Friday, December 31, 2010

Waffle Restaurant Adventure - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

Lisa and I have few vices in our lives , but going to the Waffle restaurant on I-65 is one of them. They are open all the time, and have a chiseled-in-stone consistent menu of Southern goodness . The clientele is a unfiltered human slice of life. Travelers from well-to-do places, enjoying anonymity by slumming in the diner, sit in the booth next to a working class family enjoying a night out of the house.

One Monday night very recently, we were enjoying our “All-Star” guilty pleasure breakfast at the local franchise at I-65 and Highway 67 in Priceville, AL. There were only a few other patrons at the time, around 8:30 PM. Lisa and I finish work late sometimes and in Hartselle, this is our only option for dinner together at this hour. Our waitress was a smallish woman, probably in her forties. She was very courteous and attended to us very well. The cook was a rather large woman also in her forties and seemed like she was having a bad night. This was an omen of the nights entertainment.

As we were eating, our waitress and the cook began sparring with words over some misappropriation of tip money from the previous occupant of the booth we were in. The conversation became more heated and stronger words were exchanged. In our booth, I was seated facing the cook galley, while Lisa had her back to them. Lisa was oblivious to the activity behind her, maybe because she was eating crunchy bacon, which is her supreme weakness. I, on the other hand, was watching a bolt of molten magma rise through the earthy crust as the two employees were now in each other’s face, degrading the other’s pedigree. The tension was rising swift and sure.

As if I was watching a National Geographic special on volcanism, this disagreement reached a climax when the larger cook backhanded our petite waitress and knocked her glasses off. Game On! These two started screaming, throwing punches, and slapping with a fury of angry gods. Pancake batter went everywhere, plates shattered on the floor, and butter and eggs were wasted. The fight then changed to a utensil throwing match, until the small waitress picked up a ridiculously large kitchen knife. The larger cook said ”You better kill me, cause I’m gonna if you don’t put than knife down”. At this point, the mind numbing sensation of crunchy bacon and scattered, covered hash-browns was interrupted in Lisa and she ducked down in the booth to deflect the flying breakfast debris. All of the action was right by our booth and woman with the knife blade was just a few scant feet from us.

The cook lunged at the waitress and punched her in the face so hard that the knife and her rings flew off and bounced across the greasy floor. Lisa was getting ready to perform emergency first aid on someone, anyone. I poured myself another cup of delicious coffee and waited for round two. The other patrons were older, and stone cold silent, as we all waited to see what was going to happen next.

Finally, another waitress, older than these two and much more mature, bull-rushed the two fighting women into the swinging doors that lead back to the storage area, almost like she had done this before. We then heard the sounds of boxes being wildly thrashed about and more broken crockery. The fight then progressed outside as we could hear the women screaming, hurling insults, and swapping face slaps in the parking lot. I looked around at the other stunned patrons, as we got up to leave. No one said a word as I got to the counter to settle the bill. The older waitress came back in and profusely apologized for the outburst that we had witnessed. Not thinking, I replied “Well, sometimes you just have to get things settled.” To which she looked at me like I had no sense, whatsoever.

Thanks to the staff at the Waffle restaurant, you can get great food, and violent entertainment that money cannot buy. As a fan of mayhem, it just doesn’t get any better than that.