Now Entering Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM—Red Mountain filled my windshield from end to end. The sun was coming up. And the waffle gods were calling me. So I pulled over.

Waffle House was slow. The place was mostly empty except for a trucker, a teenage boy, and a cop eating hash browns.

The cook was staring out the window, sipping coffee. George Strait played overhead, singing about a clear blue sky. It was cold enough inside to hang meat.

My waitress was a motherly looking woman. She had long woven hair, done up in crimson braids. She approached my table. She placed my napkin and silverware down.

“Know what you want to drink, baby?”


I ordered a sweet tea, eggs, a pecan waffle and a few strips of sowbelly. She called out my order to the guy at the grill.

The cook lumbered into action. He was wearing one of those little paper hats. When I was a young man, working in the greasy bowels of an American diner, I wore a hat like this. We called it “the confidence killer.”

I listened to the symphony of a kitchen begin to play. Refrigerators opened and closed. Eggs cracking. The hiss of a flat top. The metallic chop-chop of a steel spatula on a griddle.

I watched my waitress approach the teenager in the booth in front of me. He looked like a rough customer. His arms, neck and chest were painted in an assortment of artwork.

I had a perfect view of him from where I sat. There was the tattoo of a lyre emblazoned on his chin. There was the image of a demon on his shoulder. On one bicep was a four-letter word. A well-known word beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet.

The kid was apparently hungry because he was on his second plate of food. When the waitress asked if he wanted to order something else the kid thought about it and said, “No, thank you, ma’am.”

Then he asked for the bill.

The waitress tore a page from her pad, placed it face down onto the faux-wooden table and removed his used wares.

As she walked away, the kid buried his head in his hands. He was either tired or upset about something. Or both.

When the kid rose and walked to the cash register, I could see how lean he was. You could have counted his ribs.

He passed me by and I noticed a large dark bruise on one side of his face. His lip was split and swollen. We locked eyes for a brief moment. Then he looked away.

His shirt had at one time been white, but was now brownish gray with filth. The tanktop was torn, and there were traces of dried blood on the fabric. His oversized jeans were slung below his hips so that his underpants showed. He smelled like sweat.

He stood before the register and handed the cashier a stack of ones and hung his head.

“It’s not enough money,” he said to her.

His head ducked even lower. “I got a card but it ain’t got much on it. I was trying to stay under budget, but I guess I figured it wrong.”

He ran his card. He keyed in a code. He waited. The machine beep-beeped. Declined.

The waitress didn’t know what to say. So she didn’t.

“If you give me a little time,” said the kid, “I can bring you the money back. I promise. I live real closeby. Just gotta go back home, I’ll come back. I swear to God.”

The cop in the corner tossed his napkin onto the table. He stood. He was tall, thick-armed, clad in Class B blues. His hair was high and tight. He wore a chest-mounted radio. His duty belt squeaked when he walked.

“Wait a second,” the cop said, approaching the register.

The officer reached into his pocket and removed a wallet. He unfolded two crisp bills. He handed them to the waitress.

The kid started blinking a lot. Almost like he had something stuck in his eye.

Allergies can be so bad this time of year.

“Thank you,” the kid said. “I can pay you back, sir.”

The cop laughed. Then he presented a meaty hand to the kid.

“Don’t worry about it,” said the officer. “It’s my treat.”

It’s good to be back home in Birmingham.


  1. Bkr - July 22, 2022 6:59 am

    You are soooo right!! There are lots of wonderful places but I promise You no where is better than central Alabama. People are good. For the most part.

  2. Cathie Fowler - July 22, 2022 9:29 am

    Nice start to my day today. Thanks, and I’m sure you’re glad to be home. Enjoy.

  3. Sandi krym - July 22, 2022 10:01 am

    There are good people everywhere, it’s just harder to find them in some places than it is in others.

  4. Leigh Amiot - July 22, 2022 10:39 am

    Touching vignette and excellent artistic capture of Waffle House.

  5. LauraD - July 22, 2022 10:46 am

    This story is a great reminder that kindness does live just behind the badge.

  6. Anne Arthur - July 22, 2022 10:48 am

    I suspect you were about to get up when the cop beat you to it.
    When you’ve eyes to see there’s a lot of bad in this world but a lot of good people to help restoring humanity.

  7. stephenpe - July 22, 2022 10:54 am

    Everyday thousands and thousands of real human interactions like this occur. Some bigger and some smaller. But if you read social medai, watch news or read one of the few newspapers left you mostly see something bad. We are much better than what we present. I see it everyday in my community and others nearby. We used to have columns like Sean in newspapers. Lewis Grizzard among others.

  8. Debbie Kay - July 22, 2022 11:05 am

    I usually do not comment but this article should be in every paper across the USA. Our police officers get a bum rape . I’m sure there are bad cops but there’s good one who risk their lives everyday. News only prints the bad so refreshing to read this story. thankyou

  9. Steve McCaleb - July 22, 2022 11:18 am

    Today’s post reinforced something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. If we’re not here to help one another…..why are we here ? May God richly bless the man in blue and all his brothers and sisters who wear that badge and have a heart to serve others. And God love and protect the young man that was down on his luck. A Lincoln once said “ God must surely love poor people…..look how many of them he made.” Truth

    • Karen - July 22, 2022 1:27 pm

      Sean, I am glad I started my day with you. As I went about my day yesterday, I thought about how kind all of the people I was around were. Nothing dramatic, just folks going about our business. I thought of the nurses who were so outstanding in caring for my husband after surgery. Our police officers are so supportive and kind. Unfortunately the media only reports is negative. I love Waffle House. The employees are nice and the food is good.

  10. Paulette Hughes - July 22, 2022 11:48 am

    What a great picture of redemption. Thank you.

  11. WayneGina Yount - July 22, 2022 11:52 am


  12. Tom McCoppin - July 22, 2022 11:53 am

    Your words brightened my day, especially these two: “confidence killer”. I was 12 years old and was paid 75 cents an hour to wear mine, at the first burger chain store in my little town in the southeast corner of Texas. Thanks for stirring up old memories!

  13. Paul McCutchen - July 22, 2022 12:02 pm

    I have seen good and bad in Waffle House mostly good so that is what I focus on. I find if you focus on the good things that happen around you it makes life a lot better,

  14. Linda Lewis - July 22, 2022 12:18 pm

    This is a beautiful story. It’s great to read about the wonderful things that are still happening in this uncertain time in which we live. Thank you for writing it.

  15. Dolores - July 22, 2022 12:19 pm

    Selfless transactions such as these go on countless times a day by our men in blue…and others. Thanks for covering the good in society. Despite what the media thinks this is the kind of drama the human heart longs for. Is it any wonder our society is suffering mental health problems with the “news” we are immersed in and subjected to. Every day we are asked to either wring our hands in abject fear or pick a side to vehemently hate.
    Thanks for your exposés on kindness, long live Mayberry.

  16. Pamela Davis - July 22, 2022 12:56 pm

    There are good people in the world and they step up when you least expect it. Police men and women are some of the most caring people in the world. If you have a chance to meet one of the them, thank them for the good that they do everyday. It often goes unnoticed.

  17. Dee Thompson - July 22, 2022 12:58 pm

    Wow. I thought you were going to buy the child’s breakfast, but of course the policeman did it. My cousin has been a police officer more than twenty years and he would have done the same. God Bless our men and women in blue.

  18. Nancy - July 22, 2022 1:02 pm

    Baby, I like how observant you are of mankind and how beautifully you paint the scenario making me feel as if I am sitting beside you. Thank you!

  19. Holly Moore - July 22, 2022 1:06 pm

    Thank you once again for giving us hope in humanity! Man those allergies got me good this morning….much love from The Gump….

  20. Lander - July 22, 2022 1:11 pm

    Those things happen more often than we know. Thank goodness.

  21. Richard Owen - July 22, 2022 1:28 pm

    Our son started as a dishwasher (at 15 yo) at a Waffle House in Fayetteville, GA, in 1988. Today, he is still with Waffle House, managing a house in Griffin, GA, owns his home, and has three kids. One of his daughters is a firefighter who just finished her EMT training. One is working on her Master’s at 21 yo and a son who is a high school junior. Good things can happen at the House!
    And agree with Debbie Kay’s remark – Lewis Grizzard is one and Paul Harvey (“The Rest of the Story”) is another of folks inspirational folks like you.

  22. Judy - July 22, 2022 1:38 pm

    Bringing out the goodness of mankind, your gift to record it.

  23. oldlibrariansshelf - July 22, 2022 1:51 pm

    We have ALL been redeemed at one time or another. It is a good and right thing to pay it forward when the opportunity arises. Thanks for reminding us.

  24. nancymariedavis - July 22, 2022 1:53 pm

    Oh! you did the sketch. That’s cool.

  25. Jannie Bryant - July 22, 2022 1:57 pm

    You made my day a little bit better like you do every day. Thank you.

  26. Maggie Priestaf - July 22, 2022 2:11 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you…again.

  27. Carnen Denton - July 22, 2022 2:29 pm

    Gulp…..something got stuck in my throat…must be lump.

  28. LIN ARNOLD - July 22, 2022 2:31 pm

    When my kids were in high school, the Waffle House just down the road from the school was “the” place to end every night, particularly after the Friday night football games. The waitresses were usually in their late 30’s to early 50’s. And they made these high schoolers act right, never with meanness or hatefulness, but in a motherly way. And the kids loved it! Now I look at these “kids” …. all making good honest livings with families of their own … still going to Waffle House and taking their kids with them and teaching them the respectful way to treat people. We need more Waffle Houses in this country … in this WORLD! Thank you, Waffle House, for all you do for our communities.

  29. David Britnell - July 22, 2022 2:52 pm

    So glad there are still good people in this world! I so much appreciate our LEO. God bless them is my prayer!!

  30. Patricia Gibson - July 22, 2022 2:59 pm

    Well that was a tearjerker. God bless them both🙏

  31. Emily - July 22, 2022 3:33 pm

    Love this story!

  32. Peter Blay - July 22, 2022 3:33 pm

    Southern Hospitality and good ole fashion kindness!

  33. Babs - July 22, 2022 3:40 pm

    I am glad your wife sent in some of your writing into a newspaper. If she hadn’t, I would not have your article to look forward to each day. My brother from Birmingham introduced me to you.

  34. Sandy Laster - July 22, 2022 3:57 pm

    It is good to be in Alabama, in the South. God bless our policemen.

  35. Ramona - July 22, 2022 5:03 pm

    Hey Sean, Ramona and Norma here in Apalachicola, we’re not crying, bust were “misty” … happy you’re back home!

  36. Albert Nigh - July 22, 2022 6:03 pm

    God bless the police 🙏

  37. pattymack43 - July 22, 2022 6:34 pm

    Let’s hear it for the Men in Blue!!!! Thank you, Sean!!

  38. Linda Moon - July 22, 2022 7:09 pm

    I like the kid’s polite answer to the the waitress about the third plate. I like the waitress’s silence when no words were found and the generosity of the Police officer, too. Hey…it’s good to have you back home again, Sean. Keep telling us about the good in people!

  39. MAM - July 22, 2022 7:38 pm

    The kid was obviously raised right by somebody, but it also sounds like someone is abusing him. Thank goodness for the understanding policeman, although it just as likely could have been you, Sean, paying for the kid’s breakfast. Thanks for making my eyes leak in a good way.

  40. Cindy - July 22, 2022 8:47 pm

    Traveled vicariously through your writing but glad you’re safely home. Thankful for our law enforcement officers and you. 🙌👍🏼

  41. Rabdy - July 22, 2022 9:00 pm

    99.9 percent of law enforcement would do the same the few bad apples spoils the bushel. Thanks for reminding us of that!

  42. Maary M Berryman - July 22, 2022 9:13 pm

    Every day I pray for those who protect and serve me in ways I will never see and never know. Thanks for the wonderful story, Sean. There are many, many more good people that bad.

  43. Slimpicker - July 23, 2022 3:49 am

    That scene is played out all across America most days. But since it isn’t very exciting you almost never hear about it. Thanks for sharing.

  44. Deborah Thompson - July 23, 2022 12:22 pm

    Your writings should be in every paper ….every day. I love all of your articles, Sean.

  45. Karen Snyder - July 23, 2022 7:35 pm

    The more we look for the good, the more of it we’ll find. It’s all around us, but seeing it is a choice. I’m so happy that you keep pointing it out!

  46. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 2, 2022 4:30 pm


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