Her name was Anna. She was kind, funny, warm, and did her job very well, always with a smile.
But we made Anna cry.
Picture a stop for breakfast at a Waffle House in the small community of Carrolton, Kentucky, a
pretty little place on the Ohio River, and a truck stop location half way between
Louisville and Cincinnati off Interstate 71. It was about 10 am, and the Waffle House just off
the interstate was very crowded.
Anna was our waitress, and she greeted us as if she had known us for years. Her waitress
service was impeccable. She laughed with us, and -- typical of a Waffle House -- she shouted
our order to the busy cooks cracking eggs and making walnut waffles.
We told Anna the three of us were traveling from Louisville to Columbus, Ohio, and that two of us
were from Palm Springs and one of us lived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico,
a place she had never heard of.
Anna told us she loved the beach but had not been to the beach in years, having 3 children to raise.
She laughed with a sort of embarrassment when we told her we were from Palm Springs in California, not the Palm Beach, Florida she was thinking about. She warmly shouted to the cooking and waitress crew that we were from California, and that one of us was a Mexican tourist.
In almost one voice, the Waffle House crew welcomed us to Carrolton.
Anna served us and several other customers with amazing ease, even though she told us
she was at the end of her shift and was going to head home soon.
With a proud smile, Anna told us she had worked at the Waffle House for seven years! She
joked about serving thousands of waffles and filling what she said were "a million" cups of
Without trying to pry too much, we asked Anna how she liked living in Carrolton, and we
expressed wonder that she had worked at that particular Waffle House for seven years.
She quickly responded that Carrolton (population about 10,000) was her home. She said
it was fun to work at the Waffle House, although some days her feet felt like bricks when
she got home.
Anna spoke with us between taking orders, shouting orders to the cooks, making sure
we were happy with our meal, while she constantly refilled our coffee cups.
Then we risked it and asked Anna a rather personal question. She rebuffed the idea that
we were prying. She told us her salary was $2.70 per hour, the typical waitress wage
in Kentucky. She was honest with us, telling us that tips made up the typical wage for her,
enough to get by on a good day, not a good wage on a bad tipping day.
Anna then told us she relied on the health care that Waffle House provided through
Kynect, the health plan that Kentucky used to be proud of. Then, a Republican governor
was voted in, and he struck down much of Kynect. Anna was scared about health
care, and what would happen to her and her family with the Affordable Care Act put in place
by President Obama in jeopardy and constantly being attacked. She expressed a scared, concerned look.
It was time to say goodbye to Anna as we finished our meal. She thanked us for being
what she called "kind and caring" fun customers. All the while she waited on others , dashing
from counter seats to tables.
Before leaving, we gave Anna a good size tip, and asked to speak to her manager. She
shouted out a name -- again typical in the crowded hustle there.
A smiling, friendly manager approached us, and Anna told him where we were traveling from and
where we were headed. He was a rather young African American man who surprised us by
saying it was his very first day there as a newly promoted manager.
He praised Anna for her seven years there, telling us that she was one of the best: reliable,
competent and friendly. He then told us were welcome anytime, leaning over the counter
.to sort of whisper that "we love travelers here, and we love Mexicans".
We thanked him, telling him the food was excellent. We then told him that Anna gave us
superior service with a smile, chatting with us while doing her hectic job with ease and
kindness we had rarely seen before anywhere.
The manager told Anna what we said as she ran up our tab at the register, all the while
surrounded by the noise of a crowded, busy Waffle House.
Anna and the manager approached us together to thank us for our business.
Anna told us that in seven years of working there in many different, difficult shifts, no one had
praised her like we had. No one had ever thanked her so well or complimented her job performance and attitude so well.
The manager shook our hands, and busily went back to work. But he noticed along with us
one thing that was striking at the moment.
Anna had tears in her eyes as she waved us goodbye.
We had made Anna cry.