Mike Ragland -Cotton in my Blood

Mike Ragland, Guest Columnist

Last week it was early morning and I was on my way to finish up a few chores in Rome. First stop was Tractor Supply, one of my favorite stores anywhere. So, I thought I would stop at the Waffle House and get me a chicken egg and a piece of dead hog on the way.

I stop there a lot for several reasons. Mainly the food is good, the folks that work there are friendly, fast at their work, professional, and seem to be genuine, down-home folks. When I walked in, some waitress yelled, “Come on in, grab you a seat and I’ll be right with you.” I feel comfortable there.

I walk around the bar stools (too fat to sit there) and grab a chair at the short counter, kind of out of the way. Coffee and water appear as if by magic, order taken and I’m left to observe. There are several waitresses, and they’re letting the Sugars, Baby, Darlings, and Sweetie’s roll to all their customers, and accepting same from them. I chuckled and thought, ‘These country girls aren’t afraid of “sexual harassment,” they’ve heard it all.’ I imagine they think all of that we see in Hollywood and Washington is silly. Anyway, I like them and their attitude.

I sat watching the Big Guy doing the cooking. To be a short order cook, you got to get your act together. Watching a good one at work is a show itself. While waiting I let myself drift, all the way back to 1968.

We had just rotated to third shift. Boy, was I ever tired of working a walking beat downtown. Third shift had its draw backs, but I was ready for the challenge. This was my first shift on third other than just a few days before Christmas in 1967. I was paired up with Archie Duvall (R.I.P. Archie) who was several years senior to me, and had worked third many times before.

I learned quickly there was nowhere to eat after midnight except the Krystal on Broad, and even it closed on Sunday nights.

Archie introduced me to Valley Vend, where they made sandwiches all night for vending machines they owned in the mills and companies around the county. They didn’t mind if a hungry policeman came in and made themselves a sandwich. We ate a lot of salami and pimento loaf, but they also closed on certain nights.

Josh Smuckler loved for us to stop in his store and also build a sandwich, and he had good Kosher meat, but he also closed after midnight. The same thing occurred at Roy’s Little Garden (Roy’s was open all night) on the other end of Dean Street. We appreciated it a lot, but you couldn’t sit down and take a break with your meal, only at Krystal. At that time the one in West Rome was closing at night, and East Rome wasn’t built yet.

Then one night we were told they were going to build a Waffle House on Turner McCall across from the Methodist church. We watched it come up out of the ground for weeks. Then one morning there was a guy walking around inside.

We came to the door, but it was locked. He opened it and told us it would be a couple hours before his waitresses got there and started serving, but he had made a pot of coffee and we were welcome to have one with him, which we did, and became the first two customers of a now defunct Waffle House.

In later nights I would watch him sling the groceries. He was good. The new restaurant was packed, which caused its own problems. After the bars closed, or the black clubs, it was so crowded they had to make folks stand outside until one or two left, and then let one or two inside. The parking lot ran over onto the service station next door, and they complained. Parking on side streets caused residents to complain, and they complained about noise. Across McCall the drivers of the 18-wheelers would park, leave the trucks running, and residents on that side complained about fumes.

Aww, and then there were the fights. I guess the glass companies in Rome did a good business replacing the big windows or doors. Every Tusk Hogg in Floyd and surrounding counties was arrested there at one time or another for fighting. They were drunk, and fought over anything.

Even on slow nights we couldn’t eat there. It always had a drunk or two that wanted to be your buddy. ‘Hey, officer do you know old Bill Kinney?’ or Doug Williams. Maybe Bill Bohannon, or anybody on the department. You tell them yeah, and they’d name another. I mean they meant well, but it wasn’t what you wanted to talk to a drunk about. Yes, there were drunk females too, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I snapped out of my day dreaming as my order arrived. I get traditional Waffle House fare. I took my granddaughter with me before Christmas, figuring she’d never been. Ha! She ordered a triple hash browns with cheese, onions, jalapeños and tomatoes. I’d never seen such a mess, and she ate it, too.

Some of those waitresses now are prior military. It’s a wonderful place. Looking around I didn’t see any bullet holes, or blood spatter. The cooks don’t have jailhouse tattoos, and the waitresses are hard working Southern girls. Heck, they could pass for cowgirls too.

Before Christmas I gave each a copy of ‘Living with Lucy’ for their babies.

If you’re close by when I post I’m there, stop and have a cup with me. May the Waffle House reign forever, just wish we had one in Cave Spring.

Mike Ragland is a former Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at mrag@bellsouth.net or mikeragland.com.