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Is the Waffle House the Key to Humanity’s Problems?

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(This was written a couple months post 9/11)

Waffles – The Key to Harmony?

“We Will Make No Customer Pay in Advance!” Is one of the many “rules” posted by the door as you enter an outlet of 1300 strong location “The Waffle House,” (or TWH), apparently the result of a lawsuit launched in ’93, similar to the discrimination mess at Denny’s.

TWH wants to make DAMN sure you feel welcome, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, physical affliction, sexual preference, and they say so, in bold letters, just inside the door. The “rules” are posted on the interior walls of the shops as well.

You may recall the circumstances of the Denny’s suit – it started in California with some Asian students, actually, who were seated and waited and waited to be served while customers who had come in after them received their orders. TWH addresses this point with another posted rule: “Since our food is cooked to order, and some orders are less complicated than others, customers who entered AFTER you, may receive their food BEFORE you.”

There were further incidents at Denny’s: four black Secret Service agents in Maryland told to pay in advance of ordering – a couple of kids in Florida that had a problem – which ultimately led Denny’s to pay tens of millions of dollars in damage (end result, $180.00 per customer in the class action suit); the CEO to resign; and a highly publicized deal with the NAACP to embark on a program to hire more minorities and get more minorities involved in store ownership.

As I sipped my first cup of coffee at TWH, I was reminded of a similar nationwide chain that was around when I was growing up, called “Sambo’s” and thinking of what a field day lawyers would have with that company were they still around today. The original location is still open and operating in Santa Barbara, California, and although the name of the restaurant wasn’t taken from the children’s book “Little Black Sambo,” the chain did use illustrations from the story as their logo and identifying marks. The name of the restaurant actually was a combination of the two founder’s real names, Sam Battistone and Neil “Bo” Bohnett. The chain grew from one beach location in California to 1200 nationwide, and, mired in debt in the early 80s (Who wasn’t? Gee, if Ivan Boesky had only come to the neighboring community of Goleta earlier, rather than later, when he served his federal prison term there), all of the locations, except the original, were sold off or closed. What is curious about the Sambo’s story to me, is, that on the first page of their website, you can buy a copy of the original book. However, if you look immediately left of the book offering, you’ll see that the company logo (the small boy and tiger featured in the story) (and left, here) , the boy has taken on the physical characteristics of some hyphenated imaginary ethic group – a kind of white Eur-Asian.

The author of “Little Black Sambo,” Helen Brodie Bannerman, born in Edinburgh in 1826, married a doctor in the Indian Medical Service, and they spent much of their lives in India, where she penned the story in 1899. Even at the time, reviews of the book called it at least insensitive, if not racist, but for a much different reason than similar materials would bring such an outcry today. Popular consensus among the critics was Bannerman’s mixing of the two cultures – African and Indian – as the protagonists of the story are a small African boy and his family, and a tiger. (There are no tigers in Africa, unless you happen to be in a zoo).

Her response was basically “nonsense, she was perfectly aware of the cultural differences, but the book was written for her children and was meant to be fantasy.”

You can read the entire book of “Little Black Sambo” online and come to your own conclusions.

At 3AM this morning, sitting in a Waffle House on I-10, contemplating whether I wanted my Thanksgiving “double-size hash browns” “scattered,” “smothered,” “covered,”, “chunked,” “topped,” “diced,” or “peppered,” I was lamenting the fact of how sad it is that after some 5000 years of recorded history, we’re still living on planet of “unequals.” Sometimes I think that the quickest solution to this problem would be for all of us to enter into interracial marriages, and as quickly as possible, produce a planet full of people of the same color, stature, eye shape, and so on. I know that practically, that is silly, but it’s a solution at least.

My China experiences always made me think we all came from there, anyway. There are at least 27 different major ethnic populations in China, and if you go into the various regional museums, look at photos, study statues, you will find native Chinese that physically resemble most any people on the planet – there are certainly Chinese groups that look like Western Europeans, American Indians, Inuits, Mayans, and even Africans. Most people aren’t aware the Chinese roamed the world years before the Europeans – there is an absolutely fascinating book about this called “When China Ruled the Seas.”

A planet of unequals – even 150 years of legislation in the “greatest country in the world,” hasn’t solved this problem. We’ve even invented new words and phrases to cope with the situation – how do you like “racial profiling?” I’m a stickler for words, as some of you may know. The scientific definition of “race” is a taxonomic category of actual or potentially interbreeding group within a species. Hey, in my mind, that says the only race on the planet is “the human race” which is made of subsets of peoples of different geographical origins. We could go so far as to say “ethnic” origins, as long as we accept the definition of “ethnic” as meaning peoples who share a common national, language, religious, or cultural origin, and don’t associate anything demeaning with the word “ethnic.” I doubt we are able to do that, as a people, today. Maybe someday.

As any culture, we look to our leaders and ‘heroes’ to set an example, however, in our case, at this point in history, we have a President who seems to believe racial profiling is A-OK, as he sets out to interview at least 5000 college students of Middle Eastern dissent who are presently in the U.S. (He would have been able to round up more, but best estimates are at least 40% of the Middle Eastern students in the U.S. have left the country already out of fear that the next step will be internment camps like we built for the Japanese in the U.S. during WW2).

The Portland, Oregon Police Department this week had the guts (common sense?) to tell the Justice Department that they wouldn’t cooperate – that the law prevents them from randomly interrogating people in our country legally, unless those people are suspected of a crime.
Mr. George Dubbya continues to strip away the very rights of citizens that he claims to be fighting for. All in the name of the Constitution (which has apparently now become porous), and with “God at the American people’s side.” (Do you think he realizes that Jesus was an Arab?)

If you’re a conspiracy buff, read up on Operations Northwoods. In 1962, both the CIA and the Pentagon were desperate to start a war with Cuba. “Northwoods” was planned, but (hopefully) never executed. It called for covert attacks against American bases, equipment and personnel. They even manufactured an airplane that looked like a Russian MiG to shoot down an American airliner! Why?

Documents released under the FOIA say the result of the operation “would be to place the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government of Cuba and to develop an international image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.”

Many historians believe George Sr was involved with the CIA as early as 1960. And now his son has overruled an act of Congress with a single stroke of an executive order pen by sealing all post-Reagan presidential papers in perpetuity, possibly. (They were to be released to the public last January).

Hard core conspiracy theorists opine about what measures the U.S. would take to control the largest remaining untapped oil reserves in the world, along with more than half of the world’s heroin trade?

I don’t buy it. That would be acknowledging that politicians have a modicum of intelligence, which I steadfastly refuse to believe.

“America” is a melting pot. Always has been. The very values that made this country great are in danger of collapsing. The constant influx of various groups of different cultures, who all came with their idea of obtaining the “American dream” has built this country. Many came penniless, and worked hard to create a life and bring over more and more of their friends and family – Scandinavians, Western Europeans, Irish, Germans, Italians at varying times in our history – then refugee Jews, Russians, Vietnamese, Mexicans, and more. The last five years have seen an influx of Arabs and Indians.

We’re putting them all into a group of “madmen” and punishing them for being born in the “wrong place,” just as we have done to group after group throughout our history.

At the Waffle House in Slidell last night, Chinese Americans, Black Americans, White Americans, Mexican Americans, gay and straight Americans, drunk and sober Americans, sat, survived, laughed, shared a meal, in peace and harmony for an hour or so. Maybe waffles are the key to harmony?

I started off this missive with the idea of writing about other taxonomic subgroups – like bacon and eggs, perhaps. But I never know where these experiences will lead me, and this one has brought me to write about something I am terribly unqualified to address.

For I know that of all the characteristics that people on this planet possess, whether those traits come from genetics, geography, environment, education, language….

I am only three things:

White.

American.

And ashamed.

 

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