Editor's note: During the week of the RNC, columnist Jeff Houck will visit restaurants, shops and other places around the area to hear what people are saying about the convention and share what they care about (or whether they care at all).
Our country is deeply divided.
Rich from poor. Conservative from liberal.
"Twilight" fans from everyone else on the planet.
The thing that will unite this great country?
Chicken and waffles.
Stay with me on this one.
I was sitting Monday in the dining room at Tampa Luv Chicken & Waffles during lunch.
Outside, Hurricane Isaac was wreaking catastrophic sogginess on North Florida Avenue.
From the torrential non-downpour came wave after wave of hungry customers to enjoy the perfect unlikely marriage of deep-fried poultry and steaming hot breakfast food.
At one table sat David Palmer, 50, and his daughter, Shelby, a 20-year-old business student at the University of South Florida.
At another table sat Antoine Broxsie, 32, and his longtime friend Shay Davis, 25, both of Tampa.
Palmer and his daughter did their best to conquer a lunch of chicken tenders, chicken fries and a watermelon soda. Palmer, who once lived in Tampa and still owns a home here, worked up an appetite putting up storm shutters for no good reason.
Broxsie, a 6-foot-11-inch former basketball star at Tampa Bay Tech high school, plays professional basketball in leagues around the world. For lunch, he and Davis put plastic forks and knives to good use on crunchy crusted chicken legs and freshly made Belgian waffles soaked with sweet maple syrup.
It wasn't in Palmer's original plan, but Sunday night he got caught up in the Republican National Convention festivities. A fan of Herman Cain, Palmer, a retired Army veteran who now teaches military tactics n Huntsville, Ala., put on a "Herman Cain for President" shirt and went to the TheTeaParty.net Unity Rally at the River at Tampa Bay Church.
Palmer, who describes himself as apolitical, doesn't like the Tea Party. A lifelong registered Democrat, until he retired three years ago, he grew up poor in central Florida housing projects. He says Cain could have united the country. He snapped a photo of the former candidate on his phone from only a few feet away.
"It's funny," he says. "If you wear a Herman Cain shirt to a Herman Cain rally, they put you up front."
Broxsie doesn't follow politics because he spends so much time playing abroad in leagues from Mexico to Saudi Arabia. He describes himself as a Democrat, but didn't vote in the last election. He relies on relatives and word-of-mouth to keep him updated on the latest news about candidates.
Davis, also a Democrat, isn't planning to watch either convention on TV.
"I try not to make this a Democrat or Republican thing," she says. "I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect president. You find the one with as many beliefs that match yours and go with that person." Obama will get her vote.
So here they were. People with opposite political beliefs, dissimilar backgrounds and different ethnicities coming from far-flung places.
But there was chicken. And there were waffles. Two foodstuffs brought together in an unholy yet deeply satisfying culinary alliance.
Everyone in the same room. Enjoying the same food.
That has to mean something.