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Terreson Profile
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The Waffle House and America


Last weekend, no, it was two weekends ago, one late Saturday night I drove to a nearby Waffle House. I wanted what to me amounts to comfort food. A ham and cheese omelet with toast and either hash brown or grits, and with a side order of sausauge patties. Funny. I've eaten incredibly good French, Italian, Spanish, and German cuisine in major cities. But a ham and cheese omelet can make my mouth water. Guess you can't take the country out of the boy no matter his pretensions.

The Waffle House is a chain of restaurants based in Georgia, started in 1955. It is in 25 states, its website says. Mostly in the south. Recently it has had its public image problems. An EEO violation brought against it by a disabled employee fired because of a seizure during work hours. And civil rights violations too brought about because of service refusal to African-Americans. I guess I am unclear on whether it is an actual chain, corporately owned, or a franchise. The business model is as simple as most good business models are: a short order restaurant, really a diner, open 24 hours a day. That's it. I've never heard of a Waffle House to fail. Restaurant is brightly lit, damn garrish actually, with a counter and stools, and with booths. I checked online. Wiki gives the best photos giving an idea of what the stores look like.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waffle_House

If interested check out their official web page. Quite the spin.

The first time there I got into a conversation with a sturdy built black man at the counter. He said he owned a janitorial service. I think he said he had to fire an employee who had stolen from him, presumably an accountant. The incident must have been recent as he was pretty agitated. He said he had worked for the police dept. for ten or fifteen years. Reasons for quitting, or, as I thought, for the dismissal, were not given. But I figure there is a story there. I am pretty good at engaging strangers, maybe better than I am at engaging friends. He asked a couple of questions. I answered off-handedly. Then we got back to his story. A former police officer, college graduate, a college football player, all of which history he was clearly proud about. But I sensed a strain of violence in him. Or maybe it was a source of anger he knew he had to keep under control or he would explode. That is what came through. When he was ready to go and couldn't get his server's attention he got edgy.

When he left I enjoyed my ham and cheese omelet while reading an article in The New York Review of Books.

I might make a thread out of this post. Waffle House and America is something I know about.

Tere
Oct/16/2010, 10:15 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: The Waffle House and America


When I was in the restaurant business, as often as not visiting a bar after work, either alone or with co-workers I would go to an all night diner. The place was always busy and usually with full seating capacity. The Waffle House is no different. I am betting during the hours between midnight and 3 AM is when the restaurant has its highest gross in sales for the day. America after-hours. After the bars close. But I had never gone in just before the rush and the crush of late night people.

Why do bar crawlers step in to the Waffle House? On a Saturday night, at least, I think I know why. They are putting off the inevitable. They are squeezing as much time as they can out of the two days allotted them before the work week sets in. And I bet this has been the pattern for as long as people have been straight jacketed into this thing called the work force.

But, again, not until now have I observed what goes on behind the counter just before the press of customers arrives. Dynamics are interesting. Around 11 there will be the shift change and it produces tension. Servers going off shift are mostly wanting to work the late night shift. For the money of course. One Saturday night I asked a server how she was doing. Her face turned sullen and she said she was wanting the later shift. I imagined why. Maybe she has children, a single parent, with no or little child support coming in. Maybe it is near the first of the month and she still needs to make enough money to pay rent. In all likelihood her car, if she has one, is an older model. Easily as likely it keeps in a constant need of repair. Restaurant workers are lucky to get minimum wage. Tips in a Waffle House can't be very good. Minimum wage now is a little over $7. Last time I worked a minimum wage job was in '92. Then it was $5.50. That's 18 years ago. Not much of an increase. I read recently that the median wage in America is less than $15 an hour. One author stated the case accurately. America's working class is being transformed into America's working poor. I've also read that most of the jobs available are in the service sector. I look around and sense it is true. My server that night was clearly hard pressed and wanting to work the hours hardest on the body no matter the amount of sleep it gets.

How do these people do it? How do they get by? My mother was a waitress. She supported 2 to 4 children and bought a home on tips. But she bought her home in '56 at a cost of $7,000. I knew another waitress. Dotty was her name. On her tips she bought up real estate, became a land lady. But that was in the early '70s. And things aren't the same anymore. Even in the Deep South were the cost of living is significantly less than elsewhere in the country the working poor are hard pressed.

There are other sources of tension behind the counter. There is almost always tension between a server and a short order cook. This particular Waffle House is no different. The server is wanting the dishes prepared as quickly as possible. The cook is needing to concentrate on a huge number of orders in her head and with new orders getting barked at her constantly. We customers complicate it all with our exceptions, special requests, and side orders. I see no pieces of paper lined up in front of the cook. It is all in her head. Extraordinary. Imagine the skill level required for her job. Maybe she is making $10 an hour. But I doubt it. Maybe she dropped out of high school at some point, which in the south is all too likely. And yet her capacity for thinking and organizing her materials is exquisite.

One night at shift change I counted 11 workers behind the counter. More tension. And I noticed my short order cook was getting replaced by two. Of course the restaurant would be much busier but her shift had not been slow, it being a Friday night. She messed up my order badly that night and she had to recook it, which probably didn't endear me to her. I tipped her anyway. It is my habit. One night I told my server to add $3 to my bill for herself and $2 for the cook. In a meek tone expressing incredulity she said: That is very kind of you, sir. And I am feeling embarrassed at her gratitude for what's really only chunk change. In the Waffle House I know I am seeing America's future. And the gratitude of these people kind of breaks my heart. They have no benefits. None. On their salaries social security earned is paltry. With all the low paying jobs I've had until now mine will be too. For these people recent health care reforms is a joke. Ludicrous. In my eyes it is criminal, especially since all congress people are entitled to full health coverage for the rest of their lives. (Were I wanting to get inflamatory I would say for the rest of their hypocritical lives.)

A sidebar moment. Where I work janitorial service is farmed out to a contractor. We have a janitor named E. He gets to work 6 hours three days a week. I think he is a recovering alcoholic. And he lives with his sister. Recently he applied for food stamps. It needed the better part of a month to process his case. The reason being he kept making application mistakes and with no counsellor around to coach except to tell him he forgot this and that line to fill out. And he didn't comply with this and that procedure. Finally the case went through. And after all of that he gets awarded a little over $100 a month. But then the insult. Some office creature actually told him it would be better for his case if he was homeless, living on the streets and not with his sister. It is the mention of gratitude shown by the working poor that brings E. to mind. Everyday when he comes in he says: I'm glad to be here, Mr. T. And he means it. He does things not actually, contractually required of him. He understands the rules of a system designed against him. He accepts the rules not in his best interest. As do my Waffle House people.

One more sidebar note about E. He is captive, as are most of the local working poor, to the most dysfunctional mass transit system I've ever seen. The bus system here is a sham. I know because I was captive to it too my first year in town, not having enough of an income to buy a car. A 7 mile commute needed an hour and a half in the morning and often as many as two and a half hours in the afternoon. And the nearest bus stop is 1.3 miles away from work. Some fellow workers got together, I wish I had known what they were up to, and bought E. a bicycle. A new mountain bike and a helmet. But I think they kind of missed something. Already I've noticed something half-way expected. E. doesn't always arrive at work on his bike, eventhough he could ride it to one nearby bus stop and from another. I'll guess and say E. is in his forties but he could be in his fifties. In terms of the working poor this is relative to a Yuppie being in his sixties or seventies.

Didn't intend such a tangent. Coming back to the Waffle House next time.

Tere
Oct/17/2010, 3:20 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: The Waffle House and America


A glorious tangent, Tere. Thanks.

Chris
Oct/17/2010, 6:27 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
Zakzzz5 Profile
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Terreson,

This particular segment where you talk about the janitor, E, the entire section, is really good. This is as good, or better, than stuff I used to read in paper magazines. Now I get a lot of my news on the internet or on tv. Don't read a lot of magazines. TIME seems glossy to me, not very real. The closest I get to your writing here is the documentaries on the tube. Good writing. This deserves a much wider audience. Zak

Last edited by Zakzzz5, Oct/19/2010, 11:18 am
Oct/19/2010, 11:17 am Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
Terreson Profile
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Once again, Zak, you humble me. Thanks. Come the weekend I'll explain what has turned me back to looking at, what I can rightly call, my people. John Keats's people to come to think of it. The working poor. James Joyce's also, actually.

Tere
Oct/19/2010, 6:13 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Just a note. Drove to The Waffle House last night, Saturday. I went earlier than usual, not having eaten through out the day and being hungry. Business was slow with a couple of booths occupied and two other customers at the counter. The short order cook mentioned before was working and she seemed more relaxed than she was the last time. Last night, sitting across from her work station, she actually served me my comfort food of a ham and sheese omelet with hash brown, toast, and a side order of sausage. One of these nights I am bound to get her to make eye contact instead of looking down at the counter. Then I'll work on getting a smile out of her. I know. I am a white boy. By definition this makes me the enemy to all second class citizens, no matter that my roots are also in the working poor. Just another one of those inconvenient truths.

No dramas to report on. Again, business was slow. Driving home a constrast struck me. When eating alone my habit has always been to read. Last night I brought along an anthology of contemporary Arab women poetry. In these wierd times one of these days I am going to have the book with me while passing through airport security and get questioned. Randomly I open the book to a page with a poem called Enheduanna and Goethe. This by an Arab woman mind you. The German poet, Goethe, I know and get the possible connection. He might have been the first to introduce the poetry of the ancient Persian, Hafiz, into the West. He was greatly influenced by Hafiz and wrote a set of poems in his style. But the name, Enheduanna, is buried too deep in memory to pull it up until getting back home and pulling down a book of translations of Sumerian hymnns to the Goddess Inanna.

Enheduanna was daughter to a king who, through conquest, united the south of Sumer to the north. This is back in about 2300 BC. She was also a high priestess in the precincts of the moon goddess. She is of literary significance because her surviving works, hymnns to Inanna, in cuniform are the West's earliest extant literary works. Last night's poem is by a woman named Amal al-Juburi and it is a delight. It is an imagined address made by Enheduanna to Goethe in which she says she now feels more at home in his West than in her own homeland. How is that for a political statement?

Many years ago, easily thirty, I read a book called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee. It is a lengthy report, tender, compassionate, and with dignity shown, on sharecropper families in Alabama during the Great Depression. Poverty is stark. Farm house walls, really just shacks, are wall papered with newspapers. No running water. Children are dirty except on Saturday night when they get their one bath in a wash tub. And there is no way out of the poverty, except infrequently through education. The whole system is designed to keep the sharecropper family tied to a parcel of earth unfriendly to them. Agee was from Tennessee, Knoxville I think, educated, cultured, born into the middle class. His ironic title pretty much sums up his puzzlement. How to account for high culture, always that of the ruling class, how to reconcile it to abject poverty surrounding you?

Clearly you don't. You can't. It is not possible. It is barely acceptable, usually by turning your head away and, say, burying it in a book.

What is my point? Last night at The Waffle House I read an imagined address delivered by an ancient high priestess while in the company of three or four servers who, viewed from a certain standpoint, could be taken as priestesses laid low. I hate this system of ours. One designed to keep these servers and short order cooks forever low. Just as with Agee's sharecroppers. And I am as complicit as a hedge fund manager is.

Tere
Oct/24/2010, 1:51 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: The Waffle House and America


Terreson,

Kind of a recognition of the uncomfortable realities. There's literature about the indentured servants going back to the Mayflower, to the sharecroppers of the 1800's and beyond (read a series on Lyndon Johnson, whose family descended into those ranks & how he was instrumental in bringing electrification to his part of Texas and beyond). Probably your contribution here is the recognition of the low-paid worker as a family member. Not as a family member in the sense of he's literally my cousin, but as family in the sense that we are all the same, some of us just havig a bit more money or education. But not everybody feels this way. I remember quite clearly while going through AIT in the army how authority seemed to arise quite naturally, outside of the formal ranks, by the class that a trainee came from. It was amazing. Good stuff you write here, as always. Zak
Oct/25/2010, 5:30 am Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
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Thanks for commenting, Zak. I promised earlier to give the reason for my focus turned on the working poor.

The book is called Deer Huntingt with Jesus. Author's name: Joe Bagent. My sense is that he and I are age mates.

Bagent grew up in a small town in Virginia situated at the head of the Shenandoah valley. Winchester. The town Patsy Cline came from. He grew up in the working class and whose people he refers to as "my people." They are white folk. Bagent was smart enough to go on to college. His father financed college by putting a second mortgage on the family home, which he owned out right. From college Bagent goes into journalism and becomes a newspaper man. Along the way he becomes a liberal in politics. He then returns home and is stunned by what he sees. The book is his commentary on what he sees.

Bagent is critical of everyone. Critical of his people for being dumb enough (his words) to buy into the Republican party dogma, unable to see that they themselves are the very people most hurt by Republican politics. He is critical of liberal Democrats such as himself for having abandoned the working class interests. And he is critical of the Republicans for what he sees as their real agenda masked in one slogan of social conservatism after another. The real agenda being to return American to a pre-FDR circumstance favoring the rich, and a social safety net for the poor gutted.

Essentially that is his soapbox. It is from him I got the term the working poor. Just now listening to an NPR program on finances I heard a term used by an economist. He says ours has become an hour glass economy, with jobs at the very top, the middle squeezed down to the bottom and the bottom tier expanding rapidly. News story after news story bears out the metaphor. People who, three year ago, were making $40 to $60 K a year now taking on work paying them less than $15,000 a year. Right now the median income in America, in fact, is less than $15 K.

To highlight his point about how out of touch liberals are with the working class he tells of a conversation he had with a Boston editor about his projected book. Editor says 'your people are as exotic to us as if they came from the Carribean.' Bagent also maintains there are more working poor whites in America than in all the minorities combined. He does not give supporting data so I don't know for sure if this is accurate. Another point he makes is that the working class, and the working poor, have abandoned liberal social principles out of resentment, feeling themselves abandoned. This rings true for me. He tells the story of how the town's principle employer, Rubermaid, forces the local factory to compete with factories below the border in order to keep the doors open. Only one way to do so: lower wages. This rings true to me too. Down hear in LA on state Hgwy One I see giant billboard after giant billboard critical of unions. Real message is clear: unionize and the jobs go elsewhere. I myself am not nor have ever been a union member. I don't like belonging to groups. But I am convinced that the single most driving force behind the creation of a middle-class in America were unions. This was as true for white America as for Black America. Past tense purposefully used.

I am not looking to turn the thread into a polemic. I want to keep to my Waffle House nights, maybe to other source stories as well. This is just the framework within which I am piecing together experience and observations. But there are two other points Bagent makes that ring true. He says a bright under-class child of today would not have the same advantage he had, with a father able to mortgage a home for college. Said father today would likely be a rentor, not a home owner. He also suspects that the so-called culture wars of the last two decades or so are less that, more a matter of class warfare. On this last I need to think more.

Now I need my Waffle House priestesses to speak up.

Oct/25/2010, 7:18 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Terreson,
You certainly did bring up some sensitive topics. None that I can respond to with any sense of completion. As I mentioned below, I'm reading "Native Son." Please see my notes in brackets. Thanks, Zak

Terreson wrote:

Thanks for commenting, Zak. I promised earlier to give the reason for my focus turned on the working poor.

The book is called Deer Huntingt with Jesus. Author's name: Joe Bagent. My sense is that he and I are age mates.

[Wish we had all the time to read all the books on the list. I have at least 20 books I should be reading. Just started rereading Moby Dick. Had read 2/3 of it before. Also Native Son by Richard Wright. Manages to write about the Black experience (1941) without being shrill.]

Bagent grew up in a small town in Virginia situated at the head of the Shenandoah valley. Winchester. The town Patsy Cline came from. He grew up in the working class and whose people he refers to as "my people." They are white folk. Bagent was smart enough to go on to college. His father financed college by putting a second mortgage on the family home, which he owned out right. From college Bagent goes into journalism and becomes a newspaper man. Along the way he becomes a liberal in politics. He then returns home and is stunned by what he sees. The book is his commentary on what he sees.

Bagent is critical of everyone. Critical of his people for being dumb enough (his words) to buy into the Republican party dogma, unable to see that they themselves are the very people most hurt by Republican politics. He is critical of liberal Democrats such as himself for having abandoned the working class interests. And he is critical of the Republicans for what he sees as their real agenda masked in one slogan of social conservatism after another. The real agenda being to return American to a pre-FDR circumstance favoring the rich, and a social safety net for the poor gutted.

[It's being sold as "saving America by reducing the size of government, though." Also, the underlying message is that minorities are getting too many free handouts.]

Essentially that is his soapbox. It is from him I got the term the working poor. Just now listening to an NPR program on finances I heard a term used by an economist. He says ours has become an hour glass economy, with jobs at the very top, the middle squeezed down to the bottom and the bottom tier expanding rapidly. News story after news story bears out the metaphor. People who, three year ago, were making $40 to $60 K a year now taking on work paying them less than $15,000 a year. Right now the median income in America, in fact, is less than $15 K.

[Funny, somewhere else I read it was at least twice that amount. Maybe in the $40K+. I'll have to check this out.]

To highlight his point about how out of touch liberals are with the working class he tells of a conversation he had with a Boston editor about his projected book. Editor says 'your people are as exotic to us as if they came from the Carribean.' Bagent also maintains there are more working poor whites in America than in all the minorities combined.

[This may be true but there are more whites in America than minorities. It stands to reason that there would be working poor whites. Also, among minorities there are probably greater numbers who have given up trying to find work. Also, more minorities victimized by drug abuse and hopelessness. Reading about it in Native Son right now.]

He does not give supporting data so I don't know for sure if this is accurate. Another point he makes is that the working class, and the working poor, have abandoned liberal social principles out of resentment, feeling themselves abandoned.

[Particularly in the South, the ruling elites always have played off the white sharecroppers against the black farmers and workers. With Obama's election, it became easier to play that race card, everywhere in the country, not just the South. This is not to say that there hasn't been abuse of the Affirmative Action programs, housing programs, etc. My preference would be for poor white people to also have an Affirmative Action program. The emphasis is on "poor." Definitely. I suspect that it would have to be a totally separate program, since those in power have a tendency to channel money to their own kind; and I include "all" races. All human beings. Another barrier to this idea is that some would say such a program is already in existence, since whites can also apply based on income. The ones for minorities exist with the intent of forcing whites to give a certain percentage of the funds to minorites; otherwise, they wouldn't do it.]

This rings true for me. He tells the story of how the town's principle employer, Rubermaid, forces the local factory to compete with factories below the border in order to keep the doors open. Only one way to do so: lower wages. This rings true to me too. Down hear in LA on state Hgwy One I see giant billboard after giant billboard critical of unions. Real message is clear: unionize and the jobs go elsewhere. I myself am not nor have ever been a union member. I don't like belonging to groups. But I am convinced that the single most driving force behind the creation of a middle-class in America were unions. This was as true for white America as for Black America. Past tense purposefully used.

I am not looking to turn the thread into a polemic. I want to keep to my Waffle House nights, maybe to other source stories as well. This is just the framework within which I am piecing together experience and observations. But there are two other points Bagent makes that ring true. He says a bright under-class child of today would not have the same advantage he had, with a father able to mortgage a home for college. Said father today would likely be a rentor, not a home owner. He also suspects that the so-called culture wars of the last two decades or so are less that, more a matter of class warfare. On this last I need to think more.

[It's a sad situation we're in. It also seems like the two, or three, or four sides don't seem too be able to communicate. Anytime it comes to race, things get too shrill. When it comes to class, people become too uncomfortable. People like to pretend it doesn't exist. If a politician brings it up, he's immediately accused of trying to start a class war. Maybe it's just too hot a subject.]

Now I need my Waffle House priestesses to speak up.




Oct/27/2010, 5:23 pm Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
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I've been trying to figure something out, what it means in the large screen.

Last Saturday night, later, but not so late that the bars had closed, I went to The Waffle House. Got an omelet but a little different, with ham and cheese and vegetables. While waiting for the order to come around I pulled out of my bag a new digital camera, my first. Still trying to figure it out. Turning to the side and with camera pointed towards the floor I was clicking and exploring camera functions. I hear a voice. Three or four stools to the side a young man and woman sit. Man gets animated. Back stiffens. A black dude twice my mass and maybe more. He says: you taking pictures of me? Don't be taking pictures of me. Says some other things too. So what's he nervous about? Is the young woman married to another man? Does the man have a record? Among the working, urban poor, black or white, both are possibilities bordering on the probable.

I don't know what anyone else knows about the milieu. In a situation you don't stand down, you don't turn away, you meet the eye contact, and you bluff your way out. When the young man's anxiety registered I said: what's your problem? Then I said: why would I be interested in you? He replied: and I ain't interested in you. He then averted his eyes and the moment was tied off, got closure.

Two reflections come to mind. This young man has probably heard all of his life what I told him in a moment: why would I be interested in you? Good chance he is conditioned that way. Tonight my conscience is bothering me. He could have taken me out easily, came across as inclined to do so. Mine was nothing more than a great ape's bluff. Second reflection. On the bottom economic rungs we tend to take our frustrations out among ourselves. We are such easy targets for each other.

After the moment passed I realized we had an audience behind the counter. Workers looking on.

Tere
Nov/1/2010, 8:35 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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It was a bad day today and for several reasons only personally important. Late afternoon, before the sun went down, I visited the P.O. Returning home I decided on an early evening stop at the Waffle House. The usual omelet with hash browns and sausage. The usual comfort food.

I got her to smile, my diffident, hard pressed short order cook. She smiled when I neared the counter. I got her to make eye contact and get comfortable doing so. And I got her to where she feels like going conversational. In the course of my meal I'll learn some vital info. She has to prep for the late night shift, the busy after-bar hours, for which she doesn't get compensated. Because she has two school-aged children she doesn't want to work the more lucrative 11 to 7 shift. She needs to be there at home in the morning to get them ready for school. Then I learn the really big thing. Never again will she let herself depend on a man. I say something stupid and true: men tend to be undependable. She replies: Baby, you got that right. Oh that smile of hers. If I don't get it again I got it tonight.

This is America.

Older black man sitting two stools down, reading his newspaper, reads aloud about the two year conviction of the white transit worker in CA who shoots down an unarmed black boy. He says: racism has come back. From behind the counter some woman voice says: it never left. Same man reads about a local case of violence of black on black. I'm not sure if he gets how violence tends to get played out by the poor on the poor. But the sorrow in his voice comes through.

A white girl comes in. A server starting her shift. Tonight I learn she is a single parent but that her child is not yet of school age. I ask if she would rather be working the 11 to 7 shift. Her eyes widen. She says: yes. I ask why. She says: I need the money.

This is America.

Tere
Nov/6/2010, 9:31 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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I am considering never voting again. Age 59. Cast my first vote at 18. 41 years ago and religiouslyIevery election year since.

My Waffle House friends are good to me now. A customer they don't have to worry about, can turn their backs to and forget. Think about that. How many women in America can turn her back on a man and not worry for her own safety?

Of course, behind their backs I am reading poetry by Arab women, stuff in these strange days could get me interrogated. Such strange days we live in.

Cook fluffs my omelet so nicely I could kiss her. She went easy. I would have told her so but it would have made her feel watched, self-conscious. One serving gal putting quarters in the juke box. Hotel California by the Eagles comes up. I say: how do you know that song? She says: I heard it on the radio. I say: Sweetheart, I lived that song. All the while she sings it to herself from behind the counter.

Back in the car looking to go home. I've seen with my queens of the Waffle House. Radio turned on. I realize something.

America, I don't much care for your politics anymore. The Sarah Palins are call girls. The Boehners are snake oil salesmen selling toxics. On my side of the aisle the Pelozzis operate in the range of bad faith, the Reids lack conviction.

Here is where we are, you little me, you little you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt7BJ-6gxSc

Tere
Nov/14/2010, 12:48 am Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Terreson,
Great & real. But be more careful, man. You're not 25 anymore. Zak

quote:

Terreson wrote:

I've been trying to figure something out, what it means in the large screen.

Last Saturday night, later, but not so late that the bars had closed, I went to The Waffle House. Got an omelet but a little different, with ham and cheese and vegetables. While waiting for the order to come around I pulled out of my bag a new digital camera, my first. Still trying to figure it out. Turning to the side and with camera pointed towards the floor I was clicking and exploring camera functions. I hear a voice. Three or four stools to the side a young man and woman sit. Man gets animated. Back stiffens. A black dude twice my mass and maybe more. He says: you taking pictures of me? Don't be taking pictures of me. Says some other things too. So what's he nervous about? Is the young woman married to another man? Does the man have a record? Among the working, urban poor, black or white, both are possibilities bordering on the probable.

I don't know what anyone else knows about the milieu. In a situation you don't stand down, you don't turn away, you meet the eye contact, and you bluff your way out. When the young man's anxiety registered I said: what's your problem? Then I said: why would I be interested in you? He replied: and I ain't interested in you. He then averted his eyes and the moment was tied off, got closure.

Two reflections come to mind. This young man has probably heard all of his life what I told him in a moment: why would I be interested in you? Good chance he is conditioned that way. Tonight my conscience is bothering me. He could have taken me out easily, came across as inclined to do so. Mine was nothing more than a great ape's bluff. Second reflection. On the bottom economic rungs we tend to take our frustrations out among ourselves. We are such easy targets for each other.

After the moment passed I realized we had an audience behind the counter. Workers looking on.

Tere



Nov/15/2010, 7:16 am Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
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Re: The Waffle House and America


Terreson,
I'm going to have to find a place like this to escape to. Well, this website sort of serves part of that requirement, doesn't it. Zak

quote:

Terreson wrote:

It was a bad day today and for several reasons only personally important. Late afternoon, before the sun went down, I visited the P.O. Returning home I decided on an early evening stop at the Waffle House. The usual omelet with hash browns and sausage. The usual comfort food.

I got her to smile, my diffident, hard pressed short order cook. She smiled when I neared the counter. I got her to make eye contact and get comfortable doing so. And I got her to where she feels like going conversational. In the course of my meal I'll learn some vital info. She has to prep for the late night shift, the busy after-bar hours, for which she doesn't get compensated. Because she has two school-aged children she doesn't want to work the more lucrative 11 to 7 shift. She needs to be there at home in the morning to get them ready for school. Then I learn the really big thing. Never again will she let herself depend on a man. I say something stupid and true: men tend to be undependable. She replies: Baby, you got that right. Oh that smile of hers. If I don't get it again I got it tonight.

This is America.

Older black man sitting two stools down, reading his newspaper, reads aloud about the two year conviction of the white transit worker in CA who shoots down an unarmed black boy. He says: racism has come back. From behind the counter some woman voice says: it never left. Same man reads about a local case of violence of black on black. I'm not sure if he gets how violence tends to get played out by the poor on the poor. But the sorrow in his voice comes through.

A white girl comes in. A server starting her shift. Tonight I learn she is a single parent but that her child is not yet of school age. I ask if she would rather be working the 11 to 7 shift. Her eyes widen. She says: yes. I ask why. She says: I need the money.

This is America.

Tere



Nov/15/2010, 7:17 am Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
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Re: The Waffle House and America


Zakman, I sure hope it does to some extent.

Tere

Almost overlooked your earlier comment. Shoot, man, I was skinnier then than I am now.

Last edited by Terreson, Nov/15/2010, 8:33 pm
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Re: The Waffle House and America


Dined earlier than usual last night, Saturday. Soon after sundown. There were few other customers, two parties I think. I was hungry. That's right. Yesterday was a game day, college football. All of town would have been in the stadium or tail gating in the immediate vicinity of the stadium. I'm always affronted by the land yachts that come rolling into town for a game. Bigger than mastadons they are. Adding insult to injury, when parked, engines are idling I guess in order to generate power for interior conveniences. Such conspicuous consumption. Precisely enough to do the planet in. Anyway, a party steps inside the restaurant. Husband, wife, and I'll guess the child was a grandson. Man comments on what a great game it was. I do that thing I enjoy. I poke. I ask who won? Dumbfounded the man says: Are you serious? Then I go in for the kill. Who did they play? Man is so shocked the boy has to answer for him. America. On steroids.

It seems my favorite cook has made a game out of my order. She guesses what I will ask for. And correctly. Last night's omelet was her best. Perfect. Flufffy, hot, all the goodies tender and tasty. I tell her so and she smiles, but not too broadly. She reminds me of a waitress I once knew up in Providence, which town, by the way, is the original home of the diner in diner cars. This goes back to the Great Depression. Anyway, she was treating with a group of young men kind of roudy, a little bawdy, and full of themselves. She finally said something that shut down their young Turk fun. She said: 'I know who you are. You are always just men.' I worked that line into a poem once. My short order cook is just like that. I'll bet she is not inclined either to give too much away.

There is a waitress who likes music coming out of the jukebox. Last night she plies it with change. She plays again the old Hotel California song. Standing close by while it plays, I ask: how do you know that song, you are too young. She thinks for a moment and says: I listened to my parents' music. I got exposed to it all. Also America. Sometimes maybe the only thing that keeps her going. The need for music, a certain kind of music speaking duende perhaps.

There is a certain inflexion in the waitresses voice. I am guessing she is Cajun. Possibly Creole. But when I hear her talking I involuntarily look up in surprise. There is southern African-American in that inflexion, which is why I think she might be Creole. I also notice how easily she smiles, not like my short order cook. She just smiles easily, immediately. I also notice how comfortable she is in her own skin. Nothing diffident or wary about her. Then it comes to me. She's a young'n. ~Oh yeah life goes on / long after the thrill / of living is gone. ~ Jack and Diane and the American heartland.

I was reading an article at the counter. It was in a mag I subscribe to. Actually the subscription is a gift from my historian brother, as I can't afford it. And he has renewed the subscription every year for at least the last eight. I told him once it was how I got my liberal arts education back in the seventies. Or how it introduced me to thinking, thinkers, the arts, to lit. And it is true. The mag was my portal into the liberal arts. At work one day a friend picked up an issue I had brought into the kitchen at lunch. She flipped through it, tossed it back down on the table and said: that's highbrow stuff. The irony. My roots could not be more lowbrow. But my brother and I, actually he is a half-brother, inherited one thing in common from our mother. Her passion for reading. The mag is The New York Review of Books. The best of its kind. Is this America too? Damned if I know. Sometimes I don't think so.

Last night's article was a review of a book about Abraham Lincoln. The book treats with the evolution of Lincoln's thinking on race, black folk, and their place in America. He started out, if not an actual racist, an apologist for the status quo of race relations in America. Through baby steps he finally got to where he made the extraordinary leap. Full suffrage, full emancipation, perfect equality. I know the story in broad strokes. Some things I did not know. I did not know that fully 100,000 black soldiers served on the Union side. Lincoln brought up the fact once in the company of northerners not convinced of the proposition of emancipation. He said something like while you gentlemen debate 100,000 black men are defending your country. I've read elsewhere how Lincoln befriended the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglas. Through private conversation, often in the White House, Douglas's thinking and demeanor more than nudged along the evolution of Lincoln's own thinking. To me that is huge, how one man can influence the country's most powerful man. It is also huge that Lincoln had the capacity to change.

What a country of contradictions we are and have always been. One day compassionate to the extent of self-sacrifice. The next day inhumanly cruel and banally viscious. Lynchings have always haunted me. How can any American not take that episode in the country's history personally. Because of where I come from and my immediate environment I could have grown up a racist. Easily. I could have sat on a blanket with picnic spread out by a mother. And a photographer could have taken our picture with a black man or woman in the background hanging from a tree. I've seen the photo and it is stunning. They say people used to make postcards of such photos and send them to friends. Stunning is America's capacity for cruelty.

I don't know. Maybe it is also a contradiction that a single man, a free agent, might take his one treat of the week in a Waffle House, enjoy his omelet, spy on the proceedings, while reading a highbrow mag. But these are my people. With them I am comfortable, feel at home. And accepted. I know a scientist who is the same way. A PhD type and an intellectual. One day he confessed he would rather chat with skilled workers, all the while plying them with questions about their trade, then go to yet another international conference on research in his field. More contradictions.

I realized something recently. When a young man I had two chances to go expat. Even thought I wanted to. Once in Switzerland. And, believe it or not, once to Castro's Cuba. That year was 1971. I was a radical leftist and the Cuban govt would have payed my way. True story. I've since decided there is a Dr. Zhivago in a bunch of us. Americans too tied to the soil, or maybe too imbued with the air, to live long abroad. Mark Twain was like that who certainly had the chance to go expat. Who as certainly hated, could not stomach, certain sides of America.

Enough for now. Just a country of contradictions. And thank you, my Waffle House muses. You lend a certain focus. Were you to read my thoughts likely you would remind me of the hour, say your shift is over and say goodnight.

Tere
Nov/21/2010, 5:48 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: The Waffle House and America


Reading back up I see I have repeated myself a couple of times at least. My apologies. I am going to have to dig a little deeper to keep the note viable.

Tere
Nov/22/2010, 7:13 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: The Waffle House and America


hi Tere,

I like these Waffle House riffs. Haven't noticed any glaring redundancies. I sure wish you'd weave the Waffle House and bee yard stories into a novel. I keep thinking of Steinbeck's character, Doc, from "Cannery Row" and "Sweet Thursday." But now I'm repeating myself. emoticon

Keep at it, Tere.

Chris
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Thanks for the tolerance, Chris. We've brought up Steinbeck before, sure. Doc may be his best realized character. Of course, Doc is Steinbeck when he finally let himself have a voice in his novels.

I like your idea of finding the interstice between the bee yard and Waffle House yarns. It tickles me. I might be able to pull it off, actually. The notion has grit.

Tere
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Re: The Waffle House and America


Decided to stay home this Saturday night, drink a little, stay off the roads, order out for pizza. But if you look closely you'll see my Waffle House muses looking over my shoulder.

My theme keeps weighing heavily, theme involving the working poor, working class, and the unquestioned diminishment of a middle class in America. The signs are all there. We, and by we I mean the yeoman class, are so screwed. Unions, the very thing that gave rise to an American middle class, are all but busted. They will continue to make concession after concession just to keep the jobs from getting outsourced. The working poor will populate the economy's service sector and they will be grateful to work for minimum wage. Upthread I pointed to the stat that the median wage in America is less than $15 K a year. That is the national reality. It is not lost on me that in this depression the investment sector is doing quite well. Wall Street, having been bailed out, is doing quite well, and corporations posting profits. What does this tell me? Collectively speaking it tells me the back of the yeoman class has been broken.

For Thanksgiving a workplace friend invited me to dinner with his family and their friends. At first I wasn't inclined to go, especially since it involved a thirty minute commute to his home in one of the outlying, nouveau developments. But I got what he and his wife were after. It seems his wife was the catalyst behind the invite. And so I was touched by the gesture.

G. and I have become friends. What we have in common is bee keeping. He is an exquisite bee keeper. But the friendship has taken on a life of its own. I guess we also have other things in common. Sports bore him. He is not at all competitive. Same is true of me. But he is a devout Christian and a devoted family man. He clearly places his wife and two children above himself. His faith tends him to the principle of charity, especially when children at risk are involved. Me, while a religious man, I am no Christian. His religion is actually responsible for the rape, murder, and dispossession of many over the millenia of my faith. And I have proved to be no devoted family man. Art has always come first, not something I am inclined to sacrifice, put second to the family life. G. and I never talk about my religion, in part because I can't talk about my faith without diminishing it. We don't talk about his faith either, not in the theological sense. But he does tell me about church dealings. The taking in of children, the idea (rather attractive to me) that Christianity needs to go back to its roots when fellowship was more personal, less institutionalized, and the church politics (seemingly always over money)that leaves him shaking his head. To me G. is the kind of Christian that might have had easy commerce with earth reverencing pagans before Charlemagne set in on the mass slaughter of such pagans. (by any other name it amounted to genocide and got called conversion.) Of course this is stuff I can't say to G. Nor would it actually matter. That we are friends is what matters. The rare thing.

I worry about G. Worry about his vibrant wife. Worry about their two pretty fine children. The boy, older of the two, loves to read. The girl, I think she is 7, is pistol packing and clearly a free spirit. They are looking to flesh out the American dream. I know G.'s salary range. Less than $50,000. I don't know his wife's, M.'s, salary range. But sure it is less than her husband's. They both have jobs as secure as it gets these days. But that is not saying much anymore. I'll guess they have a combined income of $70,000 a year. Even in the Deep South that is precarious for a family of four. I also know their debt obligations. G. can be such a chatterbox.

I noticed something about their home. The colors. G. gave me a tour, clearly proud of his newly built, pretty much a cookie cutter kind of home in a new development. Master bedroom a room fit for adults. Little boy's room pretty boyish and kind of dark. Little girl's room as pink as a princess could want it to be. But what struck me was the living room and adjacent kitchen area. One wall maroon, maroon, maroon. Other three walls painted in a neutral color. I asked the obvious. Who chose the colors? M. said she had. I asked why? She said: I wanted something bold.

America's interior spaces. You don't know a man or woman until you've seen their interior spaces. (note to self. dust off your books.)

G.'s friends included a karate instructor, overweight, maybe a former Marine. I think he said he served in the Presidential Guard once and clearly proud of it. But he was driving a son's big truck, his truck broken down. America again. Another man. Scrambling following a divorce. His ex-wife having opted for a co-worker. Two children to tend to in joint custody. The man always putting a good face on the sit. Then the single mom with three troubled sons. Their estranged father with new wife inclined to tell the boys they displease him, so stay away. One of her sons G. tells me has taken to stealing. Ipods, cell phones, Kindles. A boy like that is so angry and so lost in America's shuffle. As a footnote, single mom was easy on the eyes. She has a heart beat.

There were also twins present. Two boys, age 13, G. had kind of picked up on from his former church. Mother not present. Mother back home in her mother's home with a new boyfriend. Mother apparently too addicted to love to pay much attention to her children. M. asked one of the boys when they should be returned hom. Boy calls home. Grandmother tells him "stay as long as they will have you. Your mother is asleep on the couch right now with her new boyfriend." This is America.

I step outside to smoke a cigarette. G. follows. He says they are thinking about adopting the twins. He says as how their older brother, an amputee, sometimes shows up at church without a shoe on the one foot. He says how the single mom of three recently took the twins shopping to get them some clothes. I note she herself is hard pressed to clothe her own sons. America.

Mind you, it is none of my business, but I want to advise G. against what he and M. are considering. They are one serious illness, one outrageous medical bill, this side of dissolvency. All yeoman families are.

Decided. This is the new normal.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Nov/28/2010, 5:53 pm
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Re: The Waffle House and America


Some post, Tere. Thanks for cutting through the crap that seems to overwhelm us around this time of year. It's grim and that aint good.

Speaking of yeoman's work, looks like you're doing everything around here the past week or so. Not too creative lately, I'll try to respond to some of the good stuff posted by you and others.

Chris
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Thanks, Chris. If I need to apologize I do so freely. I suppose this all amounts to a jeremiad of sorts, a lament. Truth is in the back of my head are all the little people playing out heroically in a system designed to see they fail. A single mom of three troubled boys looking to put clothing on the backs of twin brothers all but abandoned by their own mother. G. and M., barely middle-class, looking to take in the twins. And always my Waffle House muses.

Tere
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The story fits my theme: Waffle House and America. So I'll put it here. But before the story a digression involving E. the janitor introduced in my first post.

E. did not come in last Monday, one of three regularly scheduled work days. Immediately I was worried. Maybe already mentioned but E. looks forward to coming to work. He enjoys working. I think I know he was once a roofer. To him janitorial work must figure as paradise in comparison to working on roofs under the Deep South's sun. Ask him how he is doing and almost always he replies: I'm glad to be here, Mr. T. So I was worried.

The next day he came to work. I asked after him, asked after his health. He said he was down the day before with gout. I didn't question him, at first didn't say what I would eventually say to him. Then he told someone else his arthritis had flared up. Then I questioned him. He said he might have been wrong about suffering from gout. I kind of laughed and told him he probably was. I then said: E., gout is a rich man's disease, coming from eating too much rich food and drinking. (which is probably not the case anymore, given the obesity rate in America these days.) It was E.'s turn to chuckle, getting the obvious, that he is no rich man. I told him kings and aristocrats used to be prone to gout. He said: thank you, Mr T.; I didn't know that.

Can't help but worry about E. Something else. E. is polite to the point of almost being obsequious. It used to bother me. Sometimes I would wonder what he really thinks about us back in his sister's home, which is where he lives. But I've decided he is a genuinely polite man who likes his job, and, here is the big thing, has adopted us. Another thing. I've realized he is self-respecting. Now for the main story.

It was before Katrina, a storm that has become another one of those before or after memory markers. There was a man in the apt. complex, living in another unit. He was in good shape, loved to show his muscles while walking about shirtless. Head shaved. I knew he was a drugie with a record and on probation. I don't know what he was on that night. Calculated guess says it was meth. He was walking around outside, as usual shirtless. And he was screaming. Help me, he screamed. His arms over his head, hands extended out. Help me! This went on for the better part of two hours. The screaming wasn't intermittent, but constant. Help me! The entire complex was silent. Everybody, all of us keeping inside our apartments, knew what was going down. If we called 911 he would be in double trouble with the police and with his probation officer. I weighed the situation and made the call. I could have tried to talk him down but, from experience, I knew it would not happen.

The scene was at night. By the time I made the call he was out in the middle of the street and completely out of control. Then the cop car lights, always so lurid and in themselves signalling the coming of danger. Then the EMT. And all the neighbors out, looking on, ready for the spectacular take down. The man is flailing his arms. 10 feet away 7 or so cops are huddled. I am remembering he was both shirtless and in shorts. Collectively the cops rush him, throw him to the ground on his chest, cuff him, their legs pressing him down. The pavement must have torn up his flesh. Then he screams out: I can't breathe. I get pissed, approach the officers and call out: the man can't breathe. An officer gets in my face, tells me to go home. By now the blood is up and I reply: this is my home, god damn it. He tells me to step back a foot and I figure I should. But the man is raised up and strapped to a guerney. EMT take him away. Neighbors shunned me for that phone call. But so it goes.

What is the point of my story? A man asks for help. His plea is treated as a disturbance of the peace, excessive force used to quell the plea. We, America, are so lousy when it comes to someone calling out for help. We respond out of fear. Those cops responded more to the man's muscles than to his cry. And so excessive force comes into play. I can almost guarantee that had the man been a wealthy man the scene's denouement would have turned differently. He would have been treated as a human being, not as an animal. I should point out the man was an Anglo. The issue wasn't one of race, but of class. The Waffle House and America.

Tere
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Re: The Waffle House and America


I have tried every which way to link to a You Tube video found by chance last night, and bring the link over. Go to YouTube, type in "Fist Fight in the Waffle House." Pull the video up. With a bit of black humor it speaks to my theme.

Tere
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Re: The Waffle House and America


http://www.youtube.com/watch?vemoticonya0UU0meD4
Dec/12/2010, 1:07 am Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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There. Copy and paste.

Tere
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Re: The Waffle House and America


Terreson, The copy and paste didn't work, but when I went to Google and typed in, "you tube fighting at the waffle house" or something similar, maybe "You Tube Fight at The Waffle House," I got a video, a performance. Zak

quote:

Terreson wrote:

There. Copy and paste.

Tere



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Tried again, Zak, and you are right. Can't figure out the problem. All other links so far have engaged. But you are right. You can go to You Tube, type in Fist Fight at the Waffle House, and there you are.

Uncharacteristicly of me I commented on the video, said I found it funny, grotesque, and poignant. Artist, Brian Haner, replied: this makes me smile. Reply enough to tell me he knows what he was about there.

Tere
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Haven't spoken to the theme in a while.

Last weekend I stopped by a nearby convenience store for smokes. It was a bitterly cold day in south LA. Pulling in, I noticed a young woman. She was walking between an aisle of gas pumps and the store. Of course I noticed her. She was wearing a summer-like sleeveless blouse, tight fitting jeans, boots, and she was sweet on the eyes. But I noticed her also for being so unseasonably dressed. In retrospect she noticed me too. My car would have told the lie that I have means, which is what she would registered.

When I stepped out of the car she approached me. She asked if there is a pay phone nearby. Everybody knows "Ma Bell" no longer supports corner-side pay phones. Only found now in bus stations and other transportation hubs, if at all. She was trying to get someone to pick her up and I guess take her home. So I pulled out my cell phone. I remember now. It wasn't last weekend. It was Monday, three days ago. I had just gotten a new Mini and somewhere I had left a pair of cheap reading glasses, without which the close up is a blur. So I said I don't have my glasses and you are on your own working the phone.

She made her call. Her tone was kitten like, submissive, almost ingratiating. Judging from her side of the conversation she was tapping for a favor a mother, sibling, friend, or old boy friend for one time too many. She said: tomorrow I have a ride. She said: this is the last time. She said: I love you. She handed back the phone. I said: aren't you cold? She said she was freezing. I should have given her my coat but didn't because I have one winter coat for the south and I was damn cold that day. Bloody selfish. I should have offered her a ride but did not want to get involved. I thought: !@#$, man, you can give this girl a ride home and get embroiled in some crazy stuff.

When I stepped inside to make a purchase, the teller, a young clerk with whom I've become store-front friends, asked if the woman was begging from me. I said she hadn't, that she just needed to make a phone call. Then I got it, remembering what I once saw working in a convenience store. Poor folk on the streets gravitate to convenience stores. For the light, for the panhandling, and for the kindness of strangers.

Two more reflections. 30 years ago I wouldn't have thought a second time about giving a stranger a ride home. Caution can sometimes bring on a person bad karma, which I think I earned that night. And this. Technology, profit margin driven, is leaving behind, shutting out, people without the means to pay.

Tere
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Re: The Waffle House and America


Ouch. Well done, Tere. All of this is.

Chris
Jan/6/2011, 8:56 am Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 


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