I grew up in Atlanta, GA and went to High School on the East side, right off of Memorial Drive. Atlanta's mostly known for being the city of origin for some of the generation's greatest rappers, the birthplace of the best soda brand out there (it's ALWAYS Coke > Pepsi), and our inability to handle two inches of snow.
There's a lot to miss about the city that molded me into the person who I am today, so many may be surprised that out of all of Atlanta's wonders, I miss Waffle House the most. That's fair, considering Waffle House isn't exclusively an Atlanta thing, but if you've ever been to one, you know that Atlanta Waffle Houses, specifically, have something that makes them special.
I don't remember the first time I stepped foot in a Waffle House. Maybe this is because Waffle House has always been a constant. If I existed, Waffle House existed in tandem, supporting me through my hunger and exhaustion. Whenever I imagine being greeted by the frozen tundra-like air, checkered color scheme and the smell of frying hash browns I am equally relieved and invigorated.
I remember in Middle School meeting the founder of Waffle House at a neighborhood Walmart while shopping with my family. This was a crazy coincidence because 1.) We are not a Walmart frequenting family. We disagree with their politics and try not to support them whenever possible. However, my little sister needed tights for a dance performance and we were pressed for time so unfortunately, convenience was the priority.
2.) We had no idea who he was until he gave us a handful of cards reading "Redeem for a free Waffle" along with his business card which read Walt Ehmer, CEO of Waffle House.
He had overheard a conversation between my little sister, mom and me and told us that we had a beautiful family.
In High School, a Waffle House was placed in perfect walking distance from our campus, making it the automatic move after performances, assemblies or even when my friends and I just didn't want to go home yet. It was almost like the night didn't feel complete if we didn't all sit at the grey booth and laugh together about the events unfolding in our respective lives.
Waffle House even saw the beginning of my first relationship. My boyfriend and I began hanging out within a group of friends who went, ritualistically, to Waffle House. I knew his order before I knew his middle name. Our ritual continued while we dated. He knew that after a party, date or even a night spent watching movies at his house, I would never say no to a to-go order of hash browns.
Not only were the experiences shared with friends quintessential to the development of my young adult life, but the people who I met at Waffle House helped me understand and relate to my city in a new way. People from all backgrounds can be united over their desire to try out all fifteen of the five dollar menu specials because the deal is just that good.
I remember one night after my birthday party, we found ourselves at a Waffle House in the heart of downtown. I was with six of my guy friends and from the moment we pulled into the parking lot, we knew the spot was about to be packed.
In front of the yellow and black neon "Waffle House" sign were two identical sports cars with their butterfly doors open, blasting trap music. I heard the familiar flow of Young Nudy and walked past the owners of the car to encounter three drunk girls, one of whom was walking around the sidewalk barefoot, who were talking loudly about how happy they were to "finally" have seen Kenny Chesney live in concert.
It was clear, these were two different crowds.
Inside, the familiar commotion comforted me. A man sitting down in the waiting area offered me his seat which I took gratefully because my feet were killing me from my heels. Waiting for a table, I struck a conversation with him and his friends who had just come from a shift at Phillips Arena. They were waiting for their take out orders before going home and to sleep.
However, despite their evident exhaustion, they held a friendly conversation with me and upon finding out it was my birthday made a big deal about how special it was to turn eighteen. I felt loved, even if it was by complete strangers, and wouldn't have wanted to spend the beginning hours of my adulthood anywhere else.
After they left, we were still waiting for a table.
My friends proceeded to befriend the security officer who was providing a riveting, hilarious commentary narrating the events unfolding in front of us. By the time we were seated, the tears from my laughter had essentially melted off my lash glue and I had to rip them off before I could dig into my meal.
These are the nights that I miss the most. IHOP, despite its squishy red booths and unique PR strategies, pales in comparison.
But upon reflection, I can't help but feel that cliche reminiscent gratitude in Waffle House's role in helping me grow up.