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Darkness. Pillows. A stumble to the bathroom. Digital clock on the little table between the Comfort Inn beds proclaims 10 a.m. Across the beige divide, Shawn slumbers, the enviable deep sleep of the good and kind man. Turn on CNN. The bailout is reaching agreement in Congress. There’s no agreement. Nancy Pelosi and Christopher Dodd are our best and brightest hope. In other words, we’re screwed. A knock on the door. Open the door. Jeez. It’s a bright and shiny Saturday morning in Greer, South Carolina. Rob W is blindingly backlit by pale blue sky and puffy clouds, a kudzu choked yard of an auto repair garage in the bg. Zoom to RW. “Waffle House?”

Salvation. As the TV pundits babble, Bill O’Reilly denounces CEO’s, George Will declares McCain unfit, and Obama sounds like young George W, hungry for fresh blood in Afghanistan, it’s hard to avoid the fact that madness is the order of the day. We’d quote Yeats, but HBO’s idiotic “Heroes” just did, so that noble vision of 2008 and beyond is cheapened beyond repair. Fulfilling its own dire millennial prophecy. And yet — Salvation is At Hand.

Yes, dear reader, America has gone mad. The signs are in heaven and on earth. We just named a hurricane after Ike Turner. We’re going to print $700 billion in play money after a national online deliberation of 24 hours (if you’re at your computer on a Sunday afternoon). We’re an anthill that’s just been kicked over. Our thought patterns are ants running madly into each other, their wi fi scrambled, their standard answers useless to new and baffling questions.

And Yet — Salvation is At Hand. We’re rolling out of the Comfort Inn lot. We’re on the four lane highway. One minute, no, 45 seconds, no, ten seconds away is the yellow and black sign, the signature awnings, the glory and Salvation that is Waffle House.We enter. It’s packed, but not too packed. This is a tobacco state, so the smoking section is triple the size of non smoking. We wait. Then we get the signal. From our man Antonio.

waff with the man.jpgAntonio is meant for greater things than bringing you your waffles, bacon, eggs, raisin toast, coffee, and smothered, slathered, salvation hash browns. He’s a star, burning almost too bright for his surroundings. But — Wait. Hold. There is no greater good than this mission, and Antonio’s is the greatness to meet the task at hand. He takes our orders, grants us substitutions, additions and omissions, sings snatches of Waylon and Willie in a better than karaoke baritone, and nails it. We feel special. And then the food arrives.

waff food.jpgYes, dear reader, America has gone mad. But what is America? Is there anything more American than Waffle House? Is there a finer institution, something we’d rather export to France to say yes, we have culture, we have cuisine, we have rationality, efficiency, and a system that not only works, but exudes soul and refined aesthetics in the same graceful, effortless moment? If Waffle House is America, then that star spangled banner doth wave.

And yes, these state boundaries may dissolve; we may soon indeed not be filing income tax statements, or taking our driver’s test; we may in fact be hunkered down in Tujunga bivouacs and Kentucky aerie arsenals, our deer rifles trained on approaching federal troops; or we may be fleeing the conflict on commandeered luxury yachts and snowmobiles, seeking sanctuary on Vancouver Island, Medicine Hat, or Cabo Wabo. But till Antonio’s apron is pried off his Waffle House carcass, till that jukebox is silenced of Journey and Elton John, till that griddle is cooled and those coffee beans unground — we are America.