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Christmas in Washington: A Waffle House morning

“Here comes Leonard,” Mike Sykes said.

Sykes is on the grill at a Waffle House in Frederick. Leonard Howard is a regular. Howard walks in, shivering.

Christmas is one of the year's big days at Waffle Houses across the nation, as at IHOP and other places that offer respite from yet another big family meal at home.

Sykes: “Scrambled or over easy, Leonard?”

Howard: “Scrambled.”

He takes his seat at a back corner table. His spot. Less than two minutes later, in front of him: scrambled eggs, hash browns, toast, and two sausage patties. Coffee, of course. Howard is 83 years old, but he doesn’t look it.

“My wife died two years ago,” he said. “This is my family here.”

Sykes: “Santa good to you this morning, Leonard?”

Howard: “I’m too old for that stuff now.”

Outside, in the parking lot, Daryl Hatten was waiting for his ex-wife to bring his teenage son to breakfast, as she had apparently promised. Hatten, hungry when he showed up an hour ago, ate without his son, hoping he’d show up just as his waffle hit the table.

His son did not. So now he was pacing in the parking lot, smoking one cigarette after another. “I was a crack addict,” Hatten said. “Now I’m an alcoholic.”

The crack ended his marriage and his business. Now he’s a house painter without work, driving a dented, white pickup truck with ladders on top. He’s got a device inside he must blow in to start the ignition, the result of two DUIs.

How’s this Christmas for him?

“Every day is better without my mouth around that glass pipe,” he said. “I just wish my son would get here.”

By Michael S. Rosenwald  | December 25, 2009; 9:26 AM ET
Categories:  Christmas in Washington  
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