Knoxville. Last year. I am walking into a Waffle House to get supper because everywhere else is closed at this hour. The sidewalks are rolled up. The lights are off. Knoxville is asleep.
I should be asleep, too, of course. But I’m not. Because I had to make a speech earlier tonight. It was one of those long nights where I drove straight to Knoxville and came right back.
I had to wear a tux. Have you ever been to a Waffle House while wearing a tuxedo? You get a lot of funny looks.
“Did you just finish with senior prom?” the waitress asks.
“No,” I say. “It was much worse. I had to make a speech to drunk rich people.”
She leans on the counter. “You wanna cry about it?”
“No. I’m past that.”
“So. What’re we drinking, Prom King?”
“Anything that’s hot and black.”
“One cup of tar, coming up.”
There is a guy at the counter who is dressed in a service uniform of some kind. He is old. There are tattoos all over his arms. Tattoos on his knuckles. Piercings all
over his face. A ring in his nose.
He is a little long in the tooth to have a ring in his nose, but there you are. The tattoos on his knuckles let me know that he has no problem using those babies.
He gazes into his coffee cup.
Here is a man who is not playing with his phone. Which is a rarity in our world. He’s not reading anything. He’s not talking to anyone. He’s just gazing.
“Evening,” I say to him.
He glances up from his coffee. “Hi ya, buddy.”
He’s country, with an accent like your favorite uncle. Country people always call you “buddy.”
The waitress stops by the old man’s mug.
“Get you a refill?” she says.
“Yes, please,” he says as she pours. “Thank you, baby.”
Country people also…