Rock, Paper, Biscuit

 

BISCUITNow I’ve had my share of memorable meals: from C-Rations in combat school that tasted like they had washed up on shore at Normandy to MREs (which we gamely called Meals Rejected by Ethiopians); from a Korean meal that included a live octopus to Mediterranean fare served by French waiters whose armpits lent the aroma of fermented gym socks to a dilapidated little restaurant in Riyadh, I’ve had culinary adventures that spanned continents. None of which prepared me for this evening’s experience.

The name of the little diner, which is connected to a little truck stop by a little hallway filled with a little swarm of humanity waiting for a little gastrointestinal roulette, will not escape my lips. These are friendly folks and, from all appearances, this is probably the only restaurant in this zip code. There is no other competition here, except perhaps for the local Jaycees Haunted House during Halloween.

Walking into the restaurant was like walking back in time, and I was reminded of the old truck stop that used to sit atop Mont Eagle, between Nashville and Chattanooga. I had attempted to sit at a booth there once, and when I went to rest my weight on one end of the long seat, the other end shot straight up and dumped me unceremoniously into the middle of the floor. “Son,” said an old trucker at the next table, “if you wanna eat here you gotta sit down and hold on.”

At tonight’s establishment, every table was taken save for the second to last stool at the food counter. The last stool was reserved for the manager, who stood next to it while banging a coffee cup on the counter and barking orders at the wait staff who duly fell over each other in the narrow passageway between the counter and the wall that separated them from the kitchen. A sort of wide slit had been cut into that wall, about four and a half feet above the floor and about two feet high, and it was here that kitchen staff placed the food to be carried out to customers. Every now and then, I could see great flames shooting up on the other side of that slit as if the Wizard of Oz himself might be back there with the reverb turned up, demanding Nancy Pelosi’s broom or something.

“Here, take a biscuit,” the manager ordered as he held out a large platter containing a mountain of the things. So I took one. The attempt at biting it proving unsuccessful, I kept it on-hand, so to speak, in case a fight broke out. A very pleasant young lady tripped over a tall young gentleman, and landed in front of me to ask what I would like to drink. I asked if they had lemonade and she looked at me as if I had ordered a Shirley Temple, so I went with Coke. “Pepsi okay?” Sure. She placed a menu in front of me that, I swear, contained more grease and grime than a transmission shop floor, so I just ordered a cheeseburger with fries — thank you very much and please shop again.

The elderly gentleman next to me was kind enough to advise that if I put some butter on my biscuit, it might be easier to chew on. I started to ask if he meant the butter or the biscuit, but thought better of it and said I’d just hold on to it for good luck. He smiled politely and went back to his salad, the color of which reminded me of an old episode of Fear Factor.

I was reading the news on my iPad when I heard a sniff overhead. The tall young man whose legs my waitress had tripped over was reaching down for napkins from the shelf under the counter upon which my food sat … but in order to do so, he had to lean over the counter so that when I looked up, it was into his nostrils. His expression was dispassionate, as, thankfully, were his nostrils, and I went back to reading.

Soon my cheeseburger arrived with a side order of french fries and extra flies. They came from everywhere and started strafing and dive bombing my food. I had mastered the job of eating with one hand swatting flies with the other while on various deployments in the military, but I’m out of practice now and flies can sense a weak opponent as easily as Bostonians sense a polite driver — and with the same result. I never had a chance. Swat one from my burger and two would go for my drink. Wave them away from my drink and three would dive back to the burger. Read just one sentence from my iPad and half a dozen would try to steal a french fry.

I picked up my Pepsi to have a swig when I saw something green sticking to the inside of the glass. Reaching inside the glass, I peeled off an old piece of lettuce that had stuck to the side, only revealing itself when the level of the drink had gone down enough. Evidently the dish washing leaves a bit to be desired here as well.

I was attaching the bit of lettuce to a napkin when I saw something moving on the counter next to the plate. It was another fly. Next thing I knew, reflexes I thought had long ago vanished suddenly returned, and with a wallop loud enough to attract attention, I took that biscuit I had been holding and smashed the very aspirations out of that fly. He never knew what hit him. Actually, neither did I, since I’d never seen a biscuit built quite like that one before.

“Check please,” I said quietly, and as soon as I left, someone else took my place at the counter, as people lined the little hallway waiting for their chance to cheat a few flies out of a meal. But the people were friendly, if suicidal. Next time, it’s Beanie Weenies in the truck. 

There are 35 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Inactive

    Glad I didn’t read this before dinner! Better luck with your next meal.

    • #1
    • July 12, 2014 at 2:31 am
    • Like
  2. Member

    image

    • #2
    • July 12, 2014 at 5:17 am
    • Like
  3. Member

    MREs weren’t that bad. Your description of that greasy spoon makes MREs look downright wholesome.

    • #3
    • July 12, 2014 at 5:21 am
    • Like
  4. Member

    I’ll play devil’s advocate here. Nowadays when my bride and I travel, it’s usually with a grandkid or two in tow, and when it’s time to stop to eat, cries of McDonalds come from the back seat. We tell them that the independent diner/truck stop is one of our last links to the romantic lure of the open road, and they need to experience it before the inexorable march toward uniformity wipes them out.
    Sure, some of them leave a lot to be desired from a culinary, or even a sanitary standpoint, but I’ll miss the day when friendly folks, as you describe them, no longer offer what little they can while trying to make a living in “the only restaurant in this zip code.” There’s more to a meal than “you want fries with that?”, and when you look past the shortcomings, you see what we see all too little of these days: someone saying “this is the best I’ve got, it may not be much, but it’s mine and you’re welcome to share.” Appreciate it now, because someday soon it may be gone.

    • #4
    • July 12, 2014 at 6:14 am
    • Like
  5. Inactive

    Probably when the global pandemic eventually breaks out, the folks in that diner will have built up enough immunity to waltz through it .

    Great slice of life as ever, Dave!

    • #5
    • July 12, 2014 at 6:19 am
    • Like
  6. Member

    I am anxiously awaiting your critique of the cheeseburger. It sounds like one should pass on the grilled onions at that particular establishment. At least anything falling into the fry grease would be dead by the time they served it. One must have magnificent intestinal fortitude to eat at truck stops nearly all the time. Just a coin flip as to what you will get.

    • #6
    • July 12, 2014 at 6:20 am
    • Like
  7. Member

    Lucky for you, those were only the flies nurtured on lettuce Coke! The biscuit eaters are like feral dogs. They ate the last manager.

    • #7
    • July 12, 2014 at 6:33 am
    • Like
  8. Member

    Haha. That sounds kind of like the diner skit that used to be on Hee Haw!

    • #8
    • July 12, 2014 at 6:34 am
    • Like
  9. Member

    “Pepsi okay?”

    I think I could sell a few t-shirts on Cafepress with that slogan.

    • #9
    • July 12, 2014 at 6:52 am
    • Like
  10. Member

    Those are the most pathetic biscuits I’ve ever seen. Looks like they might have been deep fried rather than baked. You must not have been in the South, as no Southerner worth their salt would present a biscuit like that.

    If possible, look for a Shoney’s in the south and east. They had the best buffet I’ve ever eaten in, and loved their biscuits. I took my 6 year old grandson on a cross country trip in 1998-99. We were on the road for 90 days, and I drove 9,000 miles. Tried my best to hit every Shoney’s available.

    • #10
    • July 12, 2014 at 6:56 am
    • Like
  11. Member

    It seems odd that the diner was so crowded. I am guessing that this diner is attached to the only truck stop for 100 miles in either direction.

    • #11
    • July 12, 2014 at 7:14 am
    • Like
  12. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Illiniguy:

    I’ll play devil’s advocate here. Nowadays when my bride and I travel, it’s usually with a grandkid or two in tow, and when it’s time to stop to eat, cries of McDonalds come from the back seat. We tell them that the independent diner/truck stop is one of our last links to the romantic lure of the open road, and they need to experience it before the inexorable march toward uniformity wipes them out.Sure, some of them leave a lot to be desired from a culinary, or even a sanitary standpoint, but I’ll miss the day when friendly folks, as you describe them, no longer offer what little they can while trying to make a living in “the only restaurant in this zip code.” There’s more to a meal than “you want fries with that?”, and when you look past the shortcomings, you see what we see all too little of these days: someone saying “this is the best I’ve got, it may not be much, but it’s mine and you’re welcome to share.” Appreciate it now, because someday soon it may be gone.

     Actually, the mom and pop places are fast dying out and life on the road is more bland as a result. I love those places, from Frog City or Tiger Truck stop in Louisiana to the little place that served vegetable soup in a bread bowl in Vermont, they are great. The people really do make the difference. And perhaps the food was pretty good here. After all, thousands of bugs can’t be wrong. But the flies were getting more of my food than I was, notwithstanding the fact that I was the one paying, and that took some of the fun out of things.

    • #12
    • July 12, 2014 at 7:22 am
    • Like
  13. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Z in MT:

    It seems odd that the diner was so crowded. I am guessing that this diner is attached to the only truck stop for 100 miles in either direction.

     Oddly enough, most of the crowd waiting there were locals.

    • #13
    • July 12, 2014 at 7:23 am
    • Like
  14. Member

    Have you considered compiling these essays into a travel diary book, Dave? Sort of Charles Kuralt On the Road style? I’d buy that book. I even have a title for you: Truck Stops — Occasionally.

    • #14
    • July 12, 2014 at 7:24 am
    • Like
  15. Member

    It’s probably a good thing that you didn’t enter the kitchen. I ‘m willing to bet the cockroaches had to wear cleats to move across the greasy floor.

    • #15
    • July 12, 2014 at 9:11 am
    • Like
  16. Member

    Doug Watt:

    It’s probably a good thing that you didn’t enter the kitchen. I ‘m willing to bet the cockroaches had to wear cleats to move across the greasy floor.

    Say what you will about McDonalds, but that corporation has done more to introduce sanitary kitchen practices to the far corners of the planet than any other factor.

    I wonder if anybody has ever studied how many lives are saved when McDonalds sets up shop in a territory not known for its commitment to hygiene.

    • #16
    • July 12, 2014 at 9:16 am
    • Like
  17. Inactive

    Fun post, Dave — thanks. You do have a way with words (“Mediterranean fare served by French waiters whose armpits lent the aroma of fermented gym socks…” – wow! can’t beat that) and I, too, am glad I finished breakfast a while ago.

    • #17
    • July 12, 2014 at 10:19 am
    • Like
  18. Member

    Years ago I spent a day in the mountains outside Medellin, Colombia, while visiting family friends. There, the flies were so thick and aggressive they would ride the spoon or fork on the way to your mouth. This did not seem to bother anyone else, and I watched in a state of suspended nausea as my hosts ate. I noted well that the flies would disembark from the food just prior to entering your mouth. So I ate and did not consume a single fly.

    • #18
    • July 12, 2014 at 10:26 am
    • Like
  19. Member

    Memorable, Dave! I’m reminded of an old neighbor’s “You-have-to-hold-them-in-your-mouth-to-soften-them” German Christmas cookies that bounced off the floor if you dropped one…Or, off the wall, if you threw one, as my Father and Mother did…Yikes!

    • #19
    • July 12, 2014 at 10:41 am
    • Like
  20. Member

    I am spoiled! Everyone in my mother’s family can cook. My Arkansas grandmother taught me to cook at age 12, my sister and brother never learned. One of my daughters did, but the other would probably starve trying to boil an egg. Dave, you need to get an Aussie hat with the corks hanging from around the edges, excellent fly deterrent, at least keeps them away from your mouth. Imagine the attention you’d get walking into a truck stop wearing one. Ha!

    • #20
    • July 12, 2014 at 11:04 am
    • Like
  21. Thatcher

    Misthiocracy:

    “Pepsi okay?”

    I think I could sell a few t-shirts on Cafepress with that slogan.

     Which reminds me of the funny John Caparulo bit: “Is Pepsi okay?” “Is Monopoly money okay? Hmm? Cause, no, Pepsi sucks.”

    I would post the YouTube link, but then I’d have to worry about including a trigger warning for Canadians. Although, come to think of it, I can’t imagine we have any Canadians of the thin-skinned variety here at Ricochet.

    • #21
    • July 12, 2014 at 12:39 pm
    • Like
  22. Inactive

    I never quite mustered nerve to dine at the truck stop eatery that used to be at the edge of Tucson: the Terminal Café.

    • #22
    • July 12, 2014 at 1:43 pm
    • Like
  23. Member

    Always love to read of your travels, Dave.

    • #23
    • July 12, 2014 at 2:32 pm
    • Like
  24. Member

    The kinda place that leaves you neither full nor hungry, great if you’re on a diet. You crack me up!

    When I was a kid we had new neighbors move in next door, a retired Navy officer from the Sub corps and his wife, one of a dozen or so actual native Sascatchawanians (say that five times fast.) One Christmas she brought an offering of some ginger bread men cookies to our house. They were big, about eight inches long and fine looking, golden brown with raisin eyes and red cinnamon candy mouths. I couldn’t resist and grabbed one. That’s when I learned that these were no ordinary cookies. They were meant to last, like circumnavigate the ocean last. In a monsoon. You could bang nails with them, use them as a trivet, or play with them like a doll, or a GI Joe. And, it turns out, if you knawed on them dog bone style long enough with enough slather, they would eventually give up their delicious, ginger cookie delight. They became an annual tradition. loved and cherished, and offered to each and every unsuspecting holiday visitor. It’s amazing no one ever broke a tooth.

    • #24
    • July 12, 2014 at 3:54 pm
    • Like
  25. Member

    That’s even worse than the Midwestern IHOP that served me milk with cigarette ashes in it. When I complained, they replaced it with milk in a glass with lipstick. But the flies were no problem, they were all dead on the floor.

    • #25
    • July 12, 2014 at 4:51 pm
    • Like
  26. Member

    Sisyphus:

    That’s even worse than the Midwestern IHOP that served me milk with cigarette ashes in it. When I complained, they replaced it with milk in a glass with lipstick. But the flies were no problem, they were all dead on the floor.

    • #26
    • July 12, 2014 at 7:09 pm
    • Like
  27. Member

    MaggiMc: I can’t imagine we have any Canadians of the thin-skinned variety here at Ricochet.

    We need thick skins to survive the year-round frozen arctic climate.

    • #27
    • July 12, 2014 at 7:11 pm
    • Like
  28. Member

    Pepsi okay? 

    You may have come upon the last remaining outpost of the late Blackie Auger’s DC-based restaurant empire. Every page of the varied menus for his many establishments carried the imprecation “We do not serve Coca Cola products.” I could never figure out why he felt so strongly about the subject.

    • #28
    • July 13, 2014 at 4:01 am
    • Like
  29. Thatcher

    Dave Carter: Next time, it’s Beanie Weenies in the truck. 

    There are hazards to Beanie Weenies in the truck.

    picdump-1142-1

    (h/t)

    • #29
    • July 13, 2014 at 5:51 am
    • Like
  30. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    Percival:

    Dave Carter: Next time, it’s Beanie Weenies in the truck.

    There are hazards to Beanie Weenies in the truck.

    (h/t)

     It’s okay. We are forever getting “bear reports” on the CB. Ha ha, don’t forget to tip yer waitress. 

    • #30
    • July 13, 2014 at 7:48 am
    • Like
  1. 1
  2. 2