Friday, April 16, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - Six Days on the Road

I started out on this road trip intending to be home on the fourth day, a whirlwind trip down south to see Daughter #2, then home and back to my usual routine. As with all good intentions, they are subject to change. A phone call from Daughter #1 a few hours after I’d hit the road extended my trip by two days and over six hundred miles. Not that I’m complaining, but I’d packed enough clothes for three days with a few incidentals and accidentals. Those are the clothes you take in case the weather dude was wrong, you end up eating someplace where the food doesn’t come in a paper wrapper, and of course some clothes to wear to the hotel pit.

I’ve been trying really hard to eat well and make it to the pit six out of seven days each week so I knew the trip wasn’t going to be easy. Sitting on your ass for hours a day behind your only heavy lifting consisting of a sweaty fast food paper cup does not make for healthy living. I have a new respect for long haul truck drivers. I honestly don’t know how they do it. It’s a wonder more people aren’t killed on the nation’s freeways each year by truck drivers whose hearts give out from the kind of food they eat every day.

Truly, I have no excuse for eating like a truck driver. My vehicle is of a standard size and I can pull into any parking lot, anywhere so my eating choices are greatly expanded. It was my decision to either take advantage of this freedom and eat as well as one can reasonably expect to do on the road, or chuck it all and enjoy myself. I decided on a modified approach to the problem, after all I was well south of the Mason-Dixon Line where food is serious business.

Day one wasn’t so bad. I managed to eat reasonably well. I declined the French fries with my chicken wrap and opted for the unsweetened iced tea. Of course the waitress looked at me like I was an alien from another planet. I was a conundrum and clearly she was confused. I spoke with a Texas accent, acceptable in this part of the country, but I ordered like a Yankee. That’s when I got the phone call. Perhaps I should have gotten the sweet tea after all, because I clearly wasn’t thinking straight when I agreed to extend my trip and drive even deeper into the South on a recon mission.

The further South I went the worse my decisions became. Let me just say that I don’t think anyone can travel through the Southern United States and not succumb to the food there. I found myself eating in places called Biscuitville and Kountry Kookin. I couldn’t pass a Cracker Barrel without drooling. I decided early on that I would limit my intake of artery paste (they call this gravy in the South) to once a day. This is not easy to do. Everything on the menu comes with artery paste on it, or at the very least offered on the side. You get used to words like smothered, drizzled, and topped. These are code words meaning there is a sauce involved. Everything has one of these words in the description. Asking to have something plain is a tip off that you aren’t from around there and suddenly you notice everyone is giving your table a wide berth. Everyone in the restaurant eyes you as if they’re afraid you may infect them with your Yankee-ism.

Frying is an art form in the South. Everything on the menu can be ordered fried. This includes vegetables and dessert. Some things proudly declare this in the name as in Chicken Fried Steak and Fried Tomatoes. Other things are more subtle, okra for example. I don’t think this green vegetable can be found north of Mason-Dixon, but is a staple in any good southern kitchen. Being a southerner myself I know there are only three ways to serve okra, pickled, stewed in gumbo, or fried, but southern menus only list okra. It’s not until you see it piled on your plate that you understand they were referring to fried okra on the menu.

On the fourth day I made the error of asking simply for tea. Here you don’t have to specify iced, it’s assumed and unless you specify otherwise you will receive sweet tea. I realized my mistake as soon as the waiter delivered the half gallon glass and there was no little box of sweetener packets on the table. I took a sip which confirmed my suspicions. I had long since decided that I didn’t want misery for company on the remainder of my trip, so I drank the syrupy brew. There’s nothing quite like the combination of caffeine and corn syrup (yep, this is what makes sweet tea sweet) to get your motor running.

It was downhill (pardon the pun) from then on. I gave in to temptation. I ordered fried stuff, smothered stuff and gave up my quest to eat healthy. I reasoned that when I returned home I would resume my low fat, low sugar, no artery paste lifestyle so what would be the harm in indulging my taste buds for a few days. By day six there wasn’t a trucker on the road with more cholesterol in his blood than me. With just one more road meal ahead of me I swung my four wheeler into the parking lot of a burger joint. Up until then I’d avoided the national chains. I had eaten one burger, but it was grilled at the ball field and I’d turned down the potato chips and washed it down with a diet cola. I was due a fast food orgy.

The smell of grease and charred meat filled the air. It was intoxicating. I lost my head. My numb backside pushed for the salad menu, but I remembered a news segment about the hidden calories in fast food salads, so I gave in and ordered the cheeseburger and fries. Yep, fries. The counter lady asked me what kind of drink (they filled them for you). I eyed the tank of sweet tea. In a rare moment of sanity I ordered a diet cola, not that it was going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but it eased my conscience.

Salt is cheap. It must be because it is used liberally at that place. I was revved on fat and salt and caffeine so I ordered a cup of frozen chocolate dairy product to go and headed for the freeway. I was less than two short hours from home and fueled up. With sweaty paper fast food cup in hand I put the pedal to the metal, so to speak and headed north.

As I wove in and out of the line of eighteen wheelers I shoveled spoonfuls of cold chocolate soft serve into my mouth. I cranked up the radio to hear what was now my theme song. I breezed like silver lightning around another truck grinding his way up the next hill while I sang…. Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight.

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