Sunday, May 24, 2015

All the Way near Kansas City

My trip to Missouri started at a impromptu biker convention at the Marshalltown Git-N-Go parking lot.

  Last week I took Thursday and Friday off from work. Normally this would be great for me to take a break from the interminably long 75 minute commute I've had to endure since our company has moved 10 miles of heavily trafficked highway further away to West Des Moines but I’ve been working from home two or three days a week since the move which makes the interminably long commute much less interminable. Unfortunately I spent my two days off driving 120+ miles to Des Moines anyway, taking Kathy to the airport on Thursday (to fly to Idaho and help Ben pack and drive back from college) and heading to St. Francis for Friday’s weekly chess club.

  I got home on both of my days off by 10 and spent the rest of both days beagle-walking and hanging out. Normally the weekend would mean no driving for me, but my niece Lauren graduated from law school on Saturday in Kansas City. Lauren and her folks (my sister in law Becky and her husband Bob) have travelled to Marshalltown for both our son’s high school graduations and I get along great with them so I decided I would take the 500 mile round trip to Kansas City on Saturday to spend a couple of hours at her graduation celebration party.

  I had originally planned to board Daisy and Baxter for the weekend and stay overnight in Kansas City but our preferred boarding place didn’t have any openings. One of Kathy’s friends agreed to look in on the beagles during the day so they wouldn't be stuck for 12 hours without water or a bathroom break. I took Daisy and Baxter on long walks at 5 and 9:30, a shorter walk at 10:15, put them in the kitchen with a full bowl of water and a potty pad, and left for Kansas City at 10:30. My first stop was to get some gas at the local Git-N-Go where an impromptu biker convention was taking place in the parking lot. I filled up my Chevy Spark with gas, got a cup of ice, squeezed one of the lemons I brought with me into the ice, and poured one of the assortment of Dr. Pepper and 7-up sodas I packed with me over the lemon and ice and was on my way to Kansas City.

The strongest coffee in the world may be at this travel stop in southern Iowa...

  In a little over an hour I had reached the exit on Interstate 80 I normally take for work but I passed that exit and continued south on Interstate 35. Another hour later I had reached the Iowa-Missouri border. I was feeling a little tired from the sugary soda so I stopped in a rest area for a tiny 75 cent cup of coffee from a vending machine. Except for oatmeal, rest area vending machine coffee may be the vilest substance known to man and its sheer nastiness made it impossible to feel sleepy as I continued my trip and headed into Missouri.

Welcome to Missouri. I thought the 'ss' in Missouri looked familiar and it turned out to look like the Nazi Schutzstaffel logo.

  Missouri has a large fireworks industry along it’s Iowa border because fireworks are illegal in Iowa and not in Missouri (although that will soon change). I passed a number of fireworks stores as soon as I got to Missouri and none afterwards. I made great time on the 114 mile Missouri trek to Kansas City, only stopping once to get more ice for my sodas with lemons squeezed into them. I reached the Kansas City suburb of Liberty when I had to slam on my brakes as traffic had suddenly screeched to a halt. There was construction on Interstate 35 that had the highway reduced to one lane. The road signs said there would be improvements by Spring of 2017 which means something but I'm not sure what. The merge from two lanes to one shouldn't have been enough to send traffic to a standstill but the police cars and ambulances speeding by on the shoulder informed me that there was some sort of accident.

Could you imagine waiting two years for the road improvements?

  I crawled along at about two miles an hour for 40 minutes looking at the road signs promising improvements in only two years and then I saw an old familiar logo on the sign letting me know what food was available at the upcoming exit. There amongst the omnipresent McDonalds, Culvers, and Perkins logos was the simple sign of the best restaurant chain in America – The Waffle House. When I lived in Florida 30 years ago I was a Waffle House addict, having the gargantuan T-bone steak and eggs with grits and the Waffle House's signature scattered, smothered (with onions), and covered (with cheese) hash browns at least seven times a week. The food was cheap and plentiful and I could sit at the counter and watch the Waffle House workers make waffles, steaks, eggs, hash browns, etc. which I did for many happy hours.

  When I moved back to New Jersey in the spring of 1987 I left the Waffle House goodness behind and hadn't been to one since a trip to visit my father-in-law and his family in South Carolina over 10 years ago. On that visit they thought I was crazy for insisting we eat at the Waffle House but once we were there my in-laws (who are very educated people) had a great time watching the Waffle House staff pump out the food, listening to the previous century's hits on the jukebox, and keeping an eye on their belongings as the local riff-raff filed in and out of the restaurant. Having been to the Waffle House, my father-in-law and his family understand my Waffle House addiction and have gotten me a framed menu and a Waffle House T-Shirt as presents although I don't think they have actually eaten at a Waffle House since. If I wasn't stuck in the Missouri traffic I would have stopped at the Liberty Missouri Waffle House right then but by this point I was late for Lauren’s graduation party and just didn't have time. I eventually got past the traffic snarl which was caused by a car accident right at the spot where the two lanes turned into one and found my way to the graduation party at North Fifth Street in Kansas City by 3:15pm.

Congratulations Lauren Haley, Esquire! She is in all three pictures with her mom Becky (l), my in-laws Shawn & Kathy (c), and with Becky's friends from work (r)

  I had a nice time hanging out with my niece Lauren, Becky, Bob, Kathy and Shawn (my other set of in-laws), and some of Becky’s co-workers. Lauren was celebrating her graduation in tandem with her law school graduate boyfriend Bryce, whose family brought this giant pot of beef brisket. I had a few slices and it was great but I mostly grazed at the fruit and vegetable platters so I would have more room for a Waffle House sized meal.

Before I got to the Waffle House I made a gas-up stop at Snappy's, which had cheap gas and expensive beef sticks.

One of the most beautiful sights in the world! Notice how blue the sky is around the Waffle House sign and the bright heavenly light emanating from behind the restaurant...

  I was having a good time visiting in Kansas City and planned on staying until 5:30 but that was before I realized I was just a few miles away from the Waffle House so at 4:45 I said my goodbyes and headed back north on I-35 towards Liberty. I stopped at the Snappy convenience store to fill up my Chevy Spark with gas (the 9 gallon tank was ¾ empty from the 240 mile trip) and a few miles later took the Liberty exit by the tall scrabble letter Waffle House sign and made a left turn into the Waffle House’s empty parking lot.

Deb was my Waffle House server and keeper of the decor!

  Judging by the amount of food on the tables and crusted waffle stuff coating the waffle irons I must have just missed throngs of customers that had just enjoyed the goodness of a Waffle House meal after a long day of shopping at this strip mall infested street in Liberty Missouri. There were two skateboarder types having waffles at counter and taking up the middle four of the six stools so I sat at the booth nearest the cash register with the best view of the waffle irons and grill. Within a few seconds my server Deb cleared the table, presented me with a freshly wiped off menu and asked me if I knew what I wanted.

If only I was a cow and had four stomachs....

  I really wanted a T-Bone and egg platter with hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered but I still had three and a half hours of driving ahead of me. I was afraid I was going to fall asleep if I had too much dinner so I settled on a cup of coffee and an order of Hash Browns ‘all the way’ (scattered, SMOTHERED with onions, COVERED with cheese, CHUNKED with ham, DICED with tomatoes, PEPPERED with Jalapenos, CAPPED with mushrooms, TOPPED with chili, and COUNTRY covered in sausage gravy. A single serving of Hash Browns ‘all the way’ was only 650 calories and I figured it wouldn't fill me up to the point of sleepiness on the ride home.

  Deb the Waffle House server passed my order to Toby the cook. I noticed Deb’s name badge said ‘Since 2015’ so I asked her how she liked working at the Waffle House. Deb said it was the best job she ever had and she had plenty jobs and that this was the best because she loved all the customers and all of her co-workers. I asked Deb if she could eat for free and she told me that the Waffle House took 4 dollars a day out of her check for meals and she could have anything she wanted. I mentioned that if I had a job at the Waffle House I would have T-Bone and Eggs twice a day. Deb told me that T-Bones and other high priced items cost an extra dollar and she didn't even make minimum wage so she stayed away from the T-Bones but she had lots of waffles and eggs and burgers.

  I felt bad that Deb didn't even make minimum wage and was going to ask her how much she got in tips on a good day when Toby the cook came over to my booth. Toby asked Deb if I wanted ‘chili or gravy’ on my hash browns. Deb told him I wanted both. Toby raised an eyebrow as he grabbed my hash browns and headed to the ladling station where he ladled both chili AND country gravy on my hash browns.

After clearing up some topping confusion with chef Toby my hash browns 'all the way' arrived at my table!

  In no time Deb had my plate of hash browns ‘all the way’ on my table with a fresh cup of coffee. My hash browns ‘all the way’ were steaming hot so I took a dollar out of my pocket and headed over to the Waffle House juke box. There were 100 songs to choose from and I picked out four of the standbys from when I was a Waffle House regular 3 decades ago : Hotel California by the Eagles, Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, Thriller by Michael Jackson, and Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac.

Music, anyone?

  I returned to my hash browns ‘all the way’ while Hotel California was starting and proceeded to dig in. The first bite of hash browns ‘all the way’ was incredible with the flavors of potatoes, onions, cheese, ham, and country gravy exploding in my mouth all at once. If I only had some beagles with me I might have thought I was in heaven but I took a sip of coffee instead to cleanse my palate (cucumber sorbet was not available at this Waffle House) for my next bite of hash browns ‘all the way’. Deb came by and asked me if I needed anything.

  I thought it would be nice to have some pictures of me and my hash browns ‘all the way’ so I asked Deb if she could take some pictures of me eating which she happily did. Deb told me she noticed that I was taking pictures and wondered if I was from the Waffle House corporate office. I told her that I was an award winning journalist (leaving out the self-nominated chess journalist award part) and that my trip to the Liberty Missouri Waffle House was going to be prominently featured in a future post on my blog. Deb was suitably impressed and went off to clear some of the tables in the restaurant.

  Each bite of my hash browns ‘all the way’ was like Christmas – a bite of chili, some mushrooms, or a taste of ham mixed in with the awesomeness of hash browns with onions and cheese. The jalapeno peppers were the coal in my Christmas stocking – they were just too spicy for me. Deb brought me a second cup of coffee but I had to surrender and pulled the peppers out of my hash browns ‘all the way’. The next time I order hash browns ‘all the way’ I'll skip the peppers but it was the best meal I've had all year and I've eaten at the best place in Cylinder Iowa among many others so that is saying something in my opinion.

The jalapeno peppers were a little much for me. Other than that I cleaned my plate!

  As I was finishing my meal, a family of four came into the Waffle House and the children started debating what kind of waffles they were going to eat as Hotel California gave way to Folsom Prison Blues. For my part I was super energized by a great meal and ready to get back to Iowa and take Daisy and Baxter outside for a late night walk. Deb gave me the bill which was a little more than seven dollars. I was so fat and happy from my hash browns ‘all the way’ that I gave Deb $30 and told her to keep the change. I thought she was going to cry but I told her she deserved it because she worked at a place that made a lot of people happy and she helped me out a lot with my blog by taking pictures of me and my hash browns ‘all the way’. I was out the door as the opening sounds of Thriller came on the jukebox and was on my way back home by 5:45.

  Most people I told about my trip to the Waffle House thought I would have needed to stop for a restroom break at least three times but I'm happy to report (and apologize if it is too much information) that I drove all the way home without stopping until I got a cup of coffee at the Kwik Star in Marshalltown Iowa. I was home by 9:30 and greeted by a pair of enthusiastic beagles who were sniffing me up and down trying to figure out what I had been eating without them. I drove 7 hours to Kansas City and back for my niece’s graduation party. If it was held in a Waffle House I would have insisted on a weeklong celebration.

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