Interesting story in the Nov. 13 ESPN the Magazine issue about Waffle House. I’ve lived in Waffle House country long enough to know that Waffle House is less a restaurant than a lifestyle.
Unlike fans in the story, I’ve never tailgated at Waffle House. For that matter, I’ve never tailgated. I’ve hung out with people who tailgate – at Virginia Tech before the Hokies played, at South Carolina before the Gamecocks played and at Bank of America Stadium before the Panthers played.
But for more than 36 years I had to work. Because the atmosphere in the press box by nature lacks joy, I’d visit tailgaters to try to get properly excited about the game I would write about.
Yet I wasn’t one of them. I was a guest. I didn’t drink and I rarely ate. I’d run into people I knew, see how much fun they were having and dutifully walk away.
I like tradition, and that’s what tailgating offers. The food and alcohol bring fans together. Some were kids in 1996 when the Panthers played their first game in Charlotte. They’re adults now, and some bring spouses. Some bring generators and television sets, and hold what feels like a mini-reunion.
I thought I’d tailgate this season but I haven’t. I thought I’d cheer this season but I haven’t. Spend three decades in a press box not cheering and it’s tough to suddenly put your hands together and make noise. I cheer when I watch boxing, perhaps because there are no boxing press boxes.
And even though I don’t tailgate, I have my own Waffle House tradition.
I went to Augusta National Golf Club every spring for the Masters. The grounds are pretty pristine, the people friendly and nowhere are fans (or the media) treated as well as they are there.
On Monday morning, I’d leave Augusta for Charlotte. Rather than be jarred back to reality when I reached Charlotte, I’d stop at one of greater Augusta’s 15 Waffle Houses.
They treated me well there, too. But when I left, I was ready to go home. If there was pimento cheese on the menu, I never saw it.