Kansas City – Rapture

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You know, as a food critic, I’ve never been much of a fan of “comfort foods.” A full stomach is the cheater’s way to contentment. Try being satisfied on the tongue of a nightingale served on a perfect square of bibb lettuce. But the waffles at this Waffle House outside Kansas City may be the single most delicious experience of my life.

It was the column of smoke that made me stop. Well, during the day it was a column of smoke. At night, it turned into a column of fire, but not fire like you’re thinking; a golden fire burning in a contained line right into the black sky. It’s like a spear of dawn.

I saw it first as white smoke from Highway 71 as I was driving north. For a while I thought it was an illusion that I figured I could never get any closer to. But it does have a point of origin. Judy told me while she was refilling my coffee. “It’s coming out the roof of the IHOP down the road.”

The IHOP to which she’s referring is not her chain rival. It’s the International House of Prayer. It offers 24/7 prayer rooms and ministries. It’s pretty much the modern evangelical American equivalent of a monastery for insanely uninteresting tourists. The other day, according to Judy, the light just appeared, and anyone standing in the light got sucked into the sky naked.

“So it’s the Rapture?” I asked.

“That’s what people thought,” she explained. She couldn’t talk for long. She’s one of 17 waitresses they had working the floor right then and she still had 25 tables of her own.

See, ever since the light showed up, that Waffle House has gotten very popular. By very popular, I mean the population of anywhere in sight has huddled there to debate whether or not they should go into the light.

“But, if they’re Christians, wouldn’t it already be taking them?” I asked.

“It doesn’t just take Christians.” Judy seemed to sigh after everything she said. She was exhausted for many reasons – not the least of which was having to repeat this story to every new face – but she couldn’t stop telling it.

“What?”

“It’s not just Christians. Herb Gutman got taken up and everyone knows he’s a Jew. And then this one guy who flat-out said he was an atheist got in the light and up he went.”

“Could it be a tractor beam from aliens?”

“One of the ministers thought of that, but he says it ain’t.”

“How does he know?”

“Because he stood in it and looked up and he said he could see God.”

“Huh,” I said and ate another waffle. When she came back I asked, “Did the minister go up?”

“No, and that’s the other thing.”

“What’s the other thing?”

“Well, that light has taken everyone – literally everyone – except that minister. And he’s a minister,” she pointed out.

“That does seem odd.”

“But a lot of people have tried since and every single one has gone up.”

I stared out at the light from my table. My table was actually well outside the restaurant with the other hundreds who don’t fit inside.

“So the crowds here are just …”

“Working up the nerve,” she said. “On the one hand, if they go and get taken, well, then what? On the other, what if they’ve got whatever that minister got? Who wants to find out that God doesn’t want them?”

I shrugged. “Are you a Christian?”

“Lord, yes,” she said. “I take my kids and everything.”

“Why haven’t you gone?”

“Oh, honey, they’ve had me working doubles everyday since that thing appeared.”

She walked back into the crowd. She eventually returned to check on me and I ordered another waffle. “Is anything else open?” I asked when she returned.

“Nothing. It’s us and then emptiness until the light.”

“How have you not run out of waffles yet?”

She cocked her hip. “Huh. You know, I hadn’t thought about that. Just haven’t, I guess. Somehow the batter canister keeps giving up batter.”

The crowd was silent as we ate. Clinking forks and slurping coffee, but no conversation above a whisper, and even that was only about condiments. Three miles north of us was the path to Heaven. People would take a bite and look over at it, see if maybe it was flickering out or getting bigger. The light just shined, and kinda hummed.

I finished my six or seven waffles and paid. I took 71 straight to 470, because I hate driving through downtown.

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