids probably saved my life.”

Waffle House is quiet this time of night. I’m on my way home. I still have a few highway hours left ahead of me. I’ve been listening to Conway Twitty for an hour. I need a break.

I order a hamburger and a chocolate milk.

There is an older gentleman in the booth behind me. He is small, gray-haired. He wears a white button-down with black smudges on the front. A loosened necktie.

With him are three Mexican boys. They are teenagers, wearing T-shirts and boots, squeezed into a booth.

“Order WHATEVER you want,” he tells them, in a slow voice. “Please, it’s on me.”

They speak a few words in Spanish, waving their hands. I can’t understand them, but I happen to speak fluent hand gestures. They’re saying: “No.”

One kid says, in broken English, “You no need pay for us.”

The man says, “It’s the least I can do. I owe you big time.”

The boys talk among themselves, rapid-fire. They agree on ordering T-bones and Coca-Colas. The man orders the same.

And because it’s been awhile since I’ve had a Waffle House T-bone. I flag my waitress.

“Is it too late for me to change my order to a steak?” I whisper.

“Sure thing,” she says. “You still want chocolate milk?”

You bet your waffle-iron I do.

The boys eat their steaks in record time. The youngest of the group—who is somewhere around twelve years old—is still hungry.

The two older boys shovel leftovers onto his plate. He cleans all three bones.

A good time is had by all.

My Waffle-House T-bone is even better than I remember. Tender. Greasy. But then, I’m not surprised. I have always been fond of Waffle-House fare.

Once, at the ripe age of sixteen, I took Vanessa Spurton here on a date. She seemed disappointed when we pulled into the parking lot. It was our first and last evening together. The chili was exquisite.

When the boys are finished eating, the table is silent. There is a language barrier.

So, they thank the man with labored English, then they leave to wait on the sidewalk while he pays.

At the register, the waitress asks how his night’s been. She is only making polite conversation, but he answers, “Awful. Almost got killed on the interstate, changing my own tire. Those kids probably saved my life.”

Then, he leaves cash on the table, and he’s gone.

Through the window, I see the boys shaking the man’s hand. All four look like they’ve just discovered teeth. The youngest hugs the man.

The boys pile into a truck—rusted fenders, Texas plates. The man crawls into a white minivan. Both sets of taillights disappear onto the highway.

The waitress talks to the cook. “You believe that guy just left me forty bucks?” she says.

Yeah. Well, I believe it.

These steaks are worth every penny.

10 comments

  1. Katie Gentile - March 28, 2017 10:50 am

    Sean. Sean. I work 4pm-2am at BJCTA/MAX, Birmingham, AL. I grew up in Susquehanna, PA… born in Oneida, NY. I married a truck driver from Cottonwood, AL in 1981. He gave me 3 amazing young women… one in Rehobeth, one in Luverne and my 27 year old baby can always get mail at his and his wife’s address. She proudly serves this county in the U. S. Army. She has yet to give me a grand, but all three make me so incredibly proud! You remind me every single day, why the Lord chose to put me in this state! Thank you… from the bottom of my heart, for choosing to see the wonderful work of my Savior! Thank you for your generosity of spirit! Please know that you make a difference! Be blessed, sweet man!

    Reply
  2. Cherryl Shiver - March 28, 2017 11:08 am

    I have been Blessed to have several Spanish friends. We have done a lot of head nodding during our talks, but we always got the point across. I was a teachers aid at a high school, and a bunch of those kids just needed a Momma with a listening ear, and a caring heart, and I happen to have both. Now that I am an older Grandma, those students seem to remember me and give back those caring hearts when I need it. Funny, huh?

    Reply
  3. Kathryn - March 28, 2017 1:52 pm

    Just a classic example of people following the golden rule. When we truly treat others as we would want to be treated then good things follow (even in a Waffle House 🙂 )

    Reply
  4. Sam Hunneman - March 28, 2017 2:14 pm

    An awareness of blessings is a wonderful thing. And then there’s a T-bone I hope I’ll always remember. Pineland Restaurant, Falmouth, Maine. Cooked out back over charcoal and served with mashed potatoes and frozen peas. Perfect.

    Reply
  5. June RouLaine Phillips i - March 28, 2017 3:52 pm

    You have a gift, Sean. God Bless you.

    Reply
  6. Kay Keel - March 28, 2017 4:04 pm

    Consideration for others has no language barrier!

    Reply
  7. Adrienne - March 28, 2017 5:21 pm

    I love your stories. Any man with enough taste to take me to Waffle House would get a second go around :). And we want to kick all the “illegal” immigrants out of our country? Who will be there to help? And since when did God decree that people had to stay in certain boundaries? Sorry- going off topic- you just got me thinking.

    Reply
  8. Michael Bishop - March 28, 2017 5:36 pm

    Makes me think that if there’d been a Waffle House on The Road to Emmaus, Jesus would have chowed down at it with those two grief-stricken disciples and their story would have an entirely different name today.

    Reply
  9. Marion Pitts - March 28, 2017 9:26 pm

    Smile overcome the tears. Such a great story. We don’t know how many times this happens. Those young men were so nice in helping the older gentleman. The big tip was a nice ending. Thank you.

    Reply
  10. rebecca - March 28, 2017 9:38 pm

    Just saw your column for the first time today on Facebook. You’ve just reminded me that no matter what insults are leveled at the South (Alabama in particular), whether it be racism, ignorance, backwards, etc., that the average southerner is at his finest when in trouble and when gratitude is called for. Thank you for making my day.

    Reply

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