i’m just back from visiting my daughter in Columbus, Ohio, and from the long drive out there i gathered two truck-stop stories i must share.
1. Somewhere in mid-Pennsylvania there is a Pilot truck stop with an attached eatery called “Country Kitchen.” Seeing its name along with McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s on signs just before an exit, i decided to try to find that one, on the theory that i could sit down and be served at a table, and spread out my map and figure out how far i’d come and where i was and how far i had to go, and just be more comfortable. Big mistake! i was indeed seated at a table and given a menu, but ninety percent of the food was the fried stuff you get at a roadside ice-cream stand, and it all came in a plastic, fake-wicker basket lined with waxy white paper and in the photos on the menu it looked absolutely vile. I asked the waitress “What’s good here?” and she immediately recommended something that was not on the menu: a meatloaf sandwich. She said she loved it “because it doesn’t have any onions or anything in it; it’s just pure meat.”
Big sigh, but i figured, how many times am i going to be in the middle of Pennsylvania, so i said, well, that’ll be fine, i’ll try that.
And then i asked her what they had to drink, and she said they have homemade iced tea. i asked if it was sweetened or unsweetened and, after this long buildup, her reply is why i sat down to post this today: She said, “We have it both ways, but i like the unsweetened kind better because the sweet tea makes my lips stick to my teeth.”
p.s. Both the meatloaf and the gravy they slathered on it even though i’d asked for no gravy had an oddly sweet flavor. Maybe they moisten them with their iced tea.
2. My other truck-stop story occurred in a place called, if i remember correctly, Ellinton, Pa., where i saw a place with a sign in scrolling lights that said, “Eat here and get gas.” A joke from the 1950s or earlier, to be sure, but i figured, well, they have a sense of humor about themselves anyway, so i pulled in. After i’d parked and was headed inside, i noticed over the entrance another, truly intriguing, sign, painted in huge letters: “Home of the WORST apple pie in America!” Only the word “WORST” had been crossed out and above it, at an angle, was written, with a caret pointing up to it, “BEST.” i used the bathroom and bought myself a pack of gum and a Milky Way but, before i left, i couldn’t resist asking the cashier about the sign. She said ever since they opened about 10 years earlier, all the truckers used to come in and say they had the worst apple pie they’d ever tasted, so they decided to have fun with that and put up a sign saying so. And it worked: Word spread among the truckers, and a lot of them came in just to try their awful apple pie. (Why was it awful, i asked. She said, “I don’t know; it just didn’t have any spices in it, like it didn’t have any sugar, or cinnamon, or anything, i think.” Odd.) But then two years ago, she said, they had a “Food Festival” in downtown Ellinton, and this local woman whose actual name is Mrs. Best won the prize for the best apple pie, and they asked her for her recipe, and she gave it to them, and ever since then, they’ve boasted the “BEST” apple pie in the U.S.
And there we left it. And there you have it.