Monday, February 22, 2010

TRUCK STOPS



We stop now and then at a Flying J Truckstop---there seem to be several up and down I-65, and I head straight for the “Cappuccino” machine---French Vanilla for me. You fill a cup (your own, if you caught that 2.99 special a couple of years ago---buy the fat black squatness of the insulated cup with their logo, and you can fill it forever with .49 coffee.

Then turn around to the “cream” dispenser---see---it says so right there on the front---“REAL CREAM.” You’ll have left a bit of headspace in the cup for a good pull on the cream handle---again French Vanilla for my sissy-drink proclivities, and give her a stir. Yummmmmy sweet richness, almost liquid dessert, and either caffeine or sugar will wake you right the heck up, Yes, Sirree! You’ll be sippin’ and ridin’ and singin’ along with the Fifties on Sirius in no time.

Plus they have REALLY CLEAN bathrooms.

But for the real Truckstop experience, the ones with the old-time flavor wrapped up in a little caffay on the side with a trucker’s preference of Quantity over Quality, the shelves of gum and mints and cigarettes and little bottles of Wake-Up and Alert, along with gum-snapping cashiers, a fry-cook whose tattoos might have been applied by kindergarteners, and a couple of take-no-prisoners waitresses who’ve been there longer than the asphalt---get OFF the big highways.

Get onto one of the smaller two-or-four-lanes which cross the country up and down through the small towns and the old routes which have been deserted for the Interstate, but which still provide the only feasible way to get to a LOTTA places. Rural folks need trucked-in stuff, too, and things change at a slower pace. Faster ain’t always better.

Look for a place with fewer than four gas pumps, and red ones are most indicative of a good spot---if the words "Filling Station" are posted anywhere, it's well worth a look. There may BE Lottery ads in the windows, but most are eclipsed of daylight by Marlboro, Camel, Coke, and Pepsi ads, as well as slick posters for Gospel Shows, Tractor Pulls, and a hand-lettered print-out about the benefit for the little Johnson boy.

Walk in---sometimes through a single door, from the days when folks knew what was in and what was out, and politely waited their turn to get where they were going. Plus, the traffic was not so great, nor in so much of a hurry. Take a deep breath---you’ll smell diesel fumes, tobacco smoke (IS there such a thing as outlawing smoking in a TruckStop??---I don’t think they can legislate that) and a combination of cooking scents, coffee, myriad ersatz flavors of rearview mirror hangers, paper, languidly dying fruit, old grease and popcorn, all underlaid with the deep essence of black rubber.

The counters should have hand-lettered signs on stuff---bOiLeD PeAnuTs and Hoop Cheese and Smoke Sausage---an authenticity bonus for a gallon jug of pickled eggs afloat in pinkish brine, and a National Historic Site plaque for a matching gallon of pig feet. A chipped bowl of boiled eggs with a salt shaker handy, a rack of fly-swatters, a preponderance of Nabs, Cheetos and Pig Skins on the hanging-racks, and stacked cans of various sardines furnish the place nicely, and in the old days, before everybody detoured off this nice route, a whole wheel of Hoop Cheese would have sat awaitin’ the knife in the glass coldcase.

A waitress named Ruby, Be-AT-trice, or Pearl can just MAKE a truckstop. Throw in some beans and cornbread, maybe Dumplin’s on Tuesday, meatloaf and greasy burgers, with those three-inch paper napkins in the chrome pinch-em-in-the-middle dispenser, a little leaf of green paper for a “ticket” and you know you’re home.

Before they're all gone.



3 comments:

Tonja said...

We like to ride our motocycle out in the country on days that are pretty. We love to stop in t these little stores, and go inside. I have smelled that exact scent you described!

Keetha said...

Yes, yes, yes! Love these places. They're not always easy to find but are always, always worth the effort.

Kouign Aman said...

That is quite the photograph too.