Diner Speak

“Sit wherever you want, sweetie,” the Waffle House waitress said.

I slid into my booth. Alan Jackson was singing overhead about the Chattahoochee. Birmingham traffic was whizzing outside the plate glass.

My waitress was Latina. She was older, but energetic, with the face of a cherub.

“What’re we drinking, hon?”

I told her.

She gave me a few seconds to look at the menu. But reading the menu took me a while; I was exhausted. Recently, my wife and I have been traveling back and forth between Florida and Birmingham, preparing for an upcoming move.

Over the last few weeks, we have been packing our entire Floridian lives into tiny boxes, and we’re about to move those boxes 263 miles north.

“Know what you wanna eat?” said the waitress.

“Eggs and hashbrowns,” said I.

She made a note. “Want anything done to your hashbrowns?”

“Yes. I want them drowning in enough grease to clog a municipal drainage pipe.”

“Toast?”

“Please.”

“Wheat or white?”

“The kind I’m not supposed to eat.”

She smiled and wrote on her notepad. The waitress welcomed a few more patrons into the establishment. Then she tucked her pen into her apron and looked at me.

“You been traveling a long way today?” she asked.

“Why, do I look that haggard?”

“No. Not haggard just… A little droopy.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere.”

“Listen, hon, at my age, it’s either droopy or it don’t work anymore.”

The woman then recited my order to the cook. She read it in that wonderful Waffle-House language all servers use.

Long ago, I used to work as a short order cook in a breakfast joint. They made us wear a white paper cap known as the “confidence killer.” My favorite part of the gig was when waitresses would call out orders in diner-speak.

WAITRESS: “Alright, boneheads! Gimme Adam and Eve on a raft with some bad breath and one cup’a mud! And I need it yesterday, jerk-wads!”

TRANSLATION: Two eggs on toast, extra onions, and one coffee. Thank you, gentlemen.

While I was thinking about this, it dawned on me that the experience I just described, working as a cook, happened in Florida. Because all my memories happened in my home state. And now I’m leaving them behind.

Moreover, moving states means I’m leaving behind a lifetime of friends. Will I make new friends in Birmingham? Do guys my age make new friends?

Most of the friends I’ve made, I made when I was a young pup. But it’s not nearly as easy to make friends when you’re a middle-aged guy whose idea of a wild night is eating dinner past 4:30.

After a few minutes, the waitress arrived with my plate. She placed it before me. She turned to leave, but I asked her to stay.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question, ma’am?”

The woman leaned onto the faux-wood divider and nudged the bill of her visor upward, Will Rogers style. “Ask away.”

“Well, it’s just, I’m new in town, and I’ve never actually lived in a big city before. I guess I’m a little nervous about it all. How do you like living here in Birmingham?”

She took a few moments to think about her answer.

“Well,” she finally said, “I’ve lived here for forty years. Lotta people will poormouth Birmingham, but they’re all wrong. It’s a great town.

“I moved here from Texas when I got outta high school. My boyfriend got a job here and I came with him. I was pretty scared about leaving home. Was afraid I wouldn’t fit in.”

“So what happened?”

“What happened is, as soon as we got here, my boyfriend found a girl wearing a much shorter skirt. He left me. I was stuck in this city on my own with an infant daughter.”

She looked at her hands.

“But it was God who brought me here. God had my back the whole way. Birmingham turned out to be a great place to raise my kids. Great place to live. Met my husband here, we’ve been together a long time.”

The cook joined our conversation. He was a large man with his hair braided into cornrows and two prodigious arms made of granite.

“I grew up here,” he said. “Listen, our city’s had its ups and downs, sure. But what city don’t? This is a great place with great people.

“I tried moving away to Saint Louis when I was in my twenties, just to see what it was like. Man, it sucked. I couldn’t get home fast enough. I like to think of Birmingham as a really big small town.”

“Yeah,” said the waitress. “That’s a good way to put it. It’s a big small town. I think you’ll like it here.”

The cook smiled and said, “And just think about it like this, dude. If you worried about making friends, you just made two right here.”

They’re okay in Birmingham.

57 comments

  1. 🇿🇦🇿🇦 Norma Den - February 15, 2022 8:14 am

    Sean don’t worry. I’ve moved from Zambia (Northern Rhodesia back then) straight after marrying at 18. New country, new marriage, no friends at all & first time I’d lived away from home. Took a while to settle. Since then we have had several moves, one like you within months of my Mom dying. It’s traumatic, but believe me the old adage about Strangers just being friends you haven’t met yet, holds true. You have your belongings, your dogs & your wonderful Jamie. You will survive. Bless you..

    Reply
  2. Nancy Wright - February 15, 2022 9:52 am

    Sean, you’re soon going to love Birmingham. It’s a great city. You’ll have more friends than you know what to do with in no time. Welcome to Alabama!

    Reply
  3. Virginia+Russell - February 15, 2022 11:01 am

    My niece likes her WH hash browns with cheese. I prefer my cheese with grits. WH hires good folks.

    Reply
  4. Lucia Johnson - February 15, 2022 11:33 am

    You will love living in Birmingham – the best little big town there is.

    Reply
  5. Ann - February 15, 2022 11:37 am

    Enter Waffle House and hear a very loud “ MORNIN’ “…. You will feel right at home as you enter the new chapter of your book of life. God’s got your back!

    Reply
  6. Marilyn Vance - February 15, 2022 11:57 am

    See….and just like that, two new friends! You and Jamie will not be without friends long!

    Reply
  7. Connie - February 15, 2022 12:36 pm

    Welcome to Alabama. You already have friends here. I live in the southern part of the state but I met you a couple times when you did gigs both here in my town and a little further north. I’m your friend, even if I don’t live in Birmingham. God bless you and Jamie on your next path. Hugs.

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  8. Ed Spears - February 15, 2022 12:38 pm

    I moved away from My home state of Florida once. I found that it was important for me to find water. I took it for granted that I would see water every day. The large expanse of the Gulf, Pensacola Bay or a bayou. It has a calming effect, centering effect. Puts you at ease while still telling you you’re just a small piece of a giant puzzle. Enjoy Birmingham, but find water.

    Reply
    • Becky in Birmingam - February 15, 2022 7:57 pm

      Water is everywhere you go in Birmingham and surrounding areas. Lakes to the East (Logan Martin), to the North (Smith Lake), West (We even have a port out there), and South (Lay Lake and a bunch others). And then there are the private lakes everywhere! Lake Purdy off I459 is the source of water for homes. Public Television tells us all about it on Sundays. Y’all come!

      Reply
  9. Beverly Pharr - February 15, 2022 1:00 pm

    Yes, you will make friends in Birmingham! You like animals, so go where the animals are and you’ll meet people like you. You like baseball, so go see the Barons play. You’ll meet people like you. I moved to California from NC 35 years or so ago. I met friends through exercise —that’s my thing, but also through baseball (go Giants!), and work. They’ve seen me through joy and heartbreak. You’re never too old to make friends. Seek them through the things that bring you joy.

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    • Lauren Lopez - February 15, 2022 4:00 pm

      Thank you for this advice, Beverly! I needed to hear that! My husband and I moved from Texas, where we’ve lived all our lives, to Arizona, where my husband has always wanted to live. How I miss our families and lifelong friends! It’s been really hard establishing new friendships. Again, thank you for your words of advice!

      Reply
  10. Karen Howard-Goss - February 15, 2022 1:04 pm

    So excited for you and your big move! You and Jaime will make tons of friends! And remember, you may be leaving your Florida home behind that you bring your memories with you! Wherever you go you’ll always have your memories 😃😃

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    • Karen Howard-Goss - February 15, 2022 1:06 pm

      You may be leaving your Florida home behind *but*
      Your memories go with you, wherever you go, they’re with you!

      Reply
  11. Linda Hill - February 15, 2022 1:05 pm

    I’m an Army Brat-but I always considered Birmingham my hometown. My father was stationed there after his tour in Germany & it’s where every momentous event happened in my young life. As with most old people, those memories remain vivid in my mind. I could write a book. But I won’t. After a number of years in other places, Birmingham remains dear & close to my heart. I live in gorgeous NC but my sister wisely moved back to where our heart calls “home” several years ago. The first thrill comes when we visit and see the big sign when we cross the line from Georgia that’s says, “Sweet Home Alabama”. Ah yes, indeed. Y’all will be very happy there.

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  12. Ruth+Ann - February 15, 2022 1:22 pm

    Waffle House is a great place to start. For years my husband would travel every 3 months from Bowling Green Ky to Durham N. C. to see a doctor. He would drive straight through to get there but stay over night at the same hotel in Asheville on the return home. He ate breakfast at the same Waffle House and got to know the waitresses as well as a couple of locals who would invite him to join them every time. It was comforting to feel welcome that far from home. He often talked of Gus and Ernie. I was grateful that they helped him get his day started and he would be back home with me at the end of the day.

    Reply
  13. Sandi. - February 15, 2022 1:24 pm

    The city of Birmingham is blessed to have you moving there, Sean. You’ll be missed in Florida though. I was so happy when I first found out you lived here!

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  14. Oliver Rhett Talbert - February 15, 2022 1:37 pm

    Hell, you’re gonna flourish there. If just 0.00001% of your FB “associates” live within 20 miles, you’ll be meeting them at this same diner pretty regular before you know it. And like about half the small groups I started as a pastor (now retired), all you need is 1 or 2 you can count on to show up no matter what. You got it made, man!

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  15. Tom - February 15, 2022 1:43 pm

    You already got many friends in the Magic City and you will make more. I met you a couple years ago in Huntsville and read you every day – you can call me a friend. I live only live bout hour and half away in Madison. Give me a holla if you need pictures hung or other little projects getting moved in and I’ll run down and help – free. That’s what friends do. My Red Head would be glad to get me out of the house. You got my email. I’d give you a call but don’t have ur number. I’m not a wacko- I had a top secret clearance before retiring so I’ve been pretty well checked out!

    Reply
  16. Jan - February 15, 2022 1:55 pm

    You are one of my best friends. We share stories every morning, rain or shine. I met you in person once when you spoke at the bookstore in a local mall in Birmingham although the address may say something else like Hoover or Homewood. I have the photo to prove it. I live in a small town called Pinson on the outskirts of Birmingham. Pinson is located very close to Trussville and I know you have been there. We would love to have you visit Pinson any time. You have many friends here!

    Reply
  17. Hosea Long - February 15, 2022 1:56 pm

    Sean, you’re one of the best storytellers around. Thanks for providing some regular highlights!

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  18. Richard Owen - February 15, 2022 1:58 pm

    My son started his first parttime job as a dishwasher at a Waffle House at 16 and, after a few years in college and continuing to work parttime for WH, he went fulltime and has been with WH ever since. He is a store manager and turned 49 this year. He did go back a couple of years ago and got his college degree. Haven’t visited his new store yet but am making plans. At my age, even the weekly grocery store trip requires a plan.

    Reply
  19. Carroll Uithoven - February 15, 2022 2:02 pm

    We moved from north Mississippi, where we had lived all our lives, to Dauphin Island, AL, 12 years ago. Love it & have never looked back.

    Reply
  20. Southern Girl - February 15, 2022 2:30 pm

    Two things: 1)Waffle House hash browns should be scattered, smothered, and covered! 2)B’ham is great, but, my gosh it’s big and has mega traffic! I want to more to a town the size of Mayberry.

    Reply
  21. Don Gardner Jr. - February 15, 2022 2:45 pm

    Sean,

    As I do most days, I read your article as I sipped my coffee at Waffle House. If you don’t find enough friends in Birmingham, then you and Jamie can take a 90 minute drive up I-65 to Madison, AL. You can me about 8 AM at the Waffle House on Hughes Rosd. You’ll certainly find lots of friends here.

    Reply
  22. Thames Robinson - February 15, 2022 2:48 pm

    I look forward to seeing you around town friend.

    Reply
  23. Shelton A. - February 15, 2022 2:53 pm

    Sean, you make friends during elevator rides and waiting in line for check-out at the grocery store. You’ll be fine! God bless to you and Jamie plus your hounds! Learn how to use Zoom to keep face-to-face with your family in FL.

    Reply
  24. AlaRedClayGirl - February 15, 2022 3:00 pm

    Don’t worry about moving and making new friends; just remember that home is where your heart is. You’re going to be okay in Birmingham.

    Reply
  25. Brenda Stone - February 15, 2022 3:09 pm

    You will be fine!

    Reply
  26. Stacey Wallace - February 15, 2022 3:24 pm

    Sean, don’t you worry, God will send friends to you. Also, my husband Mike and I live in Auburn, the Loveliest Village on the Plains. I wish you could come visit us. We’d meet you at our favorite Waffle House.

    Reply
  27. Cathy M - February 15, 2022 3:32 pm

    I am not worried for a minute about you making friends here. I am a little concerned that your fan club is going to overwhelm you and Jaime. I have heard rumors abt. Your new address but maybe you want to keep it on the down low. You are moving at the perfect time. A few weeks to get settled and then Spring is here and Birmingham in the spring is glorious. We can’t wait to welcome you and Jaimie to our wonderful city. 👏

    Reply
  28. terieasterling - February 15, 2022 4:09 pm

    LIve just southwest of the Ham in the suburb of Hueytown, former home of NASCAR Allisons, Bonnett, Farmer. Welcome to Alabama! We moved to Bessemer/Hueytown about 42 years ago from other places in Alabama. Did not know anyone, but were taken in as family quickly by church friends! Have moments when folks discuss relatives, friends, and places they all grew up with that we have no clue about, but we have never really felt left out. Lots of good things to do all around from music, theatre, outdoor activities, sports, etc. And lots of Waffle Houses, one just about 2 miles from us.

    Reply
  29. Susan W Fitch - February 15, 2022 4:26 pm

    I need to visit WH!

    Reply
  30. Pingback: Sean of the South: Diner Speak | The Trussville Tribune

  31. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 15, 2022 5:08 pm

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  32. CM - February 15, 2022 5:26 pm

    You are gonna love it!

    Reply
  33. Vince - February 15, 2022 5:53 pm

    Moved a lot during my life. Until recently the longest I had been in one place was 5 years. Norma Den is spot on. You are bringing the important parts of your life with you. One will find plenty of unmade friends where ever they go if they have the right attitude. You, sir, will have to buy a bigger house to host your friends for barbecue come summertime.

    Reply
  34. Kathy Szala - February 15, 2022 6:11 pm

    Sean, I’m packing boxes too, getting ready to move from where I’ve always lived to a town I’ve never been to. I have the same fears about leaving old friends and familiarity and making new friends at 72….I doubt it. Wishing us both luck for this life changing evemt.

    Reply
    • Patricia Gibson - February 15, 2022 6:56 pm

      Good luck to you

      Reply
  35. Louise Cahela - February 15, 2022 6:15 pm

    If you would like to live on the water, check out Lay Lake on the Coosa River. Shelby Shores is the best community on the lake. You would love it here and your neighbors will love you!! It is convenient to every thing in Shelby and Jefferson counties.

    Reply
  36. Bonnie - February 15, 2022 6:29 pm

    Can’t imagine you having any trouble making friends. As they said, you just did!

    Reply
  37. Leigh Amiot - February 15, 2022 6:44 pm

    You see the very best in people wherever you go; that should endear you to many.

    Reply
  38. Patricia Gibson - February 15, 2022 6:56 pm

    I like Birmingham! You will too. Just takes time! I lived in Mississippi most of my life and loved it. It is home but life put me in Georgia. I am 73 so it took a minute but Georgia is home now!

    Reply
  39. Linda Moon - February 15, 2022 7:13 pm

    Waffle House was our favorite eatery when travelling was wonderful, until the last couple of years. My Guy and I (who are not pups) ate early dinner like you described, but no more, Thank God. We’re choosing to age backward and eat later. We’re looking forward to the arrival of those boxes and the couple who owns them. You can borrow some attic space to store them as long as you don’t ask too many questions about how the attic-space came to be!

    Welcome, friends!

    Reply
  40. Jayne - February 15, 2022 7:30 pm

    You’re already making friends. Do what you do best-get out, observe, and talk to people. You’ll be fine!

    Reply
  41. Diane Copeland - February 15, 2022 8:01 pm

    My husband and I moved from Alabama to Texas then to Illinois, the last move was to Florida. Everywhere we’ve moved we’ve make life long friends. Don’t know if we will ever get back to Alabama but, I know it’s a great place with wonderful people. Best wishes to you and Jamie.

    Reply
  42. MAM - February 15, 2022 8:25 pm

    As the old adage says: Grow where you’re planted. I don’t think you’ll have any problems making friends, as you just did at the Waffle House. I suspect you’re a lot like me. I’ll talk to just about anyone, in the grocery line (even socially distanced, I’ve had conversations!), at the post office in line, when walking the dog, etc. just chat and soon you’ll have plenty of friends! But keep those happy memories from your past. They are the best when you’re feeling low.

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  43. Jeff - February 15, 2022 8:34 pm

    Welcome to the ham. Be happy to show you around my big little town.

    Reply
  44. Cele LeBlanc - February 15, 2022 8:54 pm

    We drive through B’ham on the way to MS to visit my husband’s mom. Always stop at Full Moon BBQ in Hoover, just off 459. Delicious every time. Highly recommended.

    Reply
  45. Rhonda Hooks - February 15, 2022 9:50 pm

    Well. If you guys are ever lonely, just get in touch. Kirk and I will be happy to meet y’all out for a meal.
    I’m a retired RN He’s a retired engineer….
    Also. Visit Church of the Highlands in pelham. We sit in right rear last row. 9:45 service!
    P.s. I was born in Defuniak Springs.

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  46. Mary Berryman - February 15, 2022 9:56 pm

    Hi Sean, I’m so excited that you are here in my hometown. Have lived here all my life and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I heard you one evening a few years ago in Columbiana and you gave me and my friends a big hug. And we met Jamie, too. I know you miss the panhandle and I understand. We have owned a condo in that area almost 40 years so I love to go down there and its not really very far……. a condo very close to where you lived in Destin. As a matter of fact, last summer I had to make an emergency trip to the WalMart for a coffee pot and I told the rest of my crew that you lived right behind the WalMart. You will love it here and you and Jamie will soon have so many, many friends, I promise!

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  47. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - February 15, 2022 10:17 pm

    Sean, yiu have friends all over this country!

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  48. Kathy - February 16, 2022 2:17 am

    You’ve got friends in Birmingham that know you. Now you’ll get to know them.

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  49. Leana L - February 16, 2022 3:18 am

    Welcome to Birmingham! I have been here 25 years and have no intention of fliving anywhere else. I moved around a lot as a child and into my twenties. I have found this is one of the best towns in the South. You will love it once you find community and allow it to grow on you.

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  50. Susan - February 16, 2022 4:49 am

    I moved north to south… marginally afraid I would not make new friends. Good thing I’m an introvert by nature and like to read! Having just a few friends that are my floaties in the sea of life is perfect for me… and just as I had hoped, the south is friendly and beautiful, and verifies that I was indeed a misplaced southern soul all my life. I am finally home where I belong!
    You will do just fine… Gods got your back too!

    Reply
  51. Kathaleen Stallings - February 19, 2022 2:46 am

    Welcome to Birmingham Sean and Jamie! There are a lot of Highland Churches in Birmingham with so many small groups. You are officially invited by me and it is a very good way to meet new friends!

    Reply
  52. Jim Franklin - February 19, 2022 3:19 pm

    Hey Sean!

    Welcome to The ‘ ham! You’ve got friends here already! Plenty of us woukd love to meet you and show you aaround!

    Been herec70nyears. It has it’s it’s issues, but overall it’s good place.

    Hit me up at jasrfranklin@aol.com and we’ll have a cup!

    Jim

    Reply
  53. Buddy Caudill - May 24, 2022 8:07 pm

    Sean, first of all, I’d like to be your friend. In many ways, I feel you are already my friend.
    I live in Tuscaloosa, not Birmingham, but it’s not that far away.
    Thanks for sharing stories worth reading.

    Reply

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