Regional Culture: Hurricane Season Is Not Over Yet

by Ray Linville

Because I remember devastating Hurricane Hazel and the damage it caused in 1954, hurricanes have always scared me. When warnings begin, I stock up with water, batteries, medicine and canned goods. And then I find the nearest Waffle House.

When the power in my house had been off for hours after Hurricane Florence arrived, I was ready for hot food and off to a Waffle House I went. Fortunately, the first one I found was open.

As Kobey, my server, handed me the special “power off menu,” I asked, “When did you open?”

“Oh, we never close,” he said.

I expected this answer because even state-of-the-art FEMA uses a Waffle House index. The more Waffle Houses that close, the greater a storm’s severity. This Southern restaurant chain has a well-deserved reputation of being the last to close (if they do) and first to open during natural disasters since first opening in 1955. In fact, Waffle House sent executives, including the board chairman and CEO, from corporate offices in Atlanta and 200 others to the Carolinas to help keep restaurants in the path of Hurricane Florence open around the clock.

Although Florence was devastating, it had not closed my nearest Waffle House that was serving

hot food, even after its backup power had failed. I ordered the most expensive item on the limited menu: an egg, sausage, hashbrown bowl for $7.60, more than a meal in itself and well worth the price, considering the conditions outside.

Everyone waiting on food sat quietly, not speaking to anyone next to them or nearby, as if almost afraid to start a conversation, much like worshippers who come in late and sit on the back pew of a church.

My food arrived 17 minutes after I had placed the order – prompt service for any restaurant, particularly one with no electrical power. In a few minutes, Kobey returned to ask, “Everything tasting good?” Hey, it was hot. It was also the best food that I’d eaten all day.

I wanted to ask Kobey about FEMA’s Waffle House index but decided to keep my questions focused on food. When asked what he was out of, “Grits” was the immediate answer. “Plus we can’t serve chili now because the emergency power went out. That puts it in the danger zone,” he said.

“No problem,” said a customer overhearing the conversation. “You’re all working hard and we appreciate it.”

Surprisingly, waffles can’t be served – no electricity for the waffle griddle. “I’m sorry that we can’t make them,” Kobey said.

Hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin starts on the first of June and doesn’t finish until the end of this month. We must still stay vigilant and be prepared.

As singer-songwriter Taylor Swift chants, “Just because there’s a hurricane going on around you doesn’t mean you have to open the window and look at it.”

I agree. For me, I go to a Waffle House and look out its windows at the downpouring rain. It’s the best way to endure the effects of a storm until the power comes back on – plus the food is hot too.

Ray Linville writes about local connections to Southern food, history and culture. He can be reached at linville910@gmail.com .