"Waffle House doesn't care how much you are worth, what you look like, where you are from, what your political beliefs are, or where you've been, so long as you respect."
Cash has been taking photos of the world outside of the windows of about 125 Waffle Houses since the beginning of the year. The ubiquitous Southern diner chain gave Cash a perch from which to look at his native South, from its old oak trees to its apartment complexes. From the diner booths where he sat, surrounded by the smell of fried bacon and burnt coffee, he realized that the South can become a place where the food is good and everyone is welcome.
Cash writes that the Waffle House is replicated thousands of times over. In 25 states, the chain consists of about 1,500 restaurants. The same menu of Southern diner classics such as steak and eggs, Texas melts, and their namesake waffles can be found no matter where the franchise is located. Their menu has a variety of terms for their hash browns, including "scattered", "covered", and "country", as well as their famous sausage gravy. Breakfast is served in communities from wealthy to poor, urban to rural, predominantly black to white.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency uses an informal Waffle House Index to determine the severity of a storm's impact on a community, where "Red" corresponds to a closed Waffle House.
Cash came up with the idea for this project while eating at a Waffle House in South Carolina. He looked out the window and saw a Dollar General store and wondered how often Waffle Houses are built around businesses like that.
He ate at one to six Waffle Houses in a day and spent 10 to 25 minutes at each stop. He took pictures of houses, strip malls, highways, and scraggly fields from their bar stools and booths. He would order breakfast items in the morning. He says he will ask for cheese on them if he is crazy. He would only drink coffee and a slice of toast during the day. He pulled out his camera on a full stomach.
In a photo of a store in Monroe, North Carolina, a predominantly white county with a median per capita income of $23,732, there are signs for a thrift store and restaurant. In a photo of a store in Mobile, Alabama, a predominantly Black city with a median income of $27,000, condensation obscures an image of two men walking under a tree.
The foregrounds of the images remind the viewer that they are sitting in a Waffle House filled with waffles and syrup. Cash says that it allowed every viewer to bring their experience into the picture.
Many people think of these experiences as a place where time slows down and connections open. Readers seem to have had a similar effect. Cash and his publisher have received a lot of positive feedback from Waffle House loyalists, so they plan to expand the book this winter. Readers have told Cash that they recognized the booth from the photo. They'd say, 'Oh, my god.' He remembers looking out the window of the booth and trying to figure out how to be himself.
There was a lot of chatter behind the camera. Cash heard the sound of plates clanking together and the sizzle of fried bacon and eggs on the griddle. The other sounds that you hear are people talking, whether it is other patrons or the staff having a good time, usually having a good time.
A meal at a Waffle House in Alabama, where a black man and a Jewish woman walked into a diner, was recalled in the book. There wasn't a joke. We left. We were served and welcomed. I had a waffle with some ham. I left with a full belly and a happy expression on my face. That is the experience I have had when I go to a waffle house.
During his tour of the Southeast's Waffle Houses, Cash drank coffee with people from different walks of life. He would sometimes hear more than one language in the morning. Diners arrived at Waffle Houses in a variety of vehicles.
Cash and his family eat at Waffle House a lot. He remembers going to Waffle House with his brother and father on road trips, where they would sit down to a big breakfast and watch the cooks prepare their food. He brought his son there for his first chocolate waffle. He writes that the look on his face when he realized that chocolate and syrup tasted good together was pure delight.
Waffle House is not flawless. Racist incidents are frequently reported at Waffle Houses. The conclusion of the book states that the Southern diner is as old as the diner itself. Cash believes that when these incidents happen at a Waffle House, they get a lot of media attention because most people think it's a nice place. The site of bravery has been there. James Shaw, a customer at the Waffle House in Tennessee, disarmed the shooter before he could hurt anyone else.
A lot of people find sanctuary at Waffle House. He doesn't think there is anything spectacular about the food. It is dependable. It will come to you the way you expect it to, if you are hungry on a road trip. Cash photographed a yellow 18-wheeler crossing a highway overpass hedged by leafless trees while he was at a store in Kentucky.
Maybe it's just the way people are. An article mused that the chain might command such steadfast loyalty because of the waitresses. Cash believes that the result is a place where people can be who they are.
Breakfast is like fireworks. He says people like it. If there is a firework show, everyone is going to stop their car, come on out to the field and watch some fireworks, and then go on with their lives.
He likes scrambled eggs and toast. Isn't that similar to our existence? You will have a better life if you treat people nicely. The golden rule is also like that. It's easy.
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