Back in 2001, and again in early 2002, comedian Lewis Black visited The Punchline, in Atlanta, and used recordings of these sessions for an album, The End of the Universe. According to Black, the end of the universe is not “out there” somewhere. It is in Houston, Texas where, Black discovered, a Starbucks coffee shop on one street corner – directly across the street from a Starbucks coffee shop. The skit, which runs a bit under four minutes, is quite funny. You can find it on YouTube.
We do not have that problem here in Madison, Georgia. We had a Starbucks several years ago. I don’t recall ever visiting the place, but it seemed to be busy every time I drove past. It was closed during The Great Recession. It was busy up until the day they closed the joint down, so I do not know why the company made that particular decision. I guess some things are meant to be mysteries. Soon thereafter, a Chick-fil-A moved into the empty building, and it seems to be doing a booming trade.
Madison recently regained a Starbucks, inside the Ingles Supermarket, which brings back to mind the question, why did they shut the first one down? Who knows? Maybe the rain in the Pacific Northwest affected the thinking of the corporate executives. After a month without sunshine, one grumpy CEO may have just come up with the idea to deprive Madison, Georgia, of overpriced, slightly burnt-tasting coffee in a fit of rage against the weather out there.
We do, however, have two of the same restaurant out near the interstate. As you may have guessed from the title of this column, we have two Waffle House restaurants, one just north of the interstate (Waffle House number 773, at 1941 Eatonton Highway), and one just south of the interstate (Waffle House number 325, at 2050 Eatonton Highway). They are located about ½ mile apart. So if you ever find yourself at exit 114 on Interstate 20 in Georgia, you can get to a Waffle House without ever having to make a left-hand turn at an exit ramp.
For those of you unfamiliar with Waffle House, it is (I think) primarily a southern institution, which began in 1955. In fact, every morning that I drive to work, I pass the site of the very first Waffle House, in Avondale Estates. (It is now a Waffle House museum; before that, a Chinese restaurant. Waffle House number 1000 is just down the street from the museum.) The restaurants are generally on the small side: perhaps as many as a dozen booths, and probably fewer stools at the counter. It is a classic grill, where the food is cooked in front of you, and a jukebox stands ready to play the tune of your choice. The yellow sign is always lit, as the restaurant never closes. The clientele is varied: you can find nicely-dressed churchgoers returning home from a Christmas morning service, to drunks very late at night partaking of that old DUI preventative, coffee.
The menu is decent. You can get a T-bone steak, or a pork chop, or ham, or a steak sandwich, or a hamburger, etc. But I generally order breakfast there, regardless of the time of day. My standby is two or three eggs scrambled with cheese, and sausage. I always choose grits instead of hash browns because, well, just because. And if I am really peckish, I top the meal off with a slice of pie, usually pecan.
I have frequented a bunch of Waffle Houses over the years, yet I don’t recall ever running into a surly waiter or waitress, regardless of the time of day (or night). In my experience the food is uniformly good across all the restaurants. And the prices are quite reasonable.
Kathy was in Asheville last week, checking on her rental property and visiting with her granddaughter, Emma. She always leaves me with food to eat, but Thursday night’s dinner just wasn’t enough, so along about 10:30 I decided that hunger pangs did not befit a man of my advanced years. I hauled myself up on my hind legs, and drove over to Waffle House Number 773, the closer one.
The fellow who seemed to be the crew chief that night didn’t appear to be that old, but his official Waffle House name tag bore the appellation (no, I’m not kidding) “Grandpa”. Grandpa took my order, then relayed it to the short order cook using a slang that apparently only they can understand. The only item I could figure out was my order for sausage (two syllables), which came out as “hockey pucks” (three syllables, so what’s the point?). Someone else placed an order while I was there, and Grandpa shouted “chicken with feathers”. I have no idea what that might be.
The three eggs with cheese, order of grits, four slices of toast, sausage patties, and fresh coffee were all very nice, but not quite enough. I topped it off with a slice of pecan pie, then headed home for a little nap before bedtime.
Having two Waffle Houses on the same exit does not, in my opinion, constitute the End of the Universe. It represents, instead, A Mighty Convenience. I’d rather have two Waffle Houses than two Starbucks any day.
And just for the record, I’ve never ordered a waffle at a Waffle House, though I hear they are excellent!