GritsBy Falstaff © 2006
It was my friend Melinda's birthday and we were in Birmingham, Alabama. That right there should tell you that this will not end in a pretty fashion. We start our night at Dreamland, a legendary rib joint with the face of a smiling pig painted nine feet high on the side of the building. I'm always puzzled at the desire of barbeque restaurants to make you feel like you're dining on a Looney Tunes star, but the smiling pig picture has kept legions of sign painters in business for eons through the south.
So we get a table for twelve, and the waitress who seats us obviously knows how to deal with rowdy convention-going dorks like us.
"Y'all want beer or tea?" Remember this is Alabama; there is no question to the sugar content of said tea.
In chorus, a dozen theatre lighting salespeople harmonize the holy chorus of "Bee-eee-eeeeeee-eee-rrrrr!"
"Y'all want chicken or ribs?"
I've never seen the word "chicken" sneered before, but I swear that's what she did. This lovely woman, Alabama's own answer to George Jefferson's Florence, with (I swear) an Aunt Jemima-red bandana on her head, actually sneered the word "chicken."
"Ribs. Lots," this from Alan, Melinda's boss, who had very fastidiously tucked his napkin into his necktie in preparation for the splatterfest that was soon to ensue.
We suggested that he might consider removing his jacket for the feast, but he assured us that he was a trained professional, perfectly capable of making it through a meal without wearing any sauce on his sleeve. In other words, this was not his first barbeque.
About 16 seconds later, Florence came back with twelve beers, emerging from various pockets and apron receptacles like clowns from a VW bug, deposits two rolls of Bounty paper towels on the table, and two loaves of Wonder Bread.
The sad thing was, not a soul at the table even thought to ask "what’s the bread for?" Every single, solitary person seated there immediately understood that not only was the bread going to be a far more effective napkin than anything else, but without bread, there can be no sopping. And with any good meal, the sopping is the best part, obviating any requirement for dessert or after-dinner drinks (although there would be plenty of after-dinner drinking).
About 47 consumed beers later (about 28 minutes in real time, but we were drunks on a mission), we had consumed everything but a local microbrew called Iron City Beer, and there were three aluminum foil roasting pans in the center of the table, playing host to enough ribs to create a 1/8th scale model of the Capitol Dome. If you are ever in Birmingham and get the opportunity to try Iron City Beer, haul ass to the Mississippi line as quickly as possible.
After decimating the ribs and making short work of both loaves of soppin' bread, we decided that it was time to DANCE! This serves as an acceptable indicator of the higher level thinking that a dozen adults with about 19 degrees between them can engage in after consuming roughly their body weight in beer and ribs. This was not going to be pretty. It got less pretty when we found the nearest dance club, a charming place called Bell Bottoms. All disco, all the time. And me without my white suit. But it was Melinda's birthday, and she wanted dancing, so a-dancing we went.
Immediately upon entering the bar we were confronted with the sight of the inimitable Randy K and thirteen kamikaze shots. Walt two-fisted, because, well, somebody had to drink the last one. Several hours worth of dancing, drinking and Twister ensued (no Crisco was harmed in the playing of this Twister game), finally culminating in the removal of neckties, the blowing of kisses, the sprawling on floors and the closing down of the bar for the night. Salespeople in their barbeque-splattered convention clothes are less than appealing at 2:30 AM in fluorescent lighting.
But since it had now been six hours and about 137 alcoholic beverages since we all last ate, we decided that a Waffle House run was mandatory. Now, let's look past for the moment the fact that Waffle Houses are somewhat frightening before midnight. Even when you're sober. But when you're drunk, fearless and hungry, you'll go places where no Yankee has ever gone before, the Birmingham Waffle House at 3AM. And trust me, in Birmingham, being from North Carolina marks me as a Yankee.
There might have been a few wrong turns to get us to the Waffle House. This might have been assisted by the fact that we had no directions and no one in the car was sober. Or had ever been to Birmingham before 24 hours prior. There may have been an incident where we made a Secret-Service level reverse-and-peel-out change of direction when we noticed a field sobriety checkpoint up ahead as Walt hung out the rear passenger window yelling "Here, piggy, piggy, piggy" while we ran like West Virginia virgins.
But finally, up ahead, was the welcoming golden glow that told me all would soon be well with the universe, the familiar yellow squares with one burnt out letter (because there’s always one burnt out letter in the sign).
We took our seats at the bar and placed out order. In my best amazingly drunken Elwood Blues impression, I ordered eight slices of white toast, two orders of bacon, and a chicken breast. Plain. Melinda had a waffle, which I'd never actually seen anyone eat at a Waffle House before, so it struck me as odd. And Walt ordered a monstrous breakfast with eggs, a double order of grits, bacon, sausage, toast and black coffee. I became very concerned with the upholstery on the ride back.
As our food arrived, two members of Birmingham's finest walked into the diner, looking for all the world like they really needed to find some drunken out-of-towners to lynch before they got off their shift at sunrise to return to their coffins. They walked the entire length of the bar, paused behind each one of us as we tried our best to sit upright, and sat down on the stool right next to Walt just as our food arrived. BubbaCop 1 ordered, asked Walt to pass the napkins, and as he turned around after giving BC the napkins, all the stress, strain and Kamikaze's of the night finally caught up with Walt. He took a good look at the cop sitting next to him; his face took on an expression of the deepest thought, and then morphed into utter calm as he finally passed out, facedown, right into his double order of grits, extra butter.
The cop and I looked at each other over Walt's slumped shoulders, shrugged in unison, pulled him back into a sitting position, and ate our meals, one hand on each of Walt's shoulders while he snored little grit snores in the middle of the Waffle House.
Falstaff is a poker player and writer from Charlotte, NC. He can usually be found at Poker Stage.