My first day in Columbia was also my first time setting foot inside a Waffle House. I was back there the following evening too; after the debacle of the day I really was not in the mood to hide in the bathroom with my camp stove cooking lentils.
I thought it a very smart move building a Waffle House in the parking lot of a motel, or a motel in the parking lot of a Waffle House, though likely the former rather than the latter, because, obviously…
Creeping slowly back to the motel with my bicycle I noticed some poor, grease streaked sucker in a black leather jacket lying next to his moped in the parking lot, a mis-arranged pile of tools at his side. Clearly something was amiss. Walking back across the parking lot to the Waffle House after my shower, the moped was parked elsewhere, presumably repaired, the guy in the leather jacket nowhere to be seen.
Sitting down at the bar I noticed the same couple that was there the previous night was still there. In the same booth. I wondered whether they had left, or if they lived there full time, paying rent for the booth, taking showers at the motel. When one has to go to work the other stays. When the other person has to go to work that person stays. If they both have to work God help Waffle House if someone is in their booth when they return. Not a bad deal, really, though the benches don’t give you much room to stretch out. I noticed too it was right next to the coffee maker—sneakily convenient.
The woman looked like an older Peggy Bundy, though with white hair instead of red, her pasty face like a heavily kneaded ball of dough sprinkled with flour, wearing lipstick of a vivid scarlet, and a sequined, sheer, white moo-moo over black stretch pants and black crocs (versatile footwear if there ever was any). Her husband looked a lot like this fellow from a mail and date service center next to the coffee roastery I used to work at in Annapolis. The same bristly, white mustache and frown on his face, like the whole world outside was repulsive and unworthy of his notice; like the coffee was bad (it certainly was not); like life was bad, and pointless in general; like there was really no reason at all to even get out of bed; like life was so full of drudgery and unhappiness that he’d just as soon be dead because when everything is registered in the same dull shade of grey every day what difference does it make. That’s Pat. This guy was Pat. He was also wearing a five panel camo hat with a slightly cheeky sideways cock to it, either out of laziness, apathy, or a sense of humor that I didn’t think that he had. Both he and his wife looked like characters out of a John Waters film. Desperate Living specifically comes to mind.
A man, the man, the one who was tinkering with his moped earlier in the parking lot came in and sat two stools down from me. He and an employee across the bar began talking about food costs. How many pieces of bacon go on a sandwich, how much cheese, ham, pecans, sauce, whatever it is. Typical corporate, managerial worries. I’m not sure why these two are conversing about it though. I suppose if that’s something being strictly tracked in coordination with shifts worked by specific individuals, one could easily be in trouble, if not fired, for being too liberal with an ingredient—one way of keeping prices so low, in addition to using very low quality ingredients. After exhausting this topic (this took very little time) they switched to debating time of employment, with one bragging of having been with Waffle House for twelve years, while the guy next to me, whose moped still won’t start I noticed, states, with some pride I might add, that he’s been with Waffle House, though not this particular Waffle House, for seventeen years. His voice is scratchy and dry, like he’s been sucking on the end the exhaust pipe of that moped of his for too long. I’m not sure what to think of that: his time at Waffle House. He clearly does not make enough even to purchase a bike that runs, and looks like the only shower he gets is when he’s outside in the pouring rain trying to get it to start. But it feeds him, and obviously, like so many other people, he doesn’t know any better about food and nutrition, and he is presumably able to pay for a place to flop, has no ambitions beyond what’s in front of him, and seems to genuinely like the people he works with. Who am I to judge? I bet if he laid off the cigarettes for a year he could afford a new moped though.
I was just finishing up my meal when Peg waltzes over to the jukebox to rock the house for us all. Country music it is! I finished up at a fortuitous moment.
Now, I mentioned in my previous post that I was to formulate a plan with which I would proceed with the rest of my trip. It goes as such. Because I was such a short distance from Charleston, and because the cost of a train ticket from Columbia to Washington D.C. cost nearly the same as one from Columbia to Savannah (a required layover), to Charleston, and then to Washington, I decided I would pay a visit to Charleston instead of heading directly home where I would rest up and take care of the business of replacing certain parts that need and/or want replacing on my bicycle. Needless to say I am now in Maryland, where I am from, and have been for some time (a month, to be specific). I plan on taking a train back to Columbia in March, picking up where I left off. There is still, perhaps, some for me to write about: my time, and impressions of Charleston for one, the train trip, etc. Once I get through all that it may be some time before another blog post appears (not that they show up with much regularity, even with me being “home” and working minimal hours anyway).
Sorry your quest ended so UN-ceremoniouslly. Glad you got back to MD in one piece.
Sounds like you were not impressed with the south. Charleston is a great town