My wife, Kathy, and I visited Gatlinburg again a couple of weekends ago. We had anticipated our favorite motor lodge would be re-opened, but we arrived a week too early. In checking with the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce we found a list of properties which were back in business. We were able to secure suitable lodging at a reasonable price with limited services, of course.

Kathy likes to sleep in on the first morning of a weekend getaway, so I was out early looking for breakfast on the next day. I was disappointed to find my favorite breakfast place, The Smoky Mountain Pancake House still closed. My second choice, The Pancake Pantry was closed as well. As a matter of fact, there was not a single sit-down breakfast restaurant open in all of Gatlinburg. Not to be outdone, I headed back to Pigeon Forge. Pickin’s were slim there, too. Then, I happened upon a Waffle House. It was open and ready for business.

Now, the Waffle House is a different kind of place — no fancy-spancy, no pretense, just a good honest breakfast at a reasonable price. But at the same time, the Waffle House is a “happening.”

I have decided one of the many qualifications for being a cook at the Waffle House is an excellent memory. When a waitress takes an order at the Waffle House she yells it out to the cook. It goes something like this, “Crispy bacon, two over medium, dry, wheat toast and a hash brown!” Then comes another order, “I need a waffle, sausage with two scrambled on the side!” And the orders keep on coming. You can imagine how all that sounds when everyone is wearing a mask. The cook never looked up.

The late, great author, newspaper columnist, and southern humorist, Lewis Grizzard loved to eat at the Waffle House. He especially enjoyed the T-bone steak and egg breakfast that could be had there. Lewis “allowed” the best meat on a T-bone was that which laid “right up against the bone” and could not be removed with knife and fork. The only way, in his mind, to remove those last few sumptuous morsels was to pick up the T-bone and chew the meat right off the bone. He further asserted the only place you could do such without receiving funny looks from other diners was the Waffle House.

The Waffle House in Pigeon Forge was practicing social distancing as every other table was vacant. The signs on the tables not to be used were done in vivid yellow and black — the same colors displayed on the tape law enforcement uses to “rope off” crime scenes. There was no mistaking which tables were off limits.

I was sitting at a corner table which gave me a full view of the restaurant. All available tables were occupied when a middle-aged couple entered the building. After looking around for few seconds, the couple started to seat themselves at one of the restricted table. What happened next happened in few split seconds. Suddenly, three masked waitresses bolted out from behind the counter, shoulder to shoulder, their arms extended, their hands, palms up rotating from side to side as they cried out, in three-part harmony, “Don’t sit there, don’t sit there!!”

You would have thought that table was infested with COVID-19...20...21 AND 22. One thing about those Waffle House folks, they enforce the rules. I enjoyed breakfast there on the next morning as well.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was still closed while we were there. That’s right, closed — closed to all traffic. I was left to wonder. How can you contract COVID-19 or, for that matter, spread it, by driving through the mountains? Our government officials do some really weird and unreasonable things when policy takes precedence over sound judgment.

When I returned home I checked on the size of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park — 520,000 acres — 800 square miles. You would think thousands of visitors could maintain a social distance of 6 feet on that many acres — probably 100 yards!

Maybe I am one sandwich short of a picnic, but my mind kept taking me back to a few sayings from the gold rush years of the 1800s and the days of the Old West. Maybe they closed the park because, in their minds, “There’s viruses in them thar hills!”

I still can’t get over people wearing masks while driving alone in their cars. And, lately, I’m having trouble recognizing some of my friends. Just the other day I caught myself using a closing line from an episode of the “Lone Ranger” when I asked my wife, “Who was that masked man?”

Sometimes, I have to laugh to keep from crying.

Keep your chin up!

Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a humorist and motivational speaker.

Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a humorist and motivational speaker.

Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a humorist and motivational speaker.

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