Most of you know I’ve spent the weekend in Jacksonville, participating in an art show there. On my way home this evening, I was starving and out of my diet’s foods and decided that plain scrambled eggs would suit me for dinner. Spotting a Waffle House in Maclenny, slightly west of Jax, I pulled in, eager for my first non-veggie meal in two weeks.
Always trepidatious around corporate franchises’ ability to deliver healthy foods, I just hoped for non-greasy, salt-free eggs and perhaps some tomato slices (instead of all the carbs/salt/fats/sugars and caffeine Waffle House is known for).
When I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, I noticed the plumpest Harley Davidson rider I’ve ever seen, just dismounting his bike and gathering things together to go in. I parked and rummaged around for the Mrs. Dash and garlic powder I’ve begun carrying with me. An excellent, fool-the-tongue mixture of salt-free condiments, I carried them to the door with me. Whereupon I found, waiting there the Harley gentleman holding the door open for me. I thanked him and rushed in, eager to find a table and eat. Having just done an arduous 2-day show on my cleanse diet, I was very hungry (and very tired of the pre-cooked meals I’d carried to my hotel with me, and of the salads I’d subsisted on for two whole days in the show – along with great antioxidant drinks, of course).
The waitress picked up two sets of flatware and napkins, as if the gentleman and I were going to share a table. Very quietly, I said, “Just me, just one here.” And she said, “Okay,” and handed me my flatware and took his to him at his own table. I sat my condiments on the table and then realized that I’d created a stir throughout the place. “Joy,” I thought… “Just what I need, to cause myself weird, negative attention in a small town.”
My experience everywhere with Waffle House is that it’s a pretty harsh, sterile environment where patrons pay no attention to one another, and the wait staff pretty much mirrors that behavior. One can relax in one’s isolation and anonymity, eat a cheap meal, and be on one’s way.
I ordered just scrambled eggs and slices of fresh tomato and unsweetened iced tea, explaining briefly that I was on an odd no-salt thing and could have only that. I got no guff from the waitress, nor attempt to make me order bacon or grits or hashbrowns of waffles. Just sweet agreement. She took my order and went back to fetch the cook. A couple in the next booth turned around to stare at me. I looked back and they broke into smiles. I smiled back and looked down.
The cook, an older woman, came out to cook and looked at me and said, “You brought you own condiments.” “Yes,” I said. “I’m on a salt-free thing, and I have to do this.” Whereupon she smiled and said, “I understand.” I’ll use fresh oil and no salt in your eggs,” and turned to cook up the fluffiest scrambled eggs I’ve ever seen.
I thought, “Wow… she’s good enough for the Food Network.” Others dining there looked at me and smiled. I began to realize that, in Maclenny, the Waffle House is the go-to café on a Sunday night, and that the patrons and staff all knew each other. I’d fallen into a local scene, where eveyone knew each other’s names and churches, and were very comfortable with each other. I realized I’d been behaving like the odd outsider, expecting no one to be interested in me – or to even realize that I was just passing through.
As I opened up to this awareness that I’d entered into a community scene that was sweet and friendly and respectful – and tolerant of tourists ignorant of this reality – I began to realize how much I’ve internalized a big-city behavior of ignoring others and expecting to be ignored. And realized how they had just the right tone. Nothing preachy. Nothing pushy. Just happiness and comfort in being together. A sense of acceptance and serenity I’ve rarely known.
My platter of eggs and tomatoes arrived and I sprinkled said condiments on them and devoured them. I kept thinking about how nurturing this all was to me. Good food, not too expensive, cooked competently and healthfully… good company all around me. Lovely wait staff of three women doing their jobs elegantly and well.
“Okay,” I thought. “I get it.” Like one of those angel stories, or “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or something like that. A little tap on my consciousness to wake up and be alive in this situation and understand something about receiving nurture, just because I need it. A magical moment in this busy life, where I rush headlong from one activity to the next. It felt like a lot of wonderful oxygen got pumped into the room.
And the reality that sometimes, in some places, things are just so very right and people are just living without the usual neuroses and conflict – or indifference.
The combination of good food and this undeniable social dynamic eased my tension and got me ready for the road. I realized my bill had arrived and that, for all of this, the charge was only $5.75!
I thought to myself, “You’re kidding me.” Excellent food and all of this ‘angelic’ energy? No way.
I dug a twenty-dollar bill from my purse and went to pay the cashier. She took my twenty and meticulously counted my change back to me, twice! I thanked her and caught the cook’s eye and told her those were terrific eggs and that I’d be back whenever I was in the area. She just smiled.
And then I took all my change (just under $15.00) and laid it on my table for a tip. I dashed into the bathroom and when I came back by my table, the money was still there. I smiled to myself and thought, “Good, they haven’t noticed. Let me get out of here…”
I walked to my car and got in. And rummaged for my eyeglasses for a moment. When I got them on, I realized the waitress was standing at my window, holding the money. I rolled my window down and said, “I did it intentionally. It’s for you and the others.” She said, “We were worried that you’d made a mistake and not realized you’d paid with a twenty.” I said I’d done it for them and for her to take the money and divide it however they wanted. She looked at me for a moment and I said, “You’ll never know what you all gave to me tonight, and this is the least that I can do.” She smiled and walked back in. As I drove away, the cook waved out the window to me and I saw them huddle together to divide the money, with great smiles on their faces.
While a $20.00 egg meal was so cheap to me, I felt like I got about a million dollars’ worth of value for my money. And it looked like getting about $5.00 each was making a difference in their day. My money came from the privilege I have, of doing what I love and getting paid for it sometimes. Sometimes well. And being able to share the wealth a little bit along the way. Whenever I’m feeling a poverty of spirit or in my life, I must remember this meal in this Waffle House, with those lovely workers and patrons. However whiney or beat-up I feel from my hard work, I must remember that there’s enough resource in the world and that it can come from unexpected places.
I've illustrated this post with two new pieces I've made for my Etsy shop and spring art shows. The top one is my newest Trapezoid Necklace with copper and Imperial Jasper. The bottom piece is a trapezoid-shaped Charoite cabochon set onto textured bronze. You can learn more about then in my Etsy shop, by clicking my slide show link on the right.