I’ve been a huge Anthony Bourdain fan ever since I watched my first episode of Parts Unknown, but when he went to Charleston and dined at the Waffle House with the chef of Nashville’s own Husk, Sean Brock, I fell in love. It was Bourdain’s first visit to Waffle House. After dining on a pecan waffle and hashbrowns scattered, smothered, and covered, my go-to meal when visiting Waffle House, he declared it “indeed marvelous.” He had me from that moment. Of all the celebrities out there, he was my favorite by far, mixing his flare for story telling with his love of food through his acclaimed show Parts Unknown.
During the opening of that episode, he said that Waffle House was a place “where everybody, regardless of race, creed, color, or degree of inebriation is welcome. Its warm yellow glow, a beacon of hope and salvation inviting the hungry, the lost, the seriously hammered all across the South to come inside - a place of safety and nourishment. It never closes. It is always, always faithful, always there for you.”
He was right. Waffle House had always been there when I needed it. When a dear friend died last September, my grief led me down White Bridge Road to a plate of hashbrowns, scattered smothered, and covered seated across from a sign in the window of a picture of waffles covered in blueberry syrup proclaiming it the “Cure for the Blues.” It was. It had been. Over the years, Waffle House had nursed my broken heart over patty melts. It had cured one too many headaches from nights that didn’t end until morning watching the sunrise over a cup of jet black coffee and a plate of waffles spread with bright yellow margarine from tiny plastic tubs glossed with warm sticky syrup. It had been a familiar face on long road trips at interstate exits across the south in parts unknown always with hashbrowns, just the way I like them, scattered smothered, and covered.
After watching that Parts Unknown Waffle House episode, as crazy as it sounds, I felt connected with Anthony Bourdain, a man I had never met. We shared this common knowledge of Waffle House that in its unrefined formica countertop bright yellow neon sign kind of way, it found a way to sooth the broken hearted, share in nights of revelry, and be a beacon for lonely travelers.
I wanted his life. I wanted to go to funky places, meet interesting people, and dine on plates of culinary delights from around the globe, Waffle House included, just like he did on his show. With rugged good looks, an art for story telling, and a flare for food, from the outside, he seemingly had it all and yet, just weeks ago, he was found dead in a hotel room in France with the apparent cause of death suicide.
It hit me hard. It reiterated to me that while on the outside the person we portray to our friends, colleagues, and fans may make it seem like we have it all together, on the inside we may be struggling with depression, addiction, and hopelessness. It made me heartbroken to think that suicide was the best option Bourdain found in that French hotel room. Most of all, it made me wonder if he had a Waffle House in his life, “a beacon of hope and salvation,” someone that is “always, always faithful and always there for you.”
Find yourself a Waffle House, y’all.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.