Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

The Road’s My Middle Name. Again

Posted By on December 29, 2008

Ahhh, sunshine.

Ahhh, sunshine.

12.28: Tulsa to Amarillo, 364 miles. Two states: Oklahoma and Texas.
Sounds: Asleep at the Wheel (Take me Back to Tulsa, Boogie Back to Texas, Miles and Miles of Texas), Jerry Jeff Walker (I Wanna Go Home with the Armadillo), Bonnie Raitt (The Road’s My Middle Name).

Now this is what I call driving. The sun is high and bright in a massive sky, the road is dry and long, and the miles are slipping past so smoothly it feels like I’m living in a Neil Young song. We’re virtually flying compared to the torturous first half of the trip, passing by rusted, immobile oil derricks, the “Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere, and nine signs for Big Texan, the all-you-can-eat 72-ounce steak place on the eastern edge of Amarillo.

Americans have always had a love affair with the symbolism of the open road, and our culture is rich with its stories. Movies like Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? are iconic. Authors Steinbeck, Kerouac, and William Least Heat Moon (and, now, moi), evoke the romance of the road for eager and vicarious stay-at-homes. From Route 66 to the Pacific Coast Highway, wind in your hair and the lines passing under the wheels spell the kind of nostalgia and unlimited optimism that are quintessentially American. No matter how bad today may seem, new possibilities await, just over the next horizon. But there is a tradition here in the wide open spaces that has far more to do with necessity than romance. On my travels, I’ve met people who routinely drive 500 to 600 miles in a day to visit family on a job break or a holiday. Who first coined the term “motel”? Americans. Every evening at 5 or 6pm, trucks roll into one of today’s plethora of motor-hotels, and good old boys and gals head for the ice machine to set up their bourbon and tap water, before heading over to the Applebee’s for some real nice grub. I see them in the hallways, where I’m in search of coolant for the travel chard or, occasionally, a nice negroni.
People who jet over the top of fly-over country miss the chance to parse the incongruous beauty of this tough land. Although I spent some romance-related college and post-college summers and Christmases in Oklahoma City, it was probably when I wrote Cowboy Cocktails (in which the humor was perhaps more endearing than the drinks) that my love affair with Texas and the Southwest truly began. Rough daily reality gave birth to a sense of humor that’s most evident (to non-Texans, anyway) in its music. Consider this lyric, sung by Asleep at the Wheel (among others): She: “I wonder if he knows what I’m thinking.” He: “I wonder if she knows why I’m drinking.” Of course, Asleep at the Wheel is tops on my driving playlist this morning. I actually had dinner with founder and lead singer Ray Benson a year or so back, at a mutual friend’s house in North Egremont, Mass. I’ve seen Ray and his band play live at Knotts Berry Farm, a private birthday party in Manhattan (same friend), and the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington.


Mass transit for robots

But I’m not the only one who fell in love with Texas. This means that lots of people who claim to be Texans aren’t really, and some of them have given Texas a bad name (I’m thinking of one particular lame duck here). The thing is, Texas is big enough for all of them, the lame ducks, the down-on-their-luck ducks, and the good old duck ducks. “That’s right you’re not from Texas. But Texas loves you anyway” (Lyle Lovett).

We stop at a United supermarket in Shamrock for healthy lunch snacks (an apple, some white cheddar, dried cranberries), and I note that the store carries mascarpone. I run around the 3-acre parking lot with Stella, looking for grass. C takes the wheel and we listen to a William Boyd novel, Restless, as the miles pile on. (Not location appropriate, I know.) It is still light and bright when we roll into tonight’s home-away, the Econo Lodge in E. Amarillo. There’s even time for a nap before we set out to find supper. The road was good today.


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