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February 21, 2014 11:56 AM Waffle House America

By Ed Kilgore

It’s Friday and all, so if you want a break from conventional political subjects, take a look at Colin Woodward’s original piece for Ten Miles Square today, which adds some detail to Chris Cillizza’s post on the Republican voting proclivities of states with a lot of Waffle House locations.

Woodward points out that the more truly, culturally southern a place is, the more it’s going to have Waffle Houses. And truly yankified areas rarely have them at all:

Consider this: of the 1661 Waffle Houses in the country, there are exactly zero in New Netherland and the Left Coast, which together have a population of 35 million. There are just 10 in all of Yankeedom, which has 55 million people. Those three nations - the “blue” coalition of contemporary politics - comprise 29 percent of the national population, but just 0.6 percent of all Waffle Houses.
Consider the two “Swing States” with a significant Yankee section: Pennsylvania and Ohio. Of Ohio’s 64 Waffle House locations, only 8 are located in the Yankee-settled Western Reserve. In Pennsylvania, only 2 of 11 locations are in the belt settled by New Englanders, where Yankee and Appalachian settlers once squared off in the Yankee-Pennamite Wars. Not one of Indiana or Illinois’ Waffle Houses are located on those states’s Yankee turf.

As it happens, I’m from Waffle House ground zero, having spent a good chunk of my life in DeKalb County, Georgia, where the first Waffle House opened in 1955. Now the county has changed a whole lot since 1955, but it’s still Waffle House country: There are interstate interchanges I can think of where there’s not one but two of the restaurants (one in each direction). Yet DeKalb was carried by Barack Obama with 77% of the vote in 2012. Perhaps it’s an omen that Georgia will indeed turn blue some day.

If so, it will be against the will of the chain’s CEO, Joe Rogers, Jr. (son of its co-founder, Joe Rogers, Sr.), a long-time Republican stalwart. Rogers has, however, been keeping a lower profile lately after a lurid legal case involving sex tapes recorded during an admitted affair he had with his housekeeper.

Most Georgians do not, however, associate Waffle House with politics or with sex, but with an aggressively downscale approach to food and service that has almost become hipster-ironic (viz. the recent practice of Waffle House franchises in some locations requiring reservations for Valentine’s Day seatings where OJ is served in champagne flutes).

Will there be Waffle Houses in Brooklyn someday? Hard to say. But when I was growing up in Georgia, I would have never in a million years imagined Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer becoming a favored brew in self-consciously hip bars as remote as Seattle, either.

UPDATE: The reference in the comment thread to “4 a.m. drunks” reminded me I should have mentioned Waffle Houses can become very different places in the wee hours—certainly not very Republican. When I was in law school in Athens, GA, I frequented a Waffle House branch where the graveyard shift staff was a classmate of mine and her lesbian lover, who was on break from Yale Divinity School. I recall having an extended discussion with both of them about T.S. Eliot late one night while they deftly handled orders and I occasionally had to prop up a mumbling guy sitting next to me who was clearly crashing from cocaine. Too bad Joe Rogers didn’t wander in. He might have learned something about the underside of his customer base.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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