Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Travel and Food and Voting

As we continue to explore food memories of mine, I think it's time to turn to travel and the food memories that come with it. When I was really young there weren't a lot of fast food places the way there are now. You could go for hours without seeing a place to eat and there was no huddle at exits of Burger King and Taco Bell, McDonalds and IHOP. When you had to make an effort to find a place to eat while on the road, it was more of an experience. It could be a good experience or a terrible one. Fast food places are usually franchises and that means that they keep the food the same and the standards the same. Predictable but boring. Local places can be greasy spoons or they can have excellent food or anything in between. No matter what, they are rarely boring.

About the only place I can think of that was a franchise restaurant in the 50s was Howard Johnson's Restaurants. They were usually located near the freeway or turnpike or main road in the area and their portions were fairly generous. That was on the East Coast so I couldn't tell you about other places in the country. Since eating out in general was too expensive if you had a party of eight or more like my full family did, the only time I remember eating at a Howard Johnson's was with a friend and her family.

We had fried clams. They did have a nice seafood flavor but were mostly breading and were really chewy. That's about all I remember. There were fries and tartar sauce and maybe a leaf of iceberg lettuce or two. I love seafood, but this wasn't worth repeating.

On the other hand, Dad took a few of us fishing at Chincoteague Island one summer and we ate fish at a local place, but I don't remember the name of the place. It was clean but not at all fancy, with oilcloth as tablecloths and paper napkins. The fried fish and hush puppies were outstanding, moist inside and crispy outside and full of flavor! We also were allowed to order soda to drink, which was a rare treat. A recent meal at Courtney's, a seafood place in Maryland near the Chesapeake with Sweetie, Kate, my younger brother and the pirates was very similar. Really great seafood, but not fancy at all. The boat in the second photo was pulled up to the dock right by Courtney's...I think the owner was going in to have some of that wonderful seafood.

In the early 70s when I was traveling a five state territory on the East Coast for my job, I always tried to eat at local places because the food was usually better and often cheaper than in the restaurants that were part of the hotels and motels I stayed at. Blue Plate specials at small restaurants were usually an excellent choice and I ate some great short ribs, meatloaf, stuffed peppers and fried chicken this way.

In the morning I would usually eat breakfast at the lunch counter of the drugstore I called on first. I usually just had eggs and bacon and toast and coffee or tea, but the fun part was listening to the locals discuss the issues of the day, particularly local concerns. I always had a morning paper to look at so that it wasn't obvious that I was listening in on their conversations. Since I traveled to big cities and tiny rural towns and everything in between it was an education. As a matter of fact, I thought of it as my version of grad school. I still remember the amazement of the Pennsylvania Dutch folks who made an old fashioned ice cream that had chew to it when I paid a fair amount to have some wrapped up with dry ice so that I could take some home to Dad in Virginia. He used to talk about the ice cream of his youth that was so much like that. At the time most grocery store ice cream was pumped full of air. He was pretty amazed, too, but delighted with this vanilla ice cream with little specks of vanilla seeds and a firm, chewy texture and rich, rich flavor. There was a lot of butter fat in that ice cream!

I still think about what I learned, especially these days when my country seems so divided politically. The concerns of city folks were often very different from those in the suburbs and very much different from people in the rural areas. I think part of our current dysfunction stems from the fact that we don't get exposure to what ordinary, regular people are really interested in or worried about in the various sectors of our society and country. We tend to hang out with and hear from those who think like we do and the internet makes it easy to be cut off from differing views. Travel is an antidote, especially if you leave the interstate and try eating at local places. Just remember to carry some reading material to cover your eavesdropping!

If you live in the U.S.A., I hope that you voted if you are eligible to vote. It is a hard won right and we are pretty lucky to have the right to vote and make our voices heard. It may not be perfect, but people from all over the world are envious of our freedoms, including this one. If the polls are still open and you haven't voted...why are you here reading this?...go VOTE.

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