One night at Waffle House

By Pat Haley - Contributing columnist

The first time I met David Lieurance, I stood at the police counter in the old Wilmington City Hall as I began my first tour of duty as a police officer. Dave was about 16 years old, and I was 21. It was the first step in our friendship that has taken us on a long and pleasant journey for the last 50 years.

Dave is a man who epitomizes one of my favorite words – “precise”: “Marked by exactness and accuracy of expression or detail,” which Merriam-Webster succinctly defines.

Unlike Bette Midler, who said, “I have standards. They are low, but I do have standards,” Dave Lieurance’s standards are high.

The day started like many other days in the Shenandoah Valley. The bright sun was shining, the cool breeze was stirring the flag, and the trains were running on time.

My wife, Brenda, and I were sitting on the patio of the Pullman Restaurant in Staunton, Virginia, waiting on Amtrak Train 51 from Cincinnati, and our special guests, Dave Lieurance, his wife, Barb, and their son, Shane.

The whistle blew from the big locomotive, and within minutes we were exchanging hugs and handshakes before we headed to our home where a low-hanging white birch branch awaited as an excellent backdrop for photographs. Those pictures of the Lieurance family still proudly remain in our scrapbook today.

“Do you remember …” was a phrase often heard that afternoon and evening as we talked, joked and reminisced. It was starting to get late, but Dave likes to stay up late, some times all night when the mood is right.

“Let’s go to the Waffle House!” Dave said, as I looked at the clock.

“Sounds good to me,” Brenda said. Barb and Shane concurred as Dave eyed me, seeking consensus.

“I’m going to bed,” I said. “It’s almost midnight.”

The next morning we sat down for breakfast in our kitchen and I asked how the visit to the Waffle House went. No one said a word. Later in the morning, Brenda told me about the visit.

“It didn’t go well,” she said. “Not well at all.”

“Well, when we arrived, an elderly waitress came over to the table and took our order,” Brenda said. “She appeared grumpy and seemingly indifferent to courteous customer service.’

Brenda said the tense atmosphere brought to mind Captain Woodrow Call’s comment in “Lonesome Dove”: “I hate rude behavior in a man. I won’t tolerate it.”

And Dave was in no mood for rude behavior.

According to reports, in most restaurants, the wait staff communicates with the kitchen via some sort of ticketing system. But allegedly, at Waffle House, there’s a code that allows wait staff and chefs to communicate wordlessly.

For example, a jelly packet placed on the bottom of the plate means scrambled eggs. A mustard packet facing upwards on the plate means pork chops.

The jukeboxes you find inside Waffle House have a selection of music that you won’t find anywhere else. Some favorites include “Raisins in My Toast,” and “Special Lady,” the last of which celebrates the waitresses who staff the breakfast bars.

Dave happened to glance over at the waitress who was busily piling lettuce into his salad bowl. She was not wearing gloves; she was barehanded. She brought the salad over to Dave.

“I will not eat this salad,” Dave told the waitress.

“And why not?” she asked sarcastically.

“For about fifty reasons, but the main one being you touched my lettuce and were not wearing gloves,” Dave replied.

The elderly waitress glared at him. “File a complaint,” she said.

According to Brenda, those were not the words Dave wanted to hear. “You can bet your life I will,” Dave replied.

Months passed and one evening Brenda brought up the Waffle House visit to me again.

I decided to write a letter to Dave: “Dear Mr. Lieurance: It has been brought to my attention that you displayed disruptive behavior in our Staunton, Virginia Waffle House, and caused great alarm and stress to one of our long-serving and dedicated waitresses. As a result of your behavior, you will not be welcome in our Staunton location in the future, and will be banned immediately from all of our restaurants east of the Mississippi River.”

I put the letter on homemade Waffle House letterhead, used the name of a CEO as a signature, and sent it to Dave in Wilmington.

Weeks passed and I never heard a word from Dave. Finally, I called him. “Dave, it’s Pat. I’m calling to see how you are.”

“Very funny,” was all Dave said.

Four years later, I sent Dave another letter on the same homemade letterhead signed by the same CEO.

Dear Mr. Lieurance:

“I am pleased to announce that we have lifted your banishment from our properties and you are now free to patronize any Waffle House of your choosing within the United States of America. I have determined that your behavior was a one-time event, and believe such conduct will not occur again.”

“On behalf of the Waffle House family, we welcome you back and hope that you will once again enjoy our many fine meals and amenities.”

As Shakespeare said, “All’s well that ends well.”

Pat Haley is former Clinton County (Ohio) Commissioner and former Clinton County Sheriff.

By Pat Haley

Contributing columnist