The other Sunday in Georgia, Bubba Watson won the Masters, which is only the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. And this was the second time in three years for him. It was a very big deal, then, which Watson celebrated by taking his wife and a few friends out for dinner at his favorite restaurant.
That would be Waffle House.
It is difficult to know from reading the news accounts exactly which of some 1,700 Waffle House restaurants Watson went to. But it was in Georgia. If he’d won the U.S. Open, and it had been played at, say, Pebble Beach, then Watson would have been out of luck and reduced to eating sushi or some kale-themed creation at a thousand dollars a plate. There are no Waffle House locations outside of what can loosely be called the South. Precious few, anyway.
But in the South, you almost have to search for an exit from an interstate where you do not see the familiar yellow sign with black letters, announcing to all who are in the know that here be good, cheap, high cholesterol eats. You don’t go to Waffle House thinking salads and lean chicken. I once sat at a Waffle House counter, outside of Tallahassee on the Sunday morning after an FSU game, and watched the man next to me eat three pork chops, four eggs over easy, a serving of grits, and a couple of biscuits. Nobody in the place, on either side of the counter, seemed to think there was anything remarkable about this, and the man walked, unassisted, to his car after he had cleaned his plate.
I was eating at Waffle House that morning because, back in those days, that’s where I always—and I mean always—ate breakfast when I was on the road. And I was on the road a lot.
I remember the occasional conversation, back then, about the appeal of Waffle House. Someone of my acquaintance described it for me as “comfort food for truckers.” Nice line but insufficiently regional. I subscribed to the theory that breakfast, in the recently departed rural South, was always the most important and ample meal of the day. I can dimly remember how, in my sawmill family, breakfast was eaten well before the sun rose and it was meant to fuel the men the way sawdust and scrap lumber fueled the mill’s boilers. Eggs, grits, ham—very salty—biscuits—very buttered—and lots of bitter black coffee. Then off for a morning in the woods or at the mill, amid the screaming machines. It was hard and dangerous work, and breakfast helped fortify you for it.
Nice theory, I suppose, and one that allowed me in those days on the road, when I was doing vastly softer work, to tell myself that at least I was eating as my more robust ancestors had.
Eventually, I found myself spending less and less time on the road and more and more of it in venues where there was no Waffle House. That is to say, above the Mason-Dixon line. And, anyway, I was trying to eat the way we are all supposed to eat and enduring it. To my surprise, life without grits (and plenty of butter and salt) seemed actually worth living. There were times, I suppose, when I suspected my Waffle House days were behind me.
But I happened to be down South when Bubba won the Masters. And not just anywhere in the South, but less than an hour’s drive from his hometown of Bagdad, Florida, which is just a little way from Pensacola and a long way from the 21st century. It is a sweet little town of spreading live oaks and stately pines, full of old homes built of heart lumber milled to tongue and groove, with azaleas and wisteria blooming lushly all around. It’s as pretty, in its way, as the vastly more manicured grounds of Augusta National that Bubba had conquered two days before my wife and I did the half-hour tour of his hometown.
After which, we went directly to the nearest Waffle House, where we both ordered my usual. I’m a traditionalist, that way. But I had the sense that this little homage to Bubba might be my last visit to Waffle House for a while, and maybe for longer than that. So I did something I’d never done before. I ordered a waffle.
Like the eggs, the sausage, the grits, and the biscuits, it was excellent.
Just as Bubba and I had known it would be.