Look Up From Your Hash Browns
March 17, 2019 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Micah Cash's Waffle House Vistas Project collects images that document Southern communities as seen through the windows of Waffle Houses. In each instance, the point of view is the customer’s. Each photograph looks out from booths and chairs, making the viewer a witness to intertwined narratives of poverty, transience, and politics.

Cash explains: "I did it because I wanted to see through each restaurant’s windows. I wanted to see the surrounding architecture, catalog adjacent businesses, and understand the public and commercial space around each restaurant. I also wanted to ask questions about our society and our social, economic, and political divisions."

"I also began “Waffle House Vistas” against the backdrop of challenging political times: the trauma of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the activism that followed; the rhetoric of the 2018 midterm elections and their consequences; the threat and eventual occurrence of a government shutdown over the holidays. While I did not want the tonality of these photographs altered by those events, in truth, they were."
posted by JoeZydeco (29 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
i love this
posted by odinsdream at 9:50 AM on March 17

Love this, and very happy to see my hometown included
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:58 AM on March 17

I feel like this would be better if he'd made some effort to get the table with the best view in any particular restaurant.
posted by Nelson at 10:00 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

This is the best view.
posted by odinsdream at 10:11 AM on March 17 [11 favorites]

The first store was in Avondale Estates, GA? That's amusing in that that is now a pretty frou-frou suburb. I mean it would be a good place to open a yoga studio.
posted by thelonius at 10:12 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I've only been to a Waffle House once and I know they exist in lots of different places, but I strongly associate them with that specific built environment you see near interstate highway exits in the US.

Those strips of gas stations and fast-food/diner-style restaurants that stand in for the actual small towns that are only a mile or two off the highway -- but may as well not even exist in the minds of travelers passing by.
posted by theory at 10:18 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]

In New England we do "View from the Dunks."
posted by es_de_bah at 10:31 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

I tried to include other Metafilter Waffle House links in the post, but it sadly seems like a lot of the outside URLs have gone away (e.g. Anthony Bourdain Goes to a Waffle House).

But one was still working and is probably the most relevant: What It's Like to Work at the Waffle House for 24 Hours Straight.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:36 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]

I live in the middle of Waffle House Territory; there are 22 within 10 miles of me right now, according to their website. Although they definitely occur near the interstate, there are a food number out in more suburban locales. And you can certainly look out different windows and get different views; the linked gallery reflects this somewhat, but now I feel the need to start checking out the views the next time I go.
posted by TedW at 10:44 AM on March 17

Ha!  Boy are those shots familiar.  This is relevant to my recent experiences last year cycling cross country.  For the first time in decades I spent significant time and money in Waffle and Huddle Houses while on the trip. They're great to stop at when you're on a touring bike—lots of high energy food, and you can generally park your bike right outside and easily keep an eye on it.  And the bike also conveniently doubles as one of the best conversation starters you've ever seen.

"You biked from where? That's crazy!"
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 10:52 AM on March 17 [9 favorites]

posted by grumpybear69 at 11:49 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]

The strangest Waffle House (that's a strong claim, I know, weird shit happens in Waffle Houses) in my opinion is the one that they opened on Georgia State University's campus in downtown Atlanta several years back. I have a very specific image of what a Waffle House is and it's so uncanny to see one in a storefront that looks out onto a city sidewalk instead of a parking lot.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 12:59 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]

GalaxieFiveHundred - there is a similar Waffle House tucked into the bottom level of a parking deck on the UAB campus. I was in Birmingham several years ago for an event and ended up staying at a hotel near UAB, and walked past that Waffle House on my way.

Like you, I have a very specific mental picture of what a Waffle House should look like, and it was really weird to see a storefront version instead of a standalone version.
posted by ralan at 2:18 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]

Looking at these I’m realizing how good Waffle House architecture is. They’ve never really needed to change.
posted by q*ben at 2:47 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

I wonder how long he had to wait to take each shot without a person in sight. And why? Permissions are made easier I suppose.
posted by TreeRooster at 3:06 PM on March 17

Ah, not counting the shot through the water-streaked window--I missed the pedestrians in that one.
posted by TreeRooster at 3:07 PM on March 17

I like these!

From the blurb, I did wonder if I was supposed to find some of the views a bit existentially depressing (I don't, particularly). Instead, because the internet has broken me, I kept seeing them instead as an unexpected extension to the weratedogs canon. 13/10, moderately pleasant foliage, would eat waffles at
posted by eponym at 3:24 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]

I wonder how long he had to wait to take each shot without a person in sight. And why?

Yeah, that's one of the things that sort of gnaws at me about the project. The photos are interesting, but it feels a lot like the author/photographer is shaping the project to fit his imagined vision of life, not really that of the Waffle Houses themselves.

He talks about poverty, but the photos don't show that and it isn't really the defining element for "diner-like" restaurants Waffle House seeks to emulate. Waffle Houses are better linked to car culture than the culture of poverty. It's a very different thing. Diners purposefully evoke a more egalitarian public atmosphere, one where anyone is welcome, which can be noted by the existence and importance of windows in their design. Compare them to "fancy" restaurants, for example, which regularly eschew windows to create a private space or, when they do have them, provide privileged vistas, like a windows on the world view from on high or of some secluded "high aesthetic" landscape where people aren't seem or are made small.

The building surrounding the Waffle Houses are standard shops, hotels, and housing, nothing exceptional to be sure, but not run down or signalling distress as much as the normal day to day places people go to on their travels or to pick up items of need. Walgreens, Quality Inns, these are places where wage employees work, so certainly not places of wealth, but still different than "poverty". One can dislike the aesthetics of car culture, but the speaking of it absent utility, ignoring the people who live and work in that environment, and adopting a distant attitude about it seems off, with a bit of well-meaning but unthinking liberal idealism involved.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:30 PM on March 17 [23 favorites]

Pleased to see my high school hang out #911 in there. The view is different than it was then, before they tore down the Tastee Freeze and built what appears to be an Eckerds (now Rite Aid, I guess). Of those Waffles House pictured, I've also been to the one in Avondale and, randomly, the one in D'Iberville, MS, which was one of the only things open when I was down there volunteering after Katrina.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:32 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

the one in D'Iberville, MS, which was one of the only things open when I was down there volunteering after Katrina.

And that's my signal to present the Waffle House Index one more time. (And thank you for volunteering!)
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:54 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]

In New England we do "View from the Dunks."

The view from Dunkin' Donuts is always the same: A row a unoccupied SUVs and fancy pickup trucks idling while their drivers are inside ordering coffee.

Though sometimes you might catch someone live parking in a handicapped spot.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:57 PM on March 17

the 5th one is my high school / college Waffle House, surprisingly unchanged. I knew it immediately. Didn’t even check until just now. Everything else about Charleston is different but not that view of the round holiday inn by the Ashley River.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:17 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Godammit, I only tuned in to see *piles of food* ! Not parking lots!

Clickbait, boo!
posted by Twang at 11:04 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

Waffle Houses are better linked to car culture than the culture of poverty.

Yes, but I think these images get at the way those things have become linked. Car culture is a downward spiral and a trap. Even though those images don't show much extreme poverty, they don't show any of the kind of places richer people want or tend to live or visit either, except as a kind of "Common People" project. Because the built environment for cars is hideous, economically destructive, and physically unhealthy and anyone who can afford to tends to insulate themselves from it.
posted by congen at 4:24 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]

Like many a young person that grew up in the suburban south, I spent hours hours of my young life sitting at Waffle Houses in in my hometown, at locations close to the colleges I attended, at the nearest points to live music venues in, variously, Athens/Atlanta, the Triad, the Triangle and Richmond/DC. I met some of my best friends at the Waffle House, had some of the greatest-ever 4am conversations hopped up on caffeine and cigarettes and youthful energy, and, in a pinch, I could still probably recite the entire menu from memory. I'm sad to say that none of my persona favorite Waffle Houses (the one by high school, the one by the mall, the one by my mother's new house, et al) made it into this collection (at least one of them, the closest one to the Women's College I attended freshman year, is now a Tap House, which is bullshit, ps). All said, I've been to maybe seven of the Waffle Houses in this list (that Pensacola Waffle House is weird, man, ditto Marion, NC). That Charleston location is A+, btw
posted by thivaia at 6:44 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]

I enjoyed the photographs but I feel the photographer just added his artist statement about showing poverty,transience and socio-political issues after the fact as a way to make his photo series seem more provocative. I don't see poverty, transience or political division, I see the commercial parts of towns. Go to any area in America, even wealthy ones, and go toward the commercial districts where the gas stations, car dealerships, grocery stores, strip malls, hotels, etc are and you'll see the same views. The poverty stricken areas around me don't have these thriving commerical areas, but then again they don't have Waffle Houses either.
posted by SA456 at 7:30 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]

I will echo the notion that I don't see the Waffle House as particularly emblematic of poverty of transience (or for that matter socio-political division, though I guess this depends on location). For one thing, they're usually right off the highway, and if they're not, they tend to pop up on, like, on college strips or on populated, commercial thoroughfares. There are a lot of Waffle Houses in the middle of nowhere (but again, right off major interstates), but I have a weird sense that this project would make more sense to me, as a lifelong southerner, if it were, say, Dollar General stores
posted by thivaia at 8:20 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]

I'm puzzled by the photographer's essay in the Bitter Southerner, which frames the project in part with the "racially charged"* incidents of police violence against African American customers at Waffle House, and then goes on to say "Waffle House does not care how much you are worth, what you look like, where you are from, what your political beliefs are, or where you've been so long as you respect the unwritten rules of Waffle House." Is Waffle House somehow a racial innocent? I get the desire to anthropomorphize an iconic restaurant, but it is just odd, to make Waffle House the site of racism and then absolve it of racism. *(not really an accurate phrase)

I'm 100% here for foodways that have complicated histories and emotions -- just ask me about spam and the American military -- but don't know what the photographer actually is expressing through this series.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:05 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]

Having lived in the South for several years in my mid-20's, but having been solidly established back North of the Mason-Dixon, I'm surprised by how much I miss Waffle House.

This was a nice little flashback.

Also, the best WaffleHouse I've ever had was in Dothan, AL. I don't see it on the list, but it is WELL worth the journey.
posted by RhysPenbras at 11:29 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]

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