Gary Horton: Of waffle houses, racism and guns


It’s not often the oft-maligned, but generally savored Waffle House makes national news – and twice in one week.

We don’t have Waffle Houses here in So. Cal. Kind of like how the South doesn’t have In-N-Out Burgers. Not only are our politics different – so too are our tastes. I’ll take In-N-Out over Waffle House any day and, be willing to wait in a line a block long for it!

Some interesting facts about the Waffle House before we get to the “meat” of this matter. There’s over 1,500 of them in the U.S. Generally, they’re little square buildings with yellow tiles up on top spelling, “W A F F L E H O U S E.” If you took all the bacon the Waffle House serves each year and placed it end to end, it would surround the entire earth. If you stacked up all the sausage they serve it would be four times higher than the Empire State Building. Let’s not even get into the eggs or what they do with all the leftover grease.

Waffle Houses are open 24/7, 365 days a week – and you can imagine where that “open 24 hours” leads. Weird stuff happens at two or three in the morning. Back in my Mormon days the joke was that “The Holy Ghost goes to bed at midnight – and so should you.” Not bad advice for staying out of trouble. That advice would have helped the young Waffle House patron appearing later in this column – and should not be overlooked by our local youth here in the SCV.

Waffle House is inexpensive, everywhere, and caters to the South. It’s a favorite with everyone hungering for affordable food. Folks of color are a big constituency and the company works hard to ensure all are welcome.

And Waffle House made big news this week with two patrons who went off the rails:

First, a mentally-ill, naked dude with an assault rifle shoots up a Waffle House in Tennessee. But James Shaw Jr., a black man and now national hero, heard a pause in the shooting and heroically rushed the shooter, even taking a shot in his own arm. James Shaw successfully wrestled the assault rifle away and then disarmed, the deranged mass-murderer fled the Waffle House and was later apprehended.

Which begs a question:

What do you get when a crazy naked guy armed with assault rifle marches into a Waffle House if the crazy guy never actually had the assault rifle in the first place?

Answer: Just another weird day at the Waffle House. No big deal.

You see, unarmed deranged people don’t kill people so much as guns wielded by deranged people do. An unarmed naked crazy guy walking into a Waffle House is a nuisance, but not a mass-murderer. The access of guns by deranged people morphs mere nuisances into mass-murderers.

All can agree: It’s not the law abiding sane folks with guns killing us, it’s the crazy people with guns slaughtering us – every damn week.

My God, can we also agree on rigorous means to allow sane folks to keep guns while fire-walling guns away from the mentally ill, the criminal, the folks with restraining orders? That shouldn’t be asking too much in a modern society supposedly promoting the pursuit of happiness?

Meanwhile, at another Waffle House, this time in Alabama, we saw something quite opposite. A black woman, apparently drunk and belligerent, started making threats during her 2 a.m. Waffle House food stop. These facts are not contested. Then, three white male police were called in. Something went terribly wrong, ending with the black woman manhandled and wrestled to the ground by two policemen, pulling her top down in the process, exposing her breasts to all patrons. One policeman is heard yelling, “I’ll break your arm” as she tries to cover up. Not quite “to serve and protect.”

No doubt, a drunk patron is always a difficult situation. But it is safe to say that in the South, white officers pinning a black woman to the ground by her neck, tearing her clothes and threatening physical violence, is terribly bad optics at least, and lingering racist police state behavior at most. Yes, a difficult situation, but in a modern, just society, shouldn’t we be able to deescalate a situation with an unarmed black woman rather than gang-wrestle her to the ground, appearing too much like an old-fashioned gang-rape of a black woman? And, threatening to “break her arm.”

And this, just two days after a self-effacing black man quite literally saved dozens of lives at another southern Waffle House.

Concurrent with this news, two black men were escorted by police out of an LA Fitness, having been accused of using the facility without paying their way. They had indeed paid, but a junior employee had missed the transaction. Both men left peacefully to avoided any escalation – but as public video shows, they were “two black guys working out in an ocean of whites” who got yanked out of a place of business for what proved to be false causes.

And we have the two black males who were escorted by police out of a Starbucks for having not purchased products while waiting for a friend.

By contrast: At our local Granary Square Starbucks, the “Mayor of Starbucks,” has held court over a table of friends for TWENTY-FIVE YEARS and has never ever bought as much as a SINGLE cup of coffee. He is a white older gentleman and has been allowed to loiter forever. Could he have done this in Valencia had he been black? Loiter for twenty-five years? Truthfully, not likely.

I’m so done with all this latent racism. Holy cow, America is late to the justice game, only returning blacks full civil rights 60 years ago – and still, we’ve tolerated and even encourage a simmering, hidden racism ever since. Oh God, let’s get over it – and treat all Americans with due respect, due courtesy, and due law. We’re all better served when we all get along with respect, blind to color or origin.

And, along the way, might we grow up as a nation and commit to real, fundamental changes to keep guns away from those with high risk factors for violence?

Both notions are common sense concepts, brought to you this past week by the unlikely courtesy of – W A F F L E H O U S E.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column, “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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