Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wafflehouse Blues

It's between breakfast and lunch and the Waffle House is virtually empty. I take a seat in a booth near the end of the row. As I do a middle aged woman with skin like a roasted chicken steps up to the side of the booth.

Can I get you something to drink?”

A water and coffee.”

All right sweetie.”


I go over the menu without any reason to. I always order the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich with hash browns, smothered.

Hey buddy, you're in my booth.” I turn and look up to find a bow legged old man standing next to my booth. He's gotta be 75, 80 years old, stocky with a small gut, arms hanging long, slightly disproportionate, big hands with gnarled knuckles, fingers folded into palms.

Huh?” I muster.

I sit in this booth every day. It's my booth.”

Fuckin' New Yorkers. Southerns, especially Floridians have no love for Yankees. I'm not from the South, I ended up here from the West. I always thought it was a played up stereotype, like the dumb Southerner in the north. The cultural struggle from the Civil War to Civil Rights is still fresh in people's imagination. Native Floridians dislike has grown even stronger in the last decade. Yankee gold has turned the once sleepy vacation and retirement destination into a jam packed, fatalistic, rat race, peninsula of the doomed. A thousand new people a day, mostly from the Northeast, move to the state. Not that this migration is new, people have always come to Florida to die. Now the young families are coming and at a rate faster than the retirees are dying and so a strip mall/subdivision wildfire has eaten up the land.

This guy standing next to the booth with his Yankee's cap on is one of those here to die. At least he's not one of those trying to pass as a beach bum. Dressed is a loud tropical shirt, shorts, socks and sandals and a goddamn cap. They've all got one of some sort, marking their individuality. Sailors, captains, Gilligian's, paper boy, ball, trucker, cowboy, pirate. This guys wearing a short-sleeved blue and white check shirt, pressed, clean, blue jeans and a nice pair of Nike's. Trade in the Yankee's cap for a UF one and he'd be a regular ol' cracker. I stare at him, not sure how to react, the situation feels like a bad hangover joke.

Aren't you staying at the Glass House?”

Yeah, why?” I responded to his inquiry.

You came in pretty drunk last night.”

How'd ya now?”

I'm in the room above you. I don't sleep much so I was sitting outside when you came in.”

Oh yeah.”

How about we share the table?”

Sounds good.” I say with shrug.

Luckily the waitress was quick to get there because I sensed this was going to be awkward at first.

Hey Jack,” She says, bringing two cups of coffee over.

Hello Tanya. How's the day treating you?”

Good sweetie. Can't complain. You want your usual?”

Of course.”

This your grandson or somethin'?”

Nah. He was sitting in my booth and I decided to be nice.”

All right, I'll have y'alls food right up.”

Where you from?” Jack asks as I drink my coffee. I had been trying to think of something to say before he spoke but my brain feels too soft for conversation. I hope he likes to talk a lot, it make this meal easier.

I was born in New Mexico but I've spent most of my life in Florida.”

I'm a New Yorker. Born and raised. My kids are still there. No grandkids, though. My daughters a high priced, high powered attorney and my son never grew up. Still chasing women like a kid even though he's fifty-three. He's got more money than God too. What do you do?”

I'm between places and things.”

You some kind of free loader of something?”

No, at least I don't think so. I had a steady job was engaged to a nice girl, the whole thing. Then it all fell apart and now I'm trying to figure out what to do. I guess I'm just lost.”

Tough break. I guess that explains your condition last night. Just don't a habit of it, then you'll really be lost.”

I guess it does and I'm going to try not to.”
Jimmy, the guy who owns the motel, he's a good guy. You've met him, right? We get to together and watch ballgames. You like baseball?”

Yeah. Been following it since I was five.”

Me too. You should come by my room tonight, Rays and White Sox tonight at 7:00.”

Yeah, sure, I'll come up for that.”

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