I’m trying to find a church. It’s hard, of course. I’m leftist, black radical, pro-almost-all-sexuality-rights, and melancholically questioning by nature. Since leaving Jackson, MS, and the mighty and mightily loving Wells United Methodist Church, I’ve had trouble finding a place that fits for me. I always have.
But I’m a believer—sometimes reluctantly, but still—and so I’m trying. And so Sunday morning for me now means Sunday service. Sunday service means after-church meals at restaurants with all the other freshly scrubbed and shaved citizens of the Lord, blinking in the afternoon sunlight and damning the early June humidity just minutes after we’d blessed the Lord’s full Creation.
Now, because it was a particularly good weekend, my girlfriend accompanied me. And, because she’s delightful and knows the path to a Texan’s heart is through the quintessential Texas nut, she loves pecan waffles. And, because tacky retro décor charms us both, she craved Waffle House. We had even talked about it the night before, meandering through an outdoor music festival.
Waffle Houses have landed everywhere, even in the hip, treesy, and expensive Five Points neighborhood. So, that’s where we went. Instead of blinking gaspers in suits and Sunday hot-cha dresses, the diner was filled with hungover college kids and old folks with tattoos. (I do live in a college town, after all.) Jen and I made a beeline towards an elderly couple slurping down that last slug of coffee, and swooped into the booth before the waitress even had time to clean up after them. The clientele broke out into applause. I thought it was for us, which made no sense whatsoever.
While wiping down the table, Debbie pointed to a youngish man in an aqua polo shirt and cargo shorts, ambling into his car. “Just so you know,” she said, “your meal’s on him. He’s paid for everyone in here.”
“Wait—what?” I said.
“Everyone who’s in here gets a free meal, sweetie,” she said. “Now what’ll you have for starters?”
My first temptation—and maybe Jen’s, too; her grey eyes bugged out for a brief flicker—was to load up on everything imaginable. But a calmer head prevailed.
“Coffee, a pecan waffle, bacon, and hash browns smothered and chunked,” I said, so maybe my head wasn’t that calm. (I ate it all, by the way.) “And why did he do this?”
“Who knows, sweetie?” Debbie said. “Maybe he won the lottery. Maybe he got lucky.”
Pecan waffles are better when you’ve eating with your lover on a Sunday afternoon. They’re even better when they are free. Foie gras and mimosas weren’t involved but it was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in ages.
I have this theory about open bars. At gallery shows, wedding receptions, and catered parties, I notice that the bar’s tip jar is almost always empty when it’s an open bar. When it’s a cash bar, though, the ones and fives overflow the jar. So my theory is that the generosity of bar patrons is inversely proportional to the cost of the beverages, up to a tipping point of, let’s say, ten bucks a cocktail. In short, people repay the generosity of free drinks by being ungenerous.
Another Biggins theory: The amount a black person tips at a restaurant is directly proportional to the amount of self-conscious guilt he perceives from white people about the stinginess of black people’s tipping habits. The stereotype, of course, is that black folks are lousy tippers. (The usually unsaid, and probably truer, corollary is that black folks typically get inferior service than whites, unless you’re Kanye West. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in an uncrowded restaurant for 10+ minutes waiting for a glass of water.) Most black folks don’t give it a second thought, are blasé about their waitstaff.
Uppity, self-conscious black folks (that’s me!), however, feel the sting of a waiter walking to their table for the first time and muttering to herself, “I’m working for free for the next hour.” Anyway, Debbie has none of that accusatory glare, and she was phenomenally attentive to boot. So, I left a 50% tip, blowing one theory to hell and affirming another in the same breath, and not caring about either one.
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