Somewhere in South Alabama—Waffle House is packed. Families in every booth, truckers on every stool. I have been riding the interstate all morning.

I find a seat at the counter. My waitress is young. She brings coffee before I even finish ordering it.

A man sits next to me. He smells like the outdoors, and it’s been a few decades since he last shaved. His clothes are torn. His shoes are mismatched—one is gray, the other is black.

I notice he is carrying a tent. It’s sitting beside his stool in a ratty cardboard box that reads: “Deluxe Two-Person Tent.”

He’s eating eggs and grits, moving his mouth, singing along with the music overhead.

Finally, he looks at me and smiles. He is missing teeth.

“Don’t mind me,” he says. “I’m just singing.” He starts humming again.

“Singing?” I say.

“Yeah, it helps me figure things out, and I got things to figure out, man.”

“What sorts of things?”

“That’s my personal business.”

Okay then.

This signifies the end of our


The waitress leans onto the bar and grins at him. He grins back.

“You doin’ okay?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he says. “Just got a lot to figure out.”

“Maybe I can help,” she says.

“Aw, you don’t wanna hear my problems.”

“Well, maybe you wanna hear MY problems. I got a lot of’em.”

He flashes a toothy smile. It’s an old-man smile. It ought to be trademarked.

He says, “I would love to hear someone else’s problems for a change.”

There is egg yolk all over his beard. She wipes it off his whiskers with a wet rag.

Then, she tells him all about her life. She talks about how she just started working as a pizza delivery girl in the evenings to supplement her income.

She has two kids. Her…