Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

Am I Right (Or Amarillo)

Posted By on December 30, 2008

Islands in the stream...New Mexico-style

Islands in the stream...New Mexico-style

12.29: Amarillo to Gallup, 424 miles. Two states: Texas and New Mexico. Sounds: New Riders of the Purple Sage (Glendale Train, Louisiana Lady, Panama Red), Coyote Oldman, Sheryl Crow (Everday is a Winding Road), Lyle Lovett (Long Tall Texan, Road to Ensenada), The Marshall Tucker Band (Take the Highway).

My bliss in hitting the open road this morning is marred by anger. Here’s what went wrong: Last night, in considering the final two days of my well-planned drive, I realized that the penultimate day was too short, while the final day was too long. If I’m going to cook a NY Eve feast for 8 (probably 10, by the time I arrive), I’ll need to roll into the kitchen in Malibu before, say, 6pm on New Year’s eve. So in an executive road-decision, I set Gallup as tonight’s goal, instead of Albuquerque (I have a soft spot in my heart for Albuquerque, and not least because of the lard-fried sopaipilla at Mary and Tito’s, but I will pass this way again). So, I booked the Econo Lodge in Gallup even while silently despairing of a fine dinner there, and set about canceling the Comfort Inn in Albuquerque (actually, Rio Rancho). No dice. Although it was clearly 24 hours in advance, the policy is “No cancellation after 4pm of the day before the booking.” Huh? La Quinta, from whom I’d been contemplating a defection, allows cancellation up until 6pm on the same day. So now, instead of glorying in the snow-kissed high desert zipping past my windows, I am arguing with a snotty desk clerk, and then his higher-up, and then her higher-up. I am getting miffed. More than miffed. I am making empty threats, posturing, pleading. Jeez. Time to talk to the credit card company and then get back to the sublime business of driving.

Today, the little-Toyota-that-could will pass a big milestone: the 100,000 mile mark. I bought this car new, in Marina del Rey, two days before our country went, disastrously, to war in Iraq, on March 17 2003. So while I have driven 100,000 miles in my trusty chariot, 4,000 American lives and countless Iraqi lives have been lost.

There are many people who don’t get this bi-annual drive of mine. Especially the fact that I often do all or part of it alone, while C flies back to teach his classes in NYC. There is far more to it than getting from A to B, although that’s part of the equation. During the ten years I lived in Europe, I always drove. There, it was about consulting the Michelin for a place to dine and sleep, and picking up wine and huge jars of mustard and heavy marble mortars and sets of Italian pottery, then carting them home to London or, later, southern Spain, unhindered by the limitations of airlines and two (or four) human arms.

Driving, in Europe, meant shopping. Here, for pork (surprise).

Driving, in Europe, means shopping. Here, for pork (what a surprise).

Here, instead of the Michelin, I do my own research. And these days, shopping isn’t high on my list. At first my Michelin surrogate was the Stern’s excellent book and searchable website, Roadfood. Then, when I tired of the fried and sweet (I never tire of the fatty), my own idiosyncratic style of searching. And then there’s my need for “stuff.” Winter in California wouldn’t be the same without ten pairs of shoes, two boxes of books I’m either reading, intend to read, or need for research, and my knives. Try flying on United with that. But all this Brigit-doth-protest-too-much blather conceals the real reason I like to drive: to see what’s in between. We snobbish coastal dwellers think we understand America. If that’s true, then how did George W. Bush get elected? Twice. The people out here in the interior are real, honest, flawed, savvy—just like us. It’s just that their perspective is, sometimes, different. It’s not something easily defined, but leaving myself open to the opinions and lives of others lets me see my own concerns in more perspective. Everyone out there is hurting, we just hurt in different ways. Consider this exchange just outside the side door of the Gallup Econo Lodge, as we carted in our people-and-dog stuff:
A fifty-something, clean-cut guy, also approaching the door: “Oh, you don’t need your key for this door, it’s been broken for about two months.”
We: “Wow, what do you, live in the hotel?”
He: “Yeah, I’m hoping for a permanent place to live real soon.”
The view from the road just got wider.


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