Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food
We agreed on a plan: we would review every restaurant in America. This seemed not the slightest bit of a stretch to us. Not having traveled much, we looked at the Rand McNally map spread out on the kitchen table and could plainly see that America was a manageable place, no more than a foot and a half in length, composed of pretty pastel-colored states balanced on one another like building blocks.
Strategy well in place, we launched into part two of the plan: buying a suitable car for the journey. Just as buying a new handbag has always been Jane's favorite antidote for whatever ails her, buying a car is Michael's solution to just about any problem. Even Sigmund Freud would blush at the patent sexual symbolism of both objects, but we were too young and dumb to notice or care.
At a nearby car dealership, we met a salesman whose necktie we remember to this day, more than a quarter century later. Somehow this guy had managed to knot it absolutely flat, so that its front apron cascaded directly from his collar with no lump whatsoever, sort of like a sheet of molten polyester. As we told the salesman our needs and he touted the glories of the new '75 Chevy line, we paid far more attention to his neckwear than to vehicular statistics. When we finally stopped marveling at it and told him our budget, he became significantly less chummy, got up from his desk, and led us around to the back lot, where the less alluring and less expensive used vehicles were kept, out of sight of new-car shoppers. He pointed to a pre- owned Chevrolet Suburban. It was vomit green--the barf of someone who lived on frozen peas. Several body panels had been painted in a shop that didn't worry too much about matching the factory-original metallic color, so it had become a kind of rolling ode to all possible avocado hues, including even black (the hood). It was huge and it was ugly, something like a cross between a World War II tank and an over-the- hill Brady Bunch station wagon.
Jane grimaced at the sight of it. Michael tried to convince her that it had a rugged look, befitting the intrepid travelers we wanted to be. He lifted the hood and looked at the engine, pretending to know what he was inspecting. And just to show the salesman that we were no patsies when it came to purchasing a roadworthy vehicle, we both walked around and kicked all four tires. They didn't pop on impact, but neither did any of them appear to have a lot of tread.
One thing the car had in its favor was vast amounts of room inside. To save money in our travels, we planned to camp out in it, forgoing motel rooms. "I'll sew curtains and we can hang them on the back windows for privacy," Jane said optimistically, never having sewn anything in her life.
"And it does have two air conditioners," Michael noted. "We won't be hot!"
By the time we wrote the check, we were convinced that this heap would be a rather deluxe residence on wheels for the next two years.
The following morning, on the way to the grocery store, the left rear tire blew. And that summer gas prices doubled. We faced the first big gas crisis in a vehicle that got approximately eight miles to the gallon.
Jane had plenty of time to sew curtains for the back windows, because five months into the research for Roadfood, we had not yet left Connecticut. In fact, we hadn't even left New Haven County.
Yale had trained us to be meticulous in our research, and, ever the diligent academics, we commenced work on the guidebook by picking up the local Yellow Pages and opening to "Restaurant." We began with those starting with the letter A. We ate at the Acropolis Diner and made notes about the good souvlaki. We went to Addie's Café, where we didn't much care for the hash browns, then on to Angela's Pizzeria, where we thought the pepperoni pie was better then the sausage, and Archie Moore's tavern, where the beer inevitably distracted us from our mission of sampling the menu.
At the end of five months we had gotten to Donat's, an overreaching French restaurant where rich professors ate, and had yet to travel more than twelve miles from home. We envisioned the millennia that stretched out before we began reviewing restaurants in, say, Kansas.
Something was wrong with our plan.
"People will not take us seriously if we haven't eaten everywhere," moaned Jane, who, like so many writers, lives in constant fear that someone will discover she doesn't know everything--or anything at all.
"Tough shit," Michael responded. Jane thought he had a point.
We sat down at the kitchen table again, scrutinized the map, and came up with a new plan.
With a Magic Marker we drew a squiggly continuous line through forty-eight states. It would take a full two years and countless tanks of gas to travel this route, but at least we would finally get on the road. We would see all the pretty pastel states and eat in every one of them.