BOOK EXCERPT

Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food

The new plan in place, we went shopping for supplies. We loaded the cavernous green Suburban with inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags, mosquito netting, snakebite kits, and everything else two urban Jews who had never slept anywhere but in a bed figured they would need to camp out.

"No!" Michael railed as Jane insisted on buying tin plates, a small Coleman stove, and a stack of collapsible cutlery. "We are going to be eating in a dozen restaurants every day," he said. "The last thing we're going to want to do when we make camp is cook another meal."

Jane added a portable oxygen tank to the stash of material, because she was convinced that she would not be able to breathe in mountainous states like Colorado.

We were good to go. We spent a whole day packing the Suburban with supplies to take us across the country and through all seasons. The lumpy calico curtains Jane had sewn for the back-seat area made the car even uglier, if that was possible. We turned the skeleton key in the lock of our cabin door and drove away.

We sped west out of Connecticut over the Hudson River and into New Jersey. First stop: early lunch in a diner. Ahh yes, a New Jersey diner! What could be a more excellent start to our adventure? Sadly, the food was mediocre; the mashed potatoes were made from a powdered mix. When we asked the waitress what kind of pie there was, she answered, "Red." Sure enough, the slice we got was sweet translucent red mucilage without even a hint of fruit. We got off the Jersey Turnpike a few exits farther south and found a place called Nature's Cupboard. It was a vegetarian restaurant run by Woodstock alumni, and it smelled more like Nature's Locker Room. We didn't bother to order, just turned around and headed south again. After three more unproductive stops at highway exit ramps, where we found rubbery chicken croquettes, a desiccated Philly cheese steak, and cardboard- crusted pizza, our enthusiasm was waning. By the time we got to Maryland, it was suppertime.

We decided to spend our first night on the road at a place called Jellystone Park, one of a national chain of campgrounds that feature a goofy image of Yogi Bear to welcome visitors. For a few bucks paid to a lady at the gatehouse, we were directed to a small plot of turf where we were told to park and set up.

The gatekeeper knew of no restaurants anywhere near the park, but she did direct us to a convenience store, where we bought readymade ham sandwiches on white bread, bags of potato chips, and cans of soda, which we ate sitting in the front seat of our car in the store parking lot. We drove to our spot at Jellystone Park to bed down for the night.

The place was filled with families in oversized motor homes with small cars attached to the back. Their immense recreational vehicles sprouted TV antennas and had golf carts and lawn chairs lashed to the roof. Many of them were plastered with decals proclaiming their owners'membership in the Good Sam club, meaning they were certifiably nice people--good Samaritans--who would pull alongside a wounded or disabled fellow traveler to offer help. On the backs of some of the big rolling homes, the owners had their names painted in florid script, generally using the errant apostrophe so common on mailboxes everywhere: "The Smith's: Bill and Edna."

The RV community took one look at our overgrown station wagon and turned their backs on us. They may have been Good Sams to one another, but we were clearly not in their league. We didn't have a real motor home with a television and kitchen and wall-to-wall carpeting, and besides, the curtains Jane had stitched were flagrantly homemade. They hated us. We hated them.

"Don't you just know those stupid Winnebagos are going to be clogging every superhighway from here to California," Michael groused, imagining us at the end of a long line of motor homes traveling at thirty miles an hour from coast to coast, staring for weeks at the ass end of "The Smith's: Bill and Edna." It was at that moment that we vowed to travel only on back roads--a spur-of-the-moment decision that determined the path for our eating career.

The RV camp-out was the longest night of our lives. We tossed and turned on the clammy rubber air mattresses. The Suburban, which had seemed so big when it was empty, came to feel as claustrophobic as a mummy's sarcophagus. Despite the mosquito netting, which had a habit of getting tangled around our legs, we were soon swatting at bugs the size of velociraptors, and when we had to pee in the middle of the night, we were too afraid to make the trek to the Jellystone restrooms, lest a bear eat us. Despite all our snakebite kits and collapsible silverware, we had forgotten to take along a flashlight.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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