I’ll call the Waffle House waitress Thelma for the purposes of this column. Thelma is mid-thirties, pretty, wearing a camouflage ball cap, and the no-nonsense attitude all hall-of-fame waitresses wear. And she calls everyone sweetie. I love it when they do that.
I sat in a booth in an average Florida Panhandle Waffle House on a weekend. The joint was empty. The globe lights hung over the faux-wood-grain tables the same way they did during my boyhood, back when long lines of customers would stretch out the door on Saturday mornings.
Tonight, however, the place was empty.
Thelma handed me a menu. I was struck by the reduced selections on the new menu. Waffle House used to have a lengthy menu that read like the abridged version of “War and Peace.” But now the lineup is vastly limited.
I asked Thelma why.
“Well,” she explained. “We’re having food supply issues. These are hard times, sweetie.”
And I could tell this was true because half the restaurant was roped off. Some of the barstools had plastic bags over the backs to either
encourage social distancing or to make things easier on the store’s two-person skeleton crew.
There were only three cars in the parking lot, counting mine.
“Why is it so dead?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Probably because we ain’t got many employees no more.”
Shrug. “Hard times.”
Even so, amidst hard times this Waffle House hasn’t lost its charm. The place is still Americana on a stick. Ice cold AC, jukebox in the corner playing Tammy and George, chocolate milk thick enough to pass for Georgia mud.
Thelma brought my coffee.
“Things have been rough,” she went on. “Used to, we had plenty’a staff, but now, well… Now it’s mostly just me and Ben working.”
She nodded toward Ben. Ben was tall with mahogany skin and shoulders like a defensive lineman.
I asked how long he’s been working…