When It's Not About the Food
Over the past several months I have been making an endeavor to get more into food photography. In building up a portfolio of images I have been going to local places I enjoy, along with trying new places. Beyond eating new and tasty food, it's been a lot of fun in that I've been doing something I enjoy. It's going out and seeing the world and meeting people. Food is something we all have in common, but often food comes during a larger context of our story or day.
The other day I was in Phoenix, Arizona, to see some Dodgers Spring Training. I tried to stay somewhere near the ballpark so as to not have to drive far between the games, the hotel, and for places to eat. One place I love to eat is the Waffle House (it's ok to laugh). It's cheap, the food is decent, and it's quick. But really, that's not entirely why I go there. When I see their sign along the road, I'm taken back to a time that gives me a smile. Seeing the sign reminds me of faces and an experience.
I got to spend a few days in Atlanta, celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. During a Sunday, I went to visit his home church, Ebenezer Baptist Church. The plan for the day was to go to a church service, go to lunch, explore the MLK museum, and then attend a meeting with Bernice King, Martin Luther King's daughter. My breakfast that day had been some sips of Dunkin Donuts coffee and a donut.
During the church service they had us in the congregation join hands and sing hymns. After the hymns we had time to talk while everyone took to their seats before the sermon. Next to me was a woman named Deborah and she asked where I was from, why I was in town, etc. Telling her a bit about coming from California and wanting to see the museum, she mentioned how she had never been to the museum herself. She asked if she could join me for the day and I was glad to have her along.
When the service finished we started walking across the street to the museum. As we were talking I was also thinking about my growling stomach and how I wanted lunch. But, she was excited to walk around and I was too. Throughout several stops within the museum Deborah would tell me some of her story. She had originally grown up in Memphis and remembered the day MLK was shot. She was a kid, but still remembered the day. Seeing pictures of black marchers getting beaten, and hearing audio of their stories, it jarred her memory more of how it was back in the 1960's.
After the museum, we went to the old church building for Ebenezer and saw the original pews. We sat in there for a bit. I was having fun being there, but my stomach was still growling. The meeting with Bernice King was soon to begin and we made our way there. It was about 4pm and after the meeting began, Deborah said she had to get going. She thanked me for letting me share the day together and for showing her around. It surprised me because I didn't know my way around. Either way, I was glad to spend the day with her as well.
The meeting was under way and Ms. King gave a presentation about her mother Coretta Scott King. Afterwards, she would be signing books. Present with Bernice King was Martin Luther King's older sister, Christine King Farris. It was an honor to get to meet them both. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my hero's and getting to meet them was for me getting to meet him.
Eventually the meeting got out. While feeling elated at all of who I got to meet this day, I felt one immediate mission and that was time to eat.
Being in Atlanta, I wanted to discover soul food. I didn't know what that was and was excited to try some. I took to my iPhone and Yelp to give me directions. Finding a place with a million good reviews, I drove my way to downtown. Unbeknownst to me, the Atlanta Falcons were playing a playoff game that night and traffic was nearly at a complete standstill. Seeing a gazillion tailgate parties was both fun and torturous. I was hungry dagnabbit and I couldn't get anywhere.
Eventually I got back to the freeway and started heading back in the direction of where I was staying. It was about 9pm and I was reflecting on the day as I drove. Off in the distance to the side of the free way, I saw yellow floating letters that spelled out Waffle House. The word waffle always gets my attention and it was a reflex of a decision to exit immediately.
I Was Told, "Black People Are Angry"
Pulling into the parking lot, I found it was a little empty and I wondered if it was open. I saw a guy with an apron on standing near the front door. As I walked closer, the guy saw me and walked inside the restaurant. It seemed he had a disappointed look on his face and I didn't know if seeing me made him annoyed. This sounds dumb, but please bear with me. The man was black and seeing him reminded me of what some friends had told me as I ventured into Atlanta. They warned me that black people in Atlanta, black people are angry. Be careful was the keen advice. Up to that point I had met nothing but nice black people, so I didn't know what the worry was about.
Inside the Waffle House, I saw it was empty, save for the black employee. He had sat in a booth and he had headphones on. I asked if the place was still open and he just kinda stared at me without saying anything. Then I saw a waitress come out and so I went to sit at the counter.
Looking over the menu, I saw pecan waffles with eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns, along with coffee, all for the high price of $6 something. I was sold. As I waited for the food, I looked over and saw the black guy just staring in what seemed my direction, and he still looked mad. I felt nervous a bit but didn't really care. The waitress (also black) was pretty friendly.
As my food arrived, other customers came in and sat around me. Somehow I didn't notice them because I was inhaling my food. Every so often I looked over at the black guy and he still looked mad. Eventually he got up and went behind the counter and stood near the grill. As I was enjoying the pecan waffles, he came nearer to me, took his headphones off, and began shaking his head. He turned to me and said, "damn Falcons!" I laughed to myself. The whole time I was there (about 20 minutes by that point) he had been on his break, listening to the Falcons playoff game, and hearing them lose. He started telling me about the game and began waiting on me with coffee. Turns out he was the friendliest guy there.
Leaving, I noted in my mind that I think my friends were wrong about black people, and that I should always warn people of how friendly black people can be. They'll take you in for the day, give you a kiss on the cheek, talk about love, cheer for their teams, and lovingly serve me tasty waffles...among other more important matters in life.
To this day, I love the Waffle House and relive those memories whenever I can, not to mention also a road trip with good friends. I bragged for miles upon miles about the Waffle House...but that's a story for another day.