Friday, July 30, 2010

Texas BBQ

Texas is a huge state that acts as if it's a different country and the people there wear funny hats, but despite all that one thing they do well is BBQ.

We are so limited to where we can go, our 70 feet of truck and trailer just can't zip in and out of anywhere, that it is truly a banner day when we find good food close to a truck stop. There are several BBQ joints in the Dallas area (which is the size of Denmark but a lot hotter) that are truck friendly and we have a favorite; Big Bruce's BBQ 8018 S. Lancaster Dallas, TX (972-228-8200). It's right off of I-20 at exit 470. There's a truck stop right across the street so all you have to do is walk across the road to Texas BBQ heaven. I qualify that with the Texas part because there is a difference in BBQ (Florida having the best IMHO) but that's a whole other blog...

We have been to Big Bruce's many times, last night as a matter of fact, but the first time holds a special place in my heart, mainly because free food was involved. So there we were, hot (it's always hot in Texas), hungry (the Tumbleweeds are always hungry) and happily surprised to be within walking distance to BBQ. We park the truck, walk over and Himself makes the mistake of going to wash his hands while I stand there hungrily looking at the menu. The friendly guy behind the counter asked if I had ever been there before and when I said no, he took a huge slab of ribs, whacked it with a cleaver and handed me one of the best ribs I have ever had.(3rd in line behind Daddy's and Dreamland, esteemed company). By the time Himself came out of the bathroom, I was greasy with delight and 2/3 of the way through that rib, and this was a Texas pig, everything is bigger in Texas. He looked at me like I was crazy, "how did you get that??" and "where can I get one?" following the crazy look. I gave him a bite, reluctantly, truth be told, it was good.

As you can tell I was hooked from the get go, free food is one thing but free, good food is a whole other ball of worms! The service is good, you walk up and point to what you want and they dish it up for you. The emphasis is on  meat, smoked and juicy and a lot of it. Ribs, sausage, pork, brisket. They chop up the pork as you order it so it's not just sitting there drying up. The sides are the usual, coleslaw, green beans, red beans (spicy or not), fries. The meat isn't all gooped up with sauce; this is important. I believe in loving your neighbor and free speech and BBQ sauce on the side. It's just the right thing to do and that's all I have to say about that. Big Bruce's BBQ sauce is red, tomato based, fairly thin, spicy and hot. They keep it in a pan over a warmer and you pour it in a cup to dip your white bread in and put on the meat as desired. There is an interesting quality to this sauce that I try to identify every time I have it. It's spicy but not hot and I swear I taste the barest hint of cinnamon or something similar.

I could go on and on about various BBQ but I won't. Do I hear sighs of relief?? Every part of the country has it's own kind, especially the sauces, and they all think it's the best. But what do they know?? So stop what you're doing and get to Texas right now, just go left at Denmark.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Peek into Truck Stop Showers

Big Cabin, OK 

OK, first things first, yes I am dressed. For heaven's sake my mother reads this what kind of person do you think I am??

Truck stop showers are not exciting places but they can vary greatly from truck stop to truck stop.

We have had showers with no hot water, we have had showers with only hot water (didn't think that was possible) we have had showers that had pulsating jets of water from all angles and a TV in the mirror, we have had showers in closets, in the men's room and one time I had a shower in a room that someone used the trash can as a toilet. For #2.

Last night's shower was in one of the nicer places in Big Cabin, Oklahoma. Lots of room, clean and plenty of towels.

We have a book that lists all the truck stops in 48 states and what kind of facilities they have. This book is not always correct and more than once we have been robbed of showers and or meals at the end of the day when Himself is out of hours and we have no choice but stay where we are and eat microwave burritos and take a cat bath in the sink of the bathroom. This is not a fun way to end the day and I don't recommend it.

Having a shower at the end of the day is such a pleasure, right up there with sleeping on clean sheets and you can't really do one without the other.

In most truck tops the showers are in their own hallways and they are individual and lock from the inside. Some have a key-pad thingy outside the door that have a code to punch in to gain access. Once you pay the cashier, usually $10 unless you have bought fuel there recently, you get the code for your shower and you can take as long as you want.

Himself and I usually use the same shower room and we have the procedure down to a science. It's a small space so it's really a ballet of movement, one takes a shower, the other brushes teeth, the steps are coordinated and economical.

That's when those key-pad thingys are tricky because it knows when the door opens, that signals that it's empty and in turn signals the janitor to come in and clean. He punches  in the master code which overrides our code.

Himself usually leaves first so I can have more time and I have been walked in on once this way by the janitor and I screamed nakedly at him and then felt bad because he was old and probably more embarrassed then I was, the way he was apologizing and backing out the door.  He's probably blind now.

Some days there is a screaming need (mine usually) for separate showers and we'll get two, but  99% of the time it's both of us in one and we are in and out in under 30 minutes. And Himself isn't blind yet!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Writing with a Flare (part II)

Spent Flare

Ok, so the challenge was thrown down and I accepted, I would write a descriptive paragraph about a flare instead of a candle.

We have 4 emergency flares, I think three is the legal requirement, and with a glint in my eye, I ask Himself if I can use one. He stares at me. You know you can't light that thing in the truck.

Indignant, I reply, Of course I know, I'm not a dummy! Then to myself, Damn, I was gonna do it inside, party pooper.

So here is the second attempt at the assignment about description.

I am sitting on the rough, black pavement of a truck stop parking lot in Michigan.  It's cloudy but hot and my hands are sticky with sweat. I am holding a red emergency flare, a 15 inch cylinder that looks a lot like Wile E Coyote's Acme dynamite.

I pull the cap off and use it to strike the top of the flare like a match on steroids.  A thrill runs through me, like shooting a gun for the first time, I feel powerful and scared.  Strike one. Strike two. Strike three.

Crack, whooompf! It's lit now!  It's brighter and hotter than I expected, the acrid smoke fills my nostrils, threatening to burn the hairs. I step back. I perch excitedly on a warm concrete barrier upwind. A seagull screams above me and my heart races. The flame is the color of Dorothy's ruby slippers but so bright it hurts to look for more than a second.

It's more macho sparkler than gentle flame sending hissing, buzzing sparks straight up. The sound like a thousand cicadas thrumming in a tree in summer. Two inches left, it won't be long now, the package said 20 minutes and it's been 15 at least. The flame is getting fatter, less stable.  Half inch left, it's almost to the cardboard packing but still it hisses and sparks. There, that's it, the end. The macho spark has turned into an average flame, like Clark Kent after a hard day being Superman.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Writing with a Flare (literally)

Emergency Flare and Me
So we've been on the road for 3 years and I still enjoy it but there comes a time when a girl has to try something new.

I manage the business aspects of our little company, writing down lots of numbers in a book, tracking our cost per mile and flipping around the radio dial. If you happen to read this and work for the IRS, I do A LOT more than that but for security reasons, you know, I'm not saying it. I Just felt the need for a creative outlet.

Enter the online creative writing course.

It started last Wednesday and I am really enjoying it, I don't know why I didn't do an online course before now. Well yes I do, I'm lazy but that's not the point here.

So we get a couple of assignments and I do them right away, post them (hand them in, as it were) and I'm off to a running start. Then we get a benign little assignment to write one paragraph about a lit candle. Just one paragraph using all the descriptive power we can muster to describe the burning candle.  I didn't have a candle the day the assignment came out but I wasn't too worried, I figured I could buy one at the next truck stop.

Twenty-four hours and 3 truck stops later I was still without a candle.

No problem, I know what a candle looks like, I'll just imagine it and write that down.

I stare intently into the middle distance trying to conjure an invisible candle.  My mind is a blank. I have no idea what a candle looks like.  I search the truck for something flammable. We have emergency flares, those suckers would glow  I bet, but quickly dismiss this, the assingment is for a candle.  I have matches, I'll just hold those and write what I see.  I light the first match and quickly write down the colors and shapes. It fizzes out. I light another, it fizzes faster than the first. I light another, drop it and burn my bare thigh, maybe I should be dressed for this exercise.

I think of the flares again.

I search for something else to light. A banana, my pencil?  I know;  a rolled up paper towel! I am excited, this will work, I think.

I roll it tightly, twisting it's paper neck.  It too fizzles, even quicker than the matches.  I search some more. I need some kind of accelerant. I make another paper towel roll, this time dipped in engine oil. I light it. It stays lit, hurray!

The truck fills with smoke, my nostrils sting, the embers flit around my bed. This is no warm glow, it's a conflagration. I drown the oily flame thrower, clean up the mess and write eight sentences about a flaming snake.

Still the flares beckon...

I managed to write about an imaginary candle but felt like a fake and a fraud. I didn't have a candle and surely the teacher and everyone in the class would know and I would be laughed out of the class and rode out on a rail, whatever that means. So I admitted (whined) I didn't have a candle and one of the students said why not write about the flare since the whole thing is supposed to be creative writing.

Now I had a challenge and I can't resist a challenge!

Next episode: The lighting of the flare ( this is not a dramatic pause, it's a pee break)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Food Finds in Illinois

There we were. A shadow of our former selves. It was a dark and stormy night.

On the menu: Snapping Turtle

Ok. It wasn't dark and stormy, but snapping turtle was on the menu.

I-80 exit 81 Utica, Illinois. Here we are, out of hours and stuck at a truck stop with no restaurant. Great for getting a shower, not so great for a non-fast food dinner. We bobtail into town, just south of the interstate, only minutes from the truckstop. Utica downtown is just a one street affair but they have a nice big parking lot where we fit nicely. The guy at the Loves truck stop recommended a steak place but they were closed. We did find a little Irish pub that looked promising, fairly full of local family types, not bar fly types. It was Duffys Irish Tavern. The chalkboard boasted a special of froglegs or shepard's pie. This was promising.

I have had frog legs before and like them very much but I am always on the lookout for something different and untried. And there it was, Snapping Turtle. I felt a little bad for choosing it, I have had turtles as pets so I have a soft spot for them. But these were mean, ugly, finger biters (as Himself convinced me) and so I shouldn't feel bad...Right? I asked the waitress if it really was snapping turtle, she said yes they get them from a farm in Wisconsin. I didn't know they had any turtles in Wisconsin. In any case the internal debate didn't last long; I eat meat, plain and simple and it would be hypocritical to not eat something just because I think it's cute. Not fair to the ugly animals!

Back to the food. Himself got the Shepard's Pie, he's a sucker for it and it was good. Lots of roast meat and veggie goodness with mountains of cheesy mashed potatoes on top. I got the Snapping Turtle even though the waitress described it as fishy roast beef (very accurate, unfortunately). She said I could send it back if I didn't like it, but I knew I wouldn't. I just can't waste food not in my DNA, and anyway I love a challenge.

They fry it in pieces, I had 5 pieces each about the size of a baseball. Not bad at first. It's all dark meat, stringy, just like roast beef, I swear you couldn't tell the difference. It comes with the bones but it doesn't look like a turtle body. Did you know they had spinal cords? Well, they do trust me. Also I got a shoulder/flipper looking bone. It was very fishy. Now when some people say fishy they mean "it tastes like fish" which is good fishy. I like fish fishy. This was bait fishy. Like bait fish that has been sitting in the sun for several hours covered with swamp mud and picked over by finicky raccoons.

But I ate it, one bite turtle, 4 bites french fries one swig Irish beer until it was mostly gone. Now I can say I ate Snapping Turtle. I don't need to do it again.

The service was great, the atmosphere friendly and warm and I'm sure the froglegs are good!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Walking Among the Ruins

We didn't discover an ancient civilization but we did have a nice walk among the junk in memory of Harley.

Today we are in Northern Illinois. We stopped for the day early enough to walk among the corn and soybean fields and happened upon this old abandoned equipment. Harley would have loved this walk; scaring up rabbits that hide under the junk, sniffing at the pile of something that smelled rotten, playing hide and seek with us in the cornfield.

Harley was our boxer and we lost her in December. She had been having seizures for about year, but they were under control with medicine. One day the medicine quit working. She had a seizure and then another and another and never really came out of them. We spent five days trying everything the Vet suggested but in the end we had to let her go.

I don't look too closely at the end. It starts looking back at me and I have to divert my eyes, look away. So I focus on her and the dog she was, is really because she's still with us, we talk to her all the time.

 In fact, since she peed and pooped in every state we drive through we can't get away from her. It's comforting to think her scent may still be in all the places we walked. I'd even like to think some of her poop is still out there somewhere!

She was a good dog. Not because she obeyed, she rarely did, especially if antelope were involved and she wasn't particularly smart and her breath smelled like a garbage can behind a fish market. When she yawned, you knew it.

 All that I would take back in a heartbeat though. She was a happy dog. That's the best way to describe her. A go anywhere do anything happy to be with her peeps dog. She was so friendly, I think she regarded the whole world as her fans. She loved people but not in a needy, big-eyed, greedy pet me way. Just, "hey! I'm happy to see one of my loyal fans, if you want to pet me I"ll wait". Of course, if it was dark and time for bed then forget it, a diva needs her sleep.

She was one in a million and the perfect dog for us. She is part of us and we are better for having known her. Our time was too brief, but rich. And worth every minute.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ohio and $5 Coffee....

So there I was: An Ohio turnpike travel plaza. Morning. I need coffee, naturally and there it is: Starbucks.

It was a face off of mammoth proportions. Would I succumb? Or would I hold to my principles, die on this hill and maintain a sense of self that I could be proud of?

Let me back up.

My friends know that I have drawn a line in the sand in regards to Starbucks. I love a Cafe Latte as much as the next gal but have decided that I can only get them from places that aren't Starbucks. Why?

Well it comes from a place of being anti anything name-brand. You know, just getting things because they are cool or are supposed to be good?

It's kind of a joke among my friends and I really don't have anything against Starbucks per se. Except that they are intimidating places with all their frappacinos, skinny lattes, macchiatos etc. and I swear I have never been in one that the people were friendly and helpful.

If you don't know what you want right away and you stare dumbly up at the menu, the barista shoots waves of "hurry up, moron" out of her eyeballs. And even if you are the only person in the place they make you come down to the red light, the sacred place where your expensive coffee is placed.

Also the way they size their cups drives me crazy and I refuse to say Venti, it's probably not even a word and even if it is it doesn't have any place among tall and short.

There I feel better now. But really, does it make sense to not like something that you like just because other people like it? Isn't that reverse discrimination or at least reverse snobbery? I don't know.

Does anyone care? I doubt it. Actually I hope not, shouldn't you be doing something right now???

Back to the story:

We last left off with me against Starbucks. A shootout at the OK corral. Would my principles stand up or would I get that $5 coffee and let the Man keep me down? Would good triumph over evil? Could I hold my head up and look myself in the mir....Oh screw it!

Yes. I got the coffee. I even called it a Venti.

Sometimes a coffee is just a coffee.

And it was good.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Picking up Pigment in Pennsylvania

As long haul truckers we have the chance to haul all kinds of things. Everything you can buy, touch or see can be shipped by truck. We have hauled everything from beer, coffee, clothes, toilet paper, torpedo wire (really), and hairspray.

Today in Eastern Pennsylvania we picked up the color red. Literally. Just look at the picture of the bottom of my shoe! This place takes various metals, melts them down with some kind of acid chemical, extracts the iron oxide from it, dries it and manufactures it so it becomes a red pigment to be used in a multitude of things, from paint to make-up. I know all this stuff because my husband, Himself, asked the guy who loaded us. There were about a half miles worth of buildings, pipes and industrial looking things. And all of it was covered with this fabulous red dust. It was a beautiful color and it was on everything. I only got out of the truck once to go to the bathroom and I wasn't even in the main building and when I got back in I noticed that I was tracking vibrant red all over the carpet.

Now we are driving through the Poconos and headed west. Apparently garlic is grown in this region, we passed a billboard for a Garlic Festival in early September. Southern Virginia has a Melon Festival in July, Wisconsin has Cranberry Festival, Illinois has a Corn Festival and Montana has a Testicle Festival. There is no end to the things that can be celebrated! Trust me, I've seen the billboard.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's Tuesday it must be Virginia

We are in Virginia. Again. South Boston to be exact and there's not even a North Boston, that I know of. This happens sometimes when we get caught in a loop of sameness for a week. Pick up a load in Virginia take it to Pennsylvania. Get a load in Pennsylvania and take it to Virginia and on and on in a vicious circle of sameness.

We travel all 48 states but sometimes this happens and we have to say enough is enough, give us something else. The exciting part of this life is going to different places and seeing new things. Hard enough when you're on interstates mostly and limited to where an 18 wheeler can go.

Today we have dog food, Ol' Roy, the good stuff! You can smell a dog food plant from miles away, it's not bad really, not like a paper plant, but pretty intense. I had to wander through the plant to find the women's room (drivers get their own but it's usually just a men's) and it was hot and loud. I imagine dog food has to be cooked but the only part of production I saw was the bagging part. You always hear of horse meat being used but never see that listed as an ingredient, I wonder if it's true...

I always have an eagle eye for misspelling on signs (which is funny, I don't have the same eye for my own writing-I hate to proof read) and there was a sign in the shipping office giving advice on what to do in case of a tornado and it said "please exit in a calm manor". Now just where are you going to find a manor to exit calmly in? I've never even been in a manor, I think they only have those in England!

We got an email once from a German friend who speaks English really well but doesn't always get the spelling right. She wrote about having a problem with a big company for something she bought and she said it was just a "night mayor" dealing with them.

I think I would like to be the night mayor of a calm manor. What could go wrong in a calm manor?? And besides, you're only the mayor at night when everyone is sleeping!

So today we will battle the Richmond, DC and Baltimore traffic once again. It all seems so familiar....

Monday, July 19, 2010

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

I'm going to say right off the bat that 2/3 of this book was really hard to read and more than a little over my head.What is Quality? Aristotle versus Plato. Romantic viewpoint in philosophy versus Classic. Chautauquas whatever they are. Thinking so deeply the author went insane. ( I do a lot of thinking but it's mostly about food) But besides having the coolest title ever, it was a good read.

A man and his 11 year old son are on a motorcycle trip, along with another couple, from Minnesota to California. The narrator is the dad and he gives little lectures to the reader in between the story of the road trip. These lectures are pretty wordy and academic but thought provoking.

The biggest thing I got out of the book was his idea that working with your hands, fixing things, taking things apart and figuring out how they work, making things work again is an art. In the same way a sculptor or painter creates so does a mechanic. There's a part in the book where he says something like, watch the face of a beginner or an unskilled mechanic (plumber, electrician, etc) and compare that with the craftsman. The unskilled follows a single line of pursuit, step 1, step 2 not able to see the big picture or wholeness of the project.The craftsman is absorbed in what he's doing making decisions as he goes because he is one with the machine. He knows it, can see what the relation is of all the pieces and what the outcome of each step will be. I'm a little biased in this area because I have the good fortune to be married to a craftsman of mechanics. He would roll his eyes if I said that but it's true. He understands how things work in a way that I just don't get. We all know people like that, they can take a thing apart, figure it out, fix it and put it back together. Not because they learned it, they way you learn multiplication or grammar but because they know it. They do have to learn of course but this comes from a different place than just rote memorization. I think this kind of skill deserves respect.

I have always been in awe of people who have this natural ability fix things things. It's a combination of curiousness and confidence. They are curious about how things work and confident in their ability take it apart and put it back together. I don't think we give enough weight to being skilled this way. College is the big dream and it has it's place but it's not for everyone. I don't know how it is everywhere, but when I was in high school the shop classes were not something to be proud of. The burnouts and losers took shop. You were either on the path to college or you were nothing. It shouldn't be that way. The world needs mechanics, plumbers, electricians, welders, builders every bit as doctors, teachers and (yuck) lawyers. Equally.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of those books that aren't that much fun at the time but you feel better having finished it. It will make you think and that's a good thing, even if it's not about food.

"That's all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There's no part in it, no shape in it, that is not out of someone's mind."

Wrecks and Respite

We have been through/around DC twice in 2 days. That's enough thank you. The traffic is crazy. Yesterday we saw a vehicle on fire on the side of the interstate. We could feel the heat of it as we drove past. There was a lady ahead of us in a little car who was so mesmerized by the flames that she just stared hypnotically at it, in front of her, instead of the 80,0000 pound monster behind her. She was millimeters from being smashed but could not take her eyes off that flame. I guess everyone was waiting for a big explosion, I mean this car was covered in flames, if it were movie it would have blown up just as we were driving by, the car shooting fifty feet straight up. Alas life is never as exciting as the movies.

On a better note we got a motel last night. A nice reprieve from the road. We don't watch tv at all in the truck so the main thing we do in a motel is watch lots of tv. It's like a drug. I'm glad we limit it because I am the BIGGEST sucker for it. I can watch anything and just be mesmerized like that lady staring at the burning car. The other nice thing about a motel room is a private bathroom. All by myself. No sharing. Not even with Himself! Ahhhhhhhhhh... You take for granted brushing your teeth alone. No one looking at you like you're committing a crime, no one grunting and groaning as if they were giving birth. Some things you really need to do alone.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Life on the Road

My husband and I have been on the road since 2007. We are a one truck business, he drives and I do the books. We average 10,000 miles a month and have fun doing it. The window of our "office" is the open road and everyday is something new. We get along well which is good since the we are together 24/7 and our living space is the size of a walk-in closet. Actually, I have been in walk-in closets that are bigger but that's ok. It suits us. We are minimalists by nature, I think.

So I thought I would start this as a way to spend my time more constructively. I mean really, how often can I look up people on Facebook that I care nothing about or watch dogs jumping on trampolines on youtube. Seriously, I think my brain is starting to atrophy.

If all you can picture when you think of truckers is a big fat guy, none too clean with a penchant for peeing in a bottle and then throwing it out the window just stop right there. They are out there. We are not them. Himself ( my husband) and I are reasonably weighted (I just made that up), clean (except for an accident I had today with my coffee cup) and have never once littered so much as a straw wrapper much less a pee bottle.

That's it for now. I must learn how to use this new technology called blogging. It's incredible the things you can do with the internet. Pretty soon they will be putting a man on the moon!