Midnight at the Waffle House, Part 2
23 Oct 2013 · by Brennan Storr · Be the first to comment!
Click here to catch up on part 1
The first Waffle House was opened by Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner in the Atlanta suburb of Avondale Estates. The two men had met in 1949 when Rogers, at the time working for the national restaurant chain Toddle House, had bought a home from real-estate agent Forkner and the pair became friends. Rogers, who had grown tired of miserably toiling away in other people's restaurants and decided it was his turn to make someone miserable, sold Forkner on the idea of starting their own diner and, in 1955, Waffle House was born.
Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner. I don't dare make jokes about either.
Another soon opened in 1957, by 1960 there were a total of four and though it has never grown to Denny's-level ubiquity, Waffle House has become a fixture along the highways of America’s southeast.
On that night in Austin, heavy construction along Ben White Boulevard meant the access road leading to this particular Waffle House was reduced to a miserable dirt path in a dark gap between streetlights and consequently it took Mike and me two passes before we could find the thing.
Just up the road sat a Denny's, it's gleaming, modern interior a beacon of hospitable sterility, with a driveway plainly visible from the road; in comparison, Waffle House looked like an old screen door banging in the wind at the end of a donkey track. However, by this point we had invested so much time in trying to get to Waffle House that giving up wasn’t an option and had abandoning the vehicle across three lanes of freeway and walking been the only avenue left to us, we would have seriously considered it.
"You've always been the caretaker, Mr. Storr."
Inside, the air conditioning went a long way towards making up for the hassle in getting there and the promise of waffles took care of the rest. After our waitress, Janet – a slim, rather plain-looking woman in her mid-40s- brought our drinks and took our order, Mike and I got back to the business of catching up: his import-export business was going well, my job was pleasant if dull but the book of ghost stories I’d been working on for almost a year and a half was just about done.
Suddenly Janet piped up from behind the counter.
“Did y’all say ghosts? Our apartment is haunted. I have it on video!”
After a year and a half of cold-calling strangers and asking things like “How many times did your mother see the transparent man sitting in her chair?” statements like Janet’s no longer seems as strange as they might once have. That’s not to say I believe them of hand but I am more likely now to ask follow-up questions than I am to scoff, pretend I don’t speak English or simply throw a basin through the window and flee into the night.
“Really,” I said. “How so?”
She came over to our table and looked around before to make sure the handful of other patrons were still glowering at their eggs before lowering her voice conspiratorially.
“Sometimes these lights shine into our front window and we can’t tell where they’re coming from. They’re bright white –like flashlights - and when they happen we get up and look outside but there’s no one there.”
“No way,” I said and Mike, following my lead, looked suitably credulous and perplexed.
“Yeah,” she said. “We figured it out when one of our neighbors told us about the drug bust that had happened before we moved in. A year before we got there, cops raided the place and ended up killing a couple drug dealers. We think that’s what keeps happening – like an echo or something.”
I nodded. Cases of emotional trauma reoccurring in the place they happened over a period of years are found throughout paranormal literature, although I can’t say to have ever experienced it myself.
“And you have these lights on video?”
Janet shook her head.
“No, what I have is something else. My boyfriend was the first person to see it. He was tweaking on meth at the time – “
At this she stopped, realizing she’d said more than she meant to.
“I don’t do that stuff,” she quickly added. “But my boyfriend does. He was tweaking and the doorbell went off so he went over to look through the peephole and see who it was. He started calling me, ‘Janet, Janet, get over here!’ and when I went over he said there were two ghosts standing on the porch. He could see them through the peephole.”
“I looked but there wasn’t nothing there. I told him it he was just high but he kept saying ‘I know what I saw.’ I figured it was a couple kids playing ding-dong-ditch. Then a couple nights later the doorbell went off again when my boyfriend wasn’t home. I went over to look through the peephole and, sure enough, I saw them. Two little girls standing there in front of the door, but I could see through ‘em.”
According to Janet, she was too afraid to open the door but the spectres remained there long enough for her to capture a cellphone video of them.
“I have my phone here in my coat,” she said. “Do you want to see it?”
I answered yes for two reasons – one, despite my nearly pathological inability to conduct a conversation without using the word “ghost” at least once, I have never actually seen one and two, her heading toward the counter to fetch her phone meant she could bring us more iced tea on the way back. As Janet hurried off, Mike shot me a questioning look and I shrugged.
“This happens a lot now,” I said. “You just learn to roll with it.”
This philosophy was put to the test when Janet returned and fired up her phone, a weather-beaten T-Mobile Sidekick. She hit a few buttons then turned the fold out screen toward Mike and me. The video was grainy and low-lit, obviously taken at night. Down a hallway painted what was probably at one point white, the camera was marched right to a sturdy-looking wooden door and pressed against the peephole, where it took the focus a minute to catch up. Once it did, I could see (vaguely) the porch outside the door, darkness beyond that and not much else.
“Do you see it?” Janet asked.
“I think so?” I said hopefully.
She took the phone back, looked and said, “See? Right here.” She then turned the phone back to us, one finger - its nail painted a deep, chipped red – pressed up against the center of the screen where I could see what maybe looked like a swirl of smoke. Or digital noise. Or nothing at all. Whatever it was, it did not look like two girls standing together but that didn’t stop me from lying through my magnificently crowded teeth.
“Oh wow! I do see it,” I said. “That’s crazy. Don’t you think that’s crazy, Mike?”
He nodded, his eyes suggesting that on this one particular point he was in agreement.
The arrival of our food saved us from having to stretch the credibility of our enthusiasm further though to be sporting I did ask Janet for a copy of the video (“to check out in greater detail later”). After we’d eaten she tried to transfer the video from her phone, which didn’t have a data connection, to my own via Bluetooth.
Generally, my iPhone’s Bluetooth capability goes unused. There are notable exceptions, for example the times I’ve needed to pair it with the speakerphone in my GPS or, on one occasion, the rather impressive stereo system of a rented Buick Echo which otherwise had all the personality of a bread box, but generally the function goes untouched. This is because it is as useful as a chocolate teapot.
Every single attempt I have made to use Bluetooth as a means of transferring files has failed more catastrophically than the St. Francis Dam and this attempt, sent from Janet’s phone (named – I kid you not – SexyAngel69) was no exception. I made noises of great disappointment and it seems to have worked - after we squared the cheque she brought me a fresh cup of coffee in a to-go cup so big we could go fishing in the leftovers.
It’s not that I don’t believe Janet when she says she saw what she saw, after all I’ve heard stranger things, but it wasn’t in me to tell her that all I learned from her video was never to buy anything sold by T-Mobile.
In the hour since I’d touched down in Austin we’d missed turns, eaten too much and spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the reality of things neither of us quite believed in. We had no idea, driving off into that long Texas night, that midnight at the Waffle House would set the tone for our entire trip.