So…Where Are You From?

I’m always interested in where people are from. Maybe it’s because it allows me to end a sentence with a preposition without fear of reprimand. After all, no one asks “From where do you hail?

Maybe it’s a Kentucky thing. One thing you often hear in Kentucky is something like this: “He ain’t from around here. He’s from somewheres else.” Seems like we’re always asking people where they’re from–Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Northern Kentucky, etc. You might even be from Louisville, which is part of Kentucky in only the most technical, geopolitical sense.

Everyone is from somewhere. I’m sure someone famous said that at some point. I live in Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington is a college town and, as such, most of us Lexingtonians are from somewhere else. I suspect that’s true of most college towns. In fact, one of the first things you want to know when you meet someone here is “Where are you from?

Where you are from is important. Okay, it might not be as important as where you are. How you got from where you’re from to where you are is even more important. After all, that’s your life. It’s certainly more important than where you’re going since you might never actually get there.

When I’m out of state, I’m from Lexington. For example, I was in Newberry Springs, California a few months ago and a guy named Shaggy asked where I was from. I said “Lexington, Kentucky” without hesitation. Truth be told, I’m not from Lexington. I only live there. Actually, I’m from Harlan, Kentucky.  If you were familiar with Harlan, I’d never tell you I’m from Harlan, though. Harlan is a town, and I never lived there. I’m from Harlan County, a much broader designation. To a fellow Harlan Countian, I’m from Loyall. I might even specify Rio Vista or Park Hill. If you knew anything about Loyall, that would make sense.

My father was from Evarts, also in Harlan County. My Mom was born in Detroit but grew up on Island Creek and in Cumberland. So, she was from Pike and Harlan Counties.

I’ve probably met people from all 120 counties in Kentucky, which is an ungodly number of counties. By contrast, California has 58 counties. Texas, on the other hand, has 254. I’ve met very few people from either of those states.

I’ve traveled through a lot of small towns in America. They all have one thing in common. Someone is from all of them. Some folks are so well-known that the town claims them.

In Kentucky, we claim Abraham Lincoln who has born in Hodgenville. Nevertheless, Illinois is The Land of Lincoln. Honest Abe is one of those folks claimed by a lot of places. Will Rogers is like that. He’s all over Oklahoma. If you fly into Oklahoma City, you might land at the Will Rogers Airport. If not, you’ll land at Wiley Post Airport. Oddly enough, Rogers and Post died in the same plane crash but not in Oklahoma. Claremore, Oklahoma honors Rogers even though he wasn’t really from Claremore. He’s also not from Vinita, Oklahoma, which has a statue of him near what used to be the world’s largest McDonald’s.

I read an excellent essay by Ander Monson, The Exhibit Shall Be So Marked, in which he notes the generic qualities of small towns. In my travels, I’ve noticed the same thing. Small towns are small everywhere. There are scandals and gossip, good people and bad. They all have an air of folks living easy and hard. Being there because they love it and because they can’t leave. Not all small towns are friendly. Some people are friendly and some won’t give you the time of day. It’s not all Norman Rockwell.

With the exception of geography and accents, I’m not sure that you could tell the difference between Prestonsburg, Kentucky and Commerce, Oklahoma. That’s not entirely correct. The major difference is that Mickey Mantle is from Commerce. Folks in Commerce know it, too.


Brantley, Alabama, knows it’s the home of Chuck Person aka The Rifleman, former Auburn University basketball star and long time NBA player. Brantley is an otherwise quiet, nondescript town that has seen better days.

Brantley loves Chuck Person.

Brantley loves Chuck Person. I’m sure they love his less famous brother Wesley, too.

 Brantley isn’t a lot different from Binger, Oklahoma, home of Johnny Bench. Schools, churches, stores, city hall and better times long ago.

JB's sign needs straightening

JB’s sign needs straightening

A lot of people are from Oklahoma. Eric, Oklahoma is the home of Roger Miller. How do I know? Well, they have a Roger Miller Museum, just as Binger has its Johnny Bench Museum.

IMG_7795JB Mus

Twenty-five or so years ago, I was in Yukon, Oklahoma. Someone told me that Garth Brooks was from there. I had never heard of him. Of course, that changed. Now, no one has to tell you that Garth is from Yukon. They’ve painted it on their water tower.

Elk City, Oklahoma is notable not for elk but for a huge oil derrick in the middle of town. It’s also the home of Jimmy Webb, who wrote the  MacArthur Park and bunch of other great songs.

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania doesn’t have a Perry Como Museum, but they have a Perry Como statue in a down town that could be anywhere in the country, except for the Perry Como statue. Perry doesn’t stand on Bobby Vinton Boulevard, though. That would be awkward.

Your author and Perry Como.

Your author and Perry Como.

Canonsburg is close to Washington, Pennsylvania, home of Jerry Sandusky–no statue of him.

I’ve been to Wailuka, Hawaii on the island of Maui. Baseball player Shane Victorino is from Wailuku, but they don’t have sign or statue or museum for him–yet.

Carthage, Missouri has a beautiful courthouse. It also has both Marlin Perkins and Old West outlaw Belle Starr as natives.

Edd Roush was from Oakland, City, Indiana, through which I happened to drive when I was lost once. If you don’t know Edd Roush, don’t feel bad. He was one of baseball’s great stars in the early 20th Century. That’s why they have a park named after him.

I once spent a couple of days in Newark, Ohio, which is pronounced “Nerk” from some reason. I didn’t spend as much time there as Wayne Newton did. That’s where he’s from.

Cuba, Missouri is the City of Murals. As far as I can tell, no one is from Cuba (which can’t be literally true), but Bette Davis and Amelia Earhart visited Cuba–at least according to the murals. I’m not sure if they were together, but that seems unlikely.

Kennesaw, Georgia is a nice town. It’s best known as the town with an ordinance requiring everyone to own a gun. I didn’t have a gun when I was a there, but I was just visiting. Thankfully, I didn’t get caught. A lot of people are probably from there. And they’re packing.

You can get some good barbecue in Clinton, Oklahoma. Country singer Toby Keith is from Clinton, at least that’s what a waitress told me. Why would she lie about that? She wouldn’t.

I ate lunch in Needles, California on a 115 degree day. It was probably that hot when Charles Schulz lived there, but I don’t think he was born there. Then again, maybe he was. Snoopy’s brother Spike is from Needles, too.

What about Loyall? We have Jerry Chesnut.  Jerry is a country music songwriter of some renown. He’s in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He even has a website. It’s no wonder we named a road after him.

Other people are from Harlan County. Wallace (Wah Wah) Jones was a famed basketball star at the University of Kentucky. Legend has it that Nick Lachey was actually born in the county, but we don’t have a sign or anything for him.

Kentucky claims a few people. Muhammad Ali is from Louisville. So was Hunter Thompson, but Louisville is a big city. Lots of people are from big cities. It’s a numbers game.

Charles Manson is from Ashland, Kentucky. As far as I know, they haven’t built a museum or park in his honor. Maybe after he dies….

Jesse James wasn’t from Kentucky, but he robbed a bank here. So did Willie Sutton. Col. Sanders was a Kentuckian, but you probably knew that. He wasn’t a criminal.

Larry Flynt is a Kentucky boy, from Magoffin County. Unrelated but just as interesting, famous White House correspondent Helen Thomas was from Winchester. We also claim Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lawrence and Ashley Judd, so we have are fair share of beautiful people, too. Flynt and Thomas are not two of them.  You probably wouldn’t guess that any of these folks were Kentuckians (except for Flynt), but they are.

Some people have a hard with identifying where they are from. Military people are a good example. They’re from all over the place. Some folks are embarrassed about their origins and will only vaguely answer with something like “Eastern Kentucky” or “back East.” If you push them, you can get the details.

Of course, accents can give you away unless you are from Kansas or Nebraska or some other accent-less land. I have an Eastern Kentucky or Appalachian accent. I knew a woman from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and found it odd that she would say “eh” of “hey” at the end of sentences. I found out that was a dead giveaway of the UP.  Similarly, folks from New England speak with an odd brogue and say things like “aayuh” during casual conservation. There’s no hiding where they are from.

We’re all from somewhere, even without road signs, museums and parks in our names. I guess most of us are proud of where we’re from or, at the very least, we don’t lie about it. Taking pride in it does seem a little odd given that we really have no say in the matter. Oh well… so, where are you from?

© 2014

Road Trippin’ 2014

I took a road trip—from Lexington, Kentucky to Riverside, California.  Why?  Because I had an excuse to do it.  My oldest son is in a mathematics research program at California State University—San Bernardino.  Instead of our usual beach-oriented vacation, my wife and I decided that we would visit California.


Even though it was a family vacation, I drove alone to California.  As a result, many people asked my wife and me why I would do this.  Before I go further, let me answer the most commonly asked questions:

Why did I go by myself?  No one wanted to go with me.  At one point, I thought my middle son would go.  He and I traveled together quite a bit when he played baseball, and he’s a pretty good companion, although he’s a little too picky about meals.  Ultimately, he backed out as I expected he would.  Honestly, he would have been bored to death,  although later in life he would have been glad he went.  There is no way my wife would go.  She can’t stand a day long drive anywhere.  Four or five days of driving would have resulted in madness for one or both of us.  My youngest son gets car sick riding across town.  There was no chance of me driving 4,000 miles with the window down so he can “get some air.”  So, it was either go alone or not at all.

Was I lonely?  I have many flaws, but as I proceed through my fifties, I’m pretty comfortable with myself.  I don’t need people to entertain me. I’m just weird enough that driving and seeing new sights interests me.  I don’t have to force someone else to go with me to enjoy it.

Why did you want to do this?  I wanted to see the country.  I haven’t been across the country since I was kid when my family would drive to Utah to visit my grandparents.  I’m 51 years old.  Who knows when I would have the excuse to do this again?  Maybe never or maybe I’d be too damn old to do it.  This was my chance, and I took it.


I left on a Sunday morning headed out on I-64 which I rode into Missouri.  Southern Indiana and Illinois are faceless, bland drives.  It only gets interesting when you hit St. Louis.

One thing I wanted to do was check out Route 66 (or what’s left of it), the famed Mother Road which ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, California.  Prior to the Interstate system, Route 66 was the main artery across the United States.  It still exists, to certain extent, although it has been largely obliterated by Interstates 44 and 40.  It many places it still retains some of its old character.  I checked out quite a bit of it.  I’m not going to give your details of all my stops or a history of the road.  Google “Route 66” and you’ll more information than you can digest.

I had no itinerary.  My oldest son gave me a book about Route 66 which was helpful.  It gave me some idea of where I was going.  Otherwise, I just drove.  A lot of the driving was on Interstates, and a lot wasn’t.

My only plan was to drive until 4:00 or 5:00 and then look for a Hampton Inn.  I’m a big fan of Hampton Inn–clean rooms, reasonable prices, free internet and free breakfast.  Plus, they have fitness rooms.  When I do a lot of driving, I like to have at least a treadmill to use to keep this old body in shape.  Oh, I’m also a big fan of Flying J truck stops.  The restrooms are clean and the coffee is always hot and fresh.  Good stuff.

Here are some highlights:

My first stop—about 6 hours in—was in Cuba, Missouri for lunch.  I ate at Missouri Hick BBQ.  Pulled pork sandwich just the way it should be—smoky and no sauce on it.  I followed Route 66 for about an hour after that but hopped back on I-44 to cover more ground.  I spent the night in Joplin, Missouri, slept well and was back on the road in the morning.  I was struck by how much of Joplin is still destroyed by the 2011 tornado.

This just had to be good.  It was.

This just had to be good. It was.

The old road is no great treat in Missouri.  I-44 obliterates in most stretches.  In others, it’s little more than a service road for the Interstate.   Cuba, Missouri, though, is worth a stop.   In addition to Missouri Hick, it’s the City of Murals with murals painted on almost every building.  It also has the Wagon Wheel Motel, the oldest continuously operating motel on the old road. Pretty cool.

On Day 2, I decided to follow Route 66 for the day.  I rolled through Galena, Kansas and on to Commerce, Oklahoma, small town that surely suffered when the Interstate bypassed it.  I came into Commerce at around 9:00 a.m.  I parked on the main street and looked around.  There were no signs of any activity.  One thing, though, stood out.  Mickey Mantle was from Commerce, and Commerce is proud of it.  Signs line the street proclaiming it.  The center piece is in front of the town baseball park—Mickey Mantle Field, of course.  A huge statue of the Mick is out front.  Something about that statue early in the morning gave me chills.  It is a magnificent monument.  Yankee Stadium would be proud to display it.



Next, I came to Vinita, Oklahoma, which is home to the former largest McDonald’s restaurant on Earth—it straddles the Interstate, in fact.  Weird, but true.  It was a nice little town.

Miami, Stroud and other small towns passed by.  I ate in Stroud at the Rock Café, a Route 66 landmark—Nice people and good food, too.  It was one of the models for the film, Cars.

No trip through this part of the country would be complete without seeing the Blue Whale of Catoosa:


I took the Mother Road through downtown Tulsa and about half way to Oklahoma City.  I hopped back on I-44 to avoid traffic around OKC.  My night was spent in Clinton, Oklahoma, home of Toby Keith.  I learned that every town in Oklahoma is the home of “someone.”

I took one detour before I reached Clinton.  I drove about ten miles south of I-40 to Binger, Oklahoma, hometown of the my childhood hero, Johnny Bench.  There’s not much in Binger, but they have a Johnny Bench Street and Johnny Bench Museum.  They remember Johnny:

JB's sign needs straightening

JB’s sign needs straightening

I lost a lot of time with my wanderings on Day 2, so I stayed back on the I for most of Day 3.  My first goal was the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo which I got to around lunch time.  I’m glad I looked it up on the Internet.  There are no signs or billboards.  You have to know that it’s between exits 61 and 62.  The artist who created it died just a couple of weeks ago.  You’re free to paint your own graffiti on the cars.  Of course, I couldn’t resist:

I chose to tag a car with "UK" for my beloved University of Kentucky.

I chose to tag a car with “UK” for my beloved University of Kentucky.

Before I reached Amarillo, I couldn’t pass up the Devils Rope Museum in McLean, Texas.  It’s a barbed wire museum.  You never imagined there were so many types of barbed wire—hundreds, maybe thousands.  They also had a small area devoted to Route 66 artifacts.  I met a couple of folks from New Zealand.  Their accents and mine clashed  and none of us were sure what had been said.

I made it all the way to Albuquerque where I had dinner at Garcia’s Kitchen on old Route 66 which runs the Old Town section of the city.  That’s a great drive.  Many of the old motels still remain, although I was told at my hotel that it wasn’t the safest place to wander at night.

Garcia’s was outstanding.  Chicken flautas, refried beans and rice.  My waitress was friendly.  Of course, she asked about my accent.  She guessed I was from Texas, but I told her that Texans could understand me, either.

My goal on Day 3 was Phoenix.  If you know your geography, you know that’s quite a detour.  My brother lives in Scottsdale, and we rarely see each other.  I couldn’t pass up the chance to see him.  So, I did

I had lunch in Holbrook, Arizona, a town which I’m guessing hasn’t changed much over the decades.  Many of the Route 66 businesses were still there, including the iconic Wigwam Motel:



It was cool to see and walk around, but I wouldn’t stay there.  While it seemed well-kept and clean, there was just something about the look–maybe it was the old vintage cars parked in front of each teepee.  I could easily imagine a masked marauder sawing the top off my teepee in the middle of the night.  I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen.

I lunched at Joe & Aggies Café, another excellent meal.  Chicken tacos this time.  Great service and atmosphere.

Winslow, Arizona was next.  The sole purpose of this stop was to be photographed standing on the corner.  So, I was:



Seligman, Arizona was also on my agenda.  I learned that it’s pronounced “Sligman” by the locals.  It had a small stretch of preserved Route 66 businesses, including Degadillo’s Snow Cap, which has been in business since 1953.  I had some ice cream and hit the road for Phoenix.

I had dinner with my brother in Scottsdale, and set out for California the next morning.  I had to make up time in order to meet my family in Riverside that afternoon. I would catch the California sights on the way back.  I did make a brief stop in Needles, California where I enjoyed the 115 degree heat.  Yes, I know—it’s a DRY HEAT.  115 is still hotter than Hell.

We spent five days in Riverside at the Mission Inn and Spa.  If you ever a get a chance, stay there.  It’s luxurious and reasonably priced.  I won’t bore you with the history of it, but it’s like a poor man’s Hearst Castle, a crazy quilt of architectural styles and artifacts.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.  We loved it.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t quite as enthused about the return trip, but I set out to cover the same ground and catch more scenery.  After about an hour on the Interstate, I decided to hit the Mother Road again.  The first landmark was the Bagdad Café in Newberry Springs, right in the desert.  The proprietor, a gentleman named Shaggy, came out to my car and invited me in.  While Shaggy enjoyed his breakfast beer, he gave me the history of the place, explaining that it had been featured in a 1988 film,  Bagdad Café.  Since nothing is left in the real Bagdad, California, the film was made there.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had never heard of the film   He gave me a movie poster.

Shaggy was fascinated that I was from Kentucky, because he and his co-workers had been looking for someone who knew about guns.  Oddly though, they never asked me anything about guns.  Shaggy had worked in L.A. as a mechanic.  He liked my car and gave it a thorough examination before I left.

Here’s Amboy, California (population 4):



I continued on Route 66 for some time before I concluded that this is what I was going to see:


On my trip back, retraced my path and saw a few new sights, such as the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa:


The Blue Hole is a popular scuba diving spot.

The Blue Hole is a popular scuba diving spot.

… and the VW Slugbuggy Ranch in  Conway, Texas:


On to Amarillo for the night where I ate the best barbecued brisket ever at Tyler’s Barbeque.  After a night in Tulsa, I hauled the 750 miles back home.  I was tired and more than a little road-weary.  I’d do it again tomorrow.


Understand that I’m not one of these guys who shows up and glad hands strangers, but I will strike up conversations when I can.  Mostly, though, I just people watch.  I’m odd enough that enjoy the anonymity of being a stranger in a strange town.  No one knows me, and I don’t know them.  Nevertheless, I met some folks and saw quite a few things.  Here’s a sampling:

  • I chatted with a member of the Bandidos motorcycle club in Texas.  He admired my car and we talked about the bugs in the air.  Nice fellow for an “outlaw biker.”  In Indiana, I shared a restroom with a biker who placed a handgun on the sink while he washed his hands.
  • In Adrian, Texas, I met some Chinese folks at the midpoint of Route 66.  They were thrilled when a rough-looking biker pulled up and began frantically taking pictures of him.  He, in turn, was amused.  He let them pose on his bike for their own photo ops.  I talked to them enough to figure out that only one spoke English–barely.
  • In Oklahoma, I asked a fellow about the nearby windmill farm.  He said folks were pretty pleased with it, but that if you lived near it you had to get used the low-level “hmmm” of the blades.
  • At the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, I watch kids jump into the water-over and over and over.   It was tempting, given that it was 100 degrees.  Kids are kids everywhere.
  • I walked the street in Commerce, Oklahoma at 9:00 a.m.  There wasn’t much activity.  It could have been the small town where I grew up in Kentucky.
  • In New Mexico, I drove Route 66 at sunset.  I parked on the side of the road and watched the sunset while several horses wandered around my car.
  • I saw lots of other towns–Williams, Arizona; Kingman, Arizona; Rolla, Missouri; Clinton, Oklahoma (Home of Toby Keith); Chandler, Oklahoma; Erick, Oklahoma (Home of Roger Miller); Shamrock, Texas; Elk City, Oklahoma (Home of Jimmy Webb); Quapaw, Oklahoma; Ludlow, California; Grants, New Mexico; and many others.

New Mexico was the prettiest state with its red rocks and open skies.  Arizona was the best drive with great scenery and little traffic.  California was the toughest.  Both the Interstate and old road are desolate and HOT.  Oklahoma has the most casinos. Missouri has the most adult video stores.  The nicest people were in Texas.   Oklahoma folks are nice, too.

If you ever want to drive the entirety of the old Route 66, give yourself a couple of weeks.  Drive a vehicle that can handle poorly maintained, or even unpaved, roads.  I didn’t come close to driving the whole route and still encountered plenty of rough driving.  Also, be prepared for maddening breaks in the highway as it gets obliterated by the Interstate here and there.

So, that’s my trip.   I scribbled notes here and there and covered Facebook with posts to the annoyance of everyone, I’m sure. I wrote this as much for me as anyone else.  I’d do it again, but if I don’t get the chance at least I did it once.


Fast Food Follies: A Brief Personal History

Like most, if not all, Americans, I’ve eaten quite a bit of fast food.  Several years ago, I made a concerted effort to eliminate it as a regular part of my diet, and I have done just that.  Nevertheless, I still occasionally dine at these well-known eateries, especially when traveling

I’m not one of those who condemns fast food, mind you.  I don’t even mind the pink slime that became an Internet sensation.  Hey, if it cooks up into something tasty and moderately safe to eat, I’m fine with it.  Fast food gives us consistency.  When you travel for work as I do, it’s comforting to know what you’re ordering.  A Big Mac is a Big Mac whether you order it in Hawaii or Pikeville, Kentucky.

What is fast food?  My definition is that: (1) You must order at a counter or drive thru; (2) The food must be subject to uniform preparation rules; (3) You must pay when you order; (4) the food must be served in paper bags and wrappers; and (5) the restaurant must at least strive to get your food to you quickly (i.e., while standing at the counter or sitting in the drive thru).  I except delis and sub shops from this definition for no reason other than they just don’t seem to fit.  You can come up with your own definition.  I really don’t care. After all, this is about me, not you.

Recently, I was standing in line at a Dairy Queen and pondered how much time I’ve spent waiting for food in one of these establishments.  I gave up trying to figure it out, concluding that it was just a hell of a lot.  It did, though, make me think about my long history with fast food.  It’s been a quite a trip.


Through most of my childhood in Harlan County, Kentucky, we didn’t have fast food.  The closest things were a couple of drive-in restaurants, but they weren’t all that fast.  We did, however, travel outside the county often.  One of the highlights of such treks was passing through Corbin, Kentucky.  Corbin had a McDonald’s.

Dad would always stop and get us something from McDonald’s.  Burgers, McNuggets, Egg McMuffins and french fries–they were fascinating taste treats.  Dad would usually send me in to get the food.  I loved it.

It was  1978, when I was 15 years old, that I had my encounter with Ray Kroc.  For the uninformed, Kroc was the founder of McDonald’s and its CEO for many, many years.  As a young baseball fan, I also knew that he was the owner of the San Diego Padres.  I used this to my advantage.

On the way to a Cincinnati Reds game, we stopped at the Corbin McDonald’s.  I was the only patron at the counter.  The workers ignored me.  They were engaged in some sort of inane banter behind the counter.  Now, you must know that, even as an adolescent, I had a bit of an overblown view of myself.  Thus, I became increasingly agitated. Finally, I said:  “Hey!  Customer here!!”  The young lady at the register gave me a look of contempt and said “Just a second” and continued talking.  Eventually, she took my order, but I was incensed.  So, I wrote Ray Kroc a letter.

I had a written quite a few fans letters to baseball players.  So, I knew that a letter addressed to “San Diego Padres, Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego, California” would get to Ray.  I wrote him and told him of the vile treatment I received.  I typed the letter, so as not to indicate that I was a sullen teenager.  It was heartfelt and my indignation dripped from it.

What I didn’t expect was that he would read it.  He did, and he wrote back:


Ray was none too pleased with the laggards in Corbin.

As you can see, he wasn’t happy. As Ray promised, I also got a letter from a Regional Manager for McDonald’s.  He said that he had heard from Mr. Kroc and offered his apologies (and gift certificates).  The manager of the restaurant wrote me too (with gift certificates, of course).  I felt like kind of big deal.  It took us a long time to use all those gift certificates.

Ray Kroc was a generous man, leaving millions to charity when he died.  He was pretty cool, too.


To the best of my recollection, Harlan County’s first fast food restaurant was Burger Queen.  That’s not a typo– Queen, not King.  Its logo looked like this:


As you might expect, they sold burgers.  They were thin little meat patties mashed between a tasteless bun.  They were exceptionally salty, too.  BQ also sold mediocre fried chicken.  The Cherry Sprites, by contrast, were excellent.  We loved the place.

(Okay, I know you Harlan Countians out there will point out that we had a Kentucky Fried Chicken first, but I just can’t count that.  I don’t know why–maybe it’s the lack of burgers).

For you young folks, fast food restaurants used keep piles of burgers under heat lamps–no microwave ovens.  If you wanted anything non-standard, you had to wait.  I am well-known for my aversion to condiments–mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, etc.  These befoul burgers and are unacceptable.  BQ struggled with this concept.  I always ordered two plain cheeseburgers, and they rarely got it straight.

One day, I met a couple of friends at BQ.  I ordered my burgers and took them to the table.  I unwrapped them, and-of course–they were smeared with ketchup, mustard and pickles–all the crap which would trigger my gag reflex.

My disgust showed immediately, drawing the attention of another patron, a rather rough-looking fellow with long, greasy hair.  He walked to our table and asked:  “Did they f–k up your order, buddy?”  I said “Yeah, they were supposed to be plain.”  My new friend advised:  “Look here, take them damn burgers up there and stomp on ’em right in front of that bitch! I’ll do it for you, by God!”  Despite the appeal, I declined his suggestion.  I did get a couple of new burgers, though.

That’s my Burger Queen story.  It’s not much of a story, but that’s it.  Burger Queen became Druther’s (slogan–“I’d Ruther Go to Druther’s“), but it was pretty much the same food.  Druther’s died out, except for one left in Campbellsville, Kentucky.  I know.  I saw it in the summer of 2012:


I asked a local about it, and he said it was the last one.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I’d like to think so.


When I was in high school, Harlan experienced a bit of a fast food revolution.  Kentucky Fried Chicken and Druthers were joined by Wendy’s.  Pizza Hut also came on board, sort of a fast food pizza palace.  My friends and I made use of Druther’s, Pizza Hut and Wendy’s as hangouts–sometimes in the parking lot but often inside.  Three or four of us would order Cokes and we’d sit there for hours (maybe it just seemed like hours).  We weren’t really good customers, and we weren’t always welcome.  A tale from Wendy’s illustrates the point.

Late one night, two friends and I were sitting at a table in Wendy’s, nursing our colas.  I was pouring salt into a pile on the table while we discussed the news of the day.  At some point, I asked if perhaps we should order something else in order to justify our presence.  One of my cohorts remarked:  “Hey, we bought Cokes.  They can’t make us leave.”  One of the employees at the business end of push broom heard this remark and said:  “Then, you can sweep up this f—ing mess, you mother——s!”  We took this as a subtle cue to leave, only to discover that we were locked in! While we fumbled with the lock, our former hostess hurled more invectives our way. One of my companions, in an ill-conceived effort to defuse the situation, said:  “Look, bitch, why don’t you just fly away on that f—ing broom?!?!” The end result was that we were banned from Wendy’s.  It has been over 30 years, and I have never set foot in that establishment since.  As far as I know, the ban did not extend to all Wendy’s.  I’m please to say that I have been to many others over the years without incident.

Today, I occasionally encounter unfriendly workers.  You know them, too, I’m sure.  They blankly stare at you with what my father called a “hang-dog” look on their faces.  They mutely take your order, perhaps muttering a disingenuous “welcome” after you thank them.  I try not to be offended.  They don’t like their jobs and no civility on my part will change that.


The old military acronym KISS or “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” applies to dealing with fast food establishments. My aversion to condiments makes this difficult for me.  For example, here’s a recent exchange with a McDonald’s employee:

HER:  Can I help you?

ME:  Two Angus Snack Wraps.  No onion or sauce please.

HER:  Do you want cheese?

ME:  Well, yes.  No onion and no sauce, though.

HER:  Do you want lettuce?

ME:  Yes, yes.  Lettuce is fine. No onion.  No sauce.

Here’s what I got:  Two Snack Wraps with no cheese but onions.  I blame myself.  I threw off the order of the fast food system.  It isn’t designed for gadflies like me.

Another thing is that I’m confident that they spit on special orders.  I try to keep it simple.  If there is something festooned with all manner of objectionable toppings, I just avoid it.


One obvious advantage of fast food is the fast part.  We knowingly trade careful food preparation for speed and uniformity.  We want our food quickly–at least I do.

Here’s a suggestion for everyone.  If you and–say–5 of your family members walk up to the counter, take note if there is a lone person behind you.  Allow that person and his simple, one-person order to go ahead of you.  Think of it as the fast food equivalent of playing through in golf.  Likewise, if you are a lone patron but are placing an order for scads of other people, be considerate of those behind you. Many of us are impatient and explosively violent when our patience is taxed.

Another suggestion is to have your act together when you order.  If you need to ponder the menu and consult others before ordering, YOU ARE NOT PREPARED TO ORDER! Get the Hell out of the way!  I just can’t stress this point enough.  It’s a fast food restaurant.  The menu should be well-known to you.  There are even pictures of all the food on the wall, for God’s sake.  It can’t be all that confusing.  Your family members should also get their heads out of their…well, you get it.  If you must have a family meeting at the register, you should be at home eating together in order to become more familiar with your family’s eating habits.

The restaurants themselves can help us, too.  How about having more than one person working at the register?  I fully understand why only one person can take orders at the drive-thru.  When only person takes orders inside, this happens:


Your author is tormented by one register plus a confused family placing order.  Note the obvious disgust of the arthritic biker in front of me.

If our society is to continue to function, this kind of thing can’t be allowed. I’m confident that the Roman Empire’s decay began over something like this.


Convenience is the great calling card of fast food.  Believe it or not, there was a time when you could drive great distances in America without finding decent food–unless you were lucky enough to encounter a Stuckey’s.  Now, we have fast food at almost every Interstate exit and in most towns of any size.

The restaurants also have restrooms, and most of them are reasonably clean.  If one must make a–[ahem]–major transaction, cleanliness is paramount.  There are no condom machines in them, either.  I have never been comfortable with the public condom machine.  What kind of person uses those?  Worse yet, I don’t want to be confined in a men’s room with one of those folks.  I have nightmares of washing my hands when I glance some demented drifter in the mirror opening a condom.  While we have many fine truck stops in our great land, the combination of condom machines and showers just makes me uncomfortable for obvious reasons.

You are also fairly safe to nap in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant.  What?  You don’t do that?  Well, you should.  Napping at a rest area or truck stop is just an invitation to a serial killer.


Despite pleas from the likes of Michael Bloomberg and Michelle Obama, I suspect that fast food is here to stay.  I’m fine with that.  Technological advances will likely make the food faster and better for our children and grandchildren.  I envision a day when lobster tails, deadly blow fish and prime beef will be served to me by pimply faced teenagers and ex-cons.  I also hope that someone will perfect my idea of the “reverse” microwave oven which freezes hot things in seconds.  I’m not sure how they’d use it, but I’m sure someone will figure it out.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to indulge my weakness for Dairy Queen’s Reese’s Cup Blizzard and McDonald’s French fries.

Remember, too, that a lot of folks working behind the counter don’t like their jobs. Someday, robots will take our orders.  Until then, teenagers and part-time workers will have to do. Be courteous, unless of course they’ve made you wait too long.  After all, it is fast food.

© 2013

The Way of the Waffle

My neighborhood Waffle House. Like most people in this part of the country, I live close to one.

“I love Waffle House, and not just because watching someone fry an egg while they’re smoking reminds me of my dad”

Jim Gaffigan

I travel by car quite a bit.  Some of it is for work and some for my son’s baseball teams.  I’m not a big fan of hotels, but I enjoy seeking out places to eat.  I’m not picky, either.  Sometimes, I’ll just see some place on the side of the road and think:  I wonder if that place makes decent food?  In the past year alone, I’ve eaten at The White Flash (Jackson, KY), Dave’s BBQ (Guthrie, KY), Beaver Creek Restaurant (Topmost, KY), Big Shanty Smokehouse (Kennesaw, GA), Bridge Street Cafe (Fort Walton Beach, FL), One Place–Two Tastes (Somewhere in TN) and other off-the-radar spots.  Some are better than others, but they’re all good.  When I travel, I try to avoid fast food (expect Dairy Queen Blizzards) or chain restaurants.  The one big exception is Waffle House.

If you live in the South, you know Waffle House.  They’re everywhere, and they’re all the same.  They have a big yellow and black sign that simply says “WAFFLE HOUSE” in block letters.  They’re small restaurants with a few booths and a counter where those of us dining solo are seated.  They all have jukeboxes.  According the Waffle House website, they’ve been around since 1955.  I’m guessing that they looked the same in 1955 as they do now.  Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I know what you’re thinking:  “Why Waffle House?  It’s the poor man’s Cracker Barrel!”  Here’s why:  I love it.  It’s never crowded (except after the bars close).  The people are nice.  The food is good and reasonably priced.  More than all that is the Waffle House Experience.  It is it’s own world.

If you sit at the counter (on a stool, no less) you will be within feet of the griddle and, of course, the waffle makers.  You’ll see the cook sweating over your meal, hear the stories from the regulars and learn a lot about the folks working there.

The waitresses all call me “honey” or “sweetie.”  They refill my coffee constantly.  They can be a rough-looking bunch, but they’re all out of Central Casting when it comes to diner waitresses.  I love it.  Just this week I was at a Waffle House in Northern Kentucky and heard this exchange:

Customer:  “Where’s Mary?”

Waitress:  “Oh, honey, she don’t work here no more.  She got accepted to this big tattoo institute.”

Customer:  “Oh, hell, she’ll be back.”

Waitress:  “I don’t think so.  This is one of the biggest tattoo institutes in the country.  It’s hard to get accepted.”

Customer:  “She’ll be back.”

Waitress:  “We’ll see, honey.   She’s good.  She’s done a bunch of tattooing for people.”

Where else can I hear that?  Do you think they carry on like that at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse?  Hell, no!  I didn’t even know there WERE tattoo institutes, much less that they have high admissions standards.  I hope Mary has great success and why wouldn’t she if she graduates from one of the biggest tattoo institutes?

You know something that you’ll never hear at a Waffle House?  Nice job cleaning up!

Jim Gaffigan

I’ll admit that most Waffle Houses have a certain look to them.  They might need a thorough scrub down.  The tables might be a little greasy.  Don’t look at the waffle irons.  They need cleaning.

A couple of years ago, I was driving back to Lexington from Western Kentucky.  It was getting late, and I was pretty hungry.  I passed several exits along the way until I saw the familiar yellow sign of the Waffle House beckoning.  Imagine my disappointment when I approached the door and saw this notice:


You see, I’m a bit of a germaphobe.  I know that to get a C on a restaurant inspection, you’ve got some bad business going on.  Maybe you’re storing kitchen utensils in the toilet or your cook has TB.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  The lure was strong as was my reticence.  I went in anyway.

As you might expect, there were no customers in sight, just the usual hard-living waitress and the sinewy cook.  I was greeted with the familiar “Hello, honey, what can I get you to drink?”  I ordered my standard black coffee and water and then ventured “Looks like y’all had some problems with the Health Department.”  The following ensued:

Waitress:  “Oh, lord, I wish we could take down that sign.  People just look at it, get back in their cars and take off.  I seen you lookin’ at it, too.”

ME [exaggerating]:  “Well, yeah, I mean, it covers about half the door.”

Waitress:  “Well, don’t you worry about it, honey.”

ME [lying through my teeth]:  I’m not worried about it.  What happened? [an astute observer would realize that I was, in fact, worried about it]

Waitress:  We had a problem with the refrigerators and some cleaning supplies, but it’s took care of now.

Refrigerator?  I had some experience with this issue.  I was at a bowling alley late one night and decided that a cheeseburger would hit the spot.  When I ordered the burger, I was told “We don’t have no cheese.  Our refrigerator busted yesterday.”  At this point, you should be aware that I was once fond of strong drink which clouded my judgment.  “Well, I’ll just have a burger, no cheese.”  And so I did.  Had I not been in my cups, I would have realized that the proper refrigeration of ground beef is no less critical than that of cheese, perhaps even more so.  24 hours of food borne illness taught me this lesson.

The Waffle House cook sensed my unease and said:  “We’ve had everybody in the world up our ass.   Health Department, the owner, my boss, Waffle House.  This place is so clean now, you could eat off the floor.”  I looked around and realized that the unfortunate dust-up with the authorities had, in fact, resulted in the cleanest Waffle House I’ve ever seen–before or since.  My fears assuaged, I ordered a ham, egg and cheese wrap and side of grits.  Excellent as always.  Even better, no ill after effects.

Now, I don’t really think Waffle House is dirty.  That’s just part of its ambiance.  It’s made to look filthy.  Really, if you knock an ash tray over in your plate, whose fault is that?  Okay, maybe there are some food scraps lying around.  Take a look at your own house.  Better hope the Health Department doesn’t show up.  It’s possible that they wipe down every table all day long with that same rag, but how do you really know?  It’s Greasy Spoon Chic.  Enjoy.

“Imagine a gas station bathroom that sells waffles.”

Jim Gaffigan

What about the food?  It’s good! Some of it is great.  My personal favorite is the egg and cheese wrap, whether with ham, bacon or sausage.  Side of grits, too.  Good stuff.

The hash browns are as good as they get.  They’re fried up right there on the griddle.  You can have them diced (ham), capped (mushrooms), smothered (cheese) and various other ways.  I had some just last week from a cook preparing his very first meal.  I had ordered grits, but he seemed proud of the hash browns:

COOK/WAITER:  Here are your grits, sir.

ME [staring at the hash browns]:  Excuse me?

COOK/WAITER:  Your grits.  I’ve never made them before.  Do they look alright?

ME:  Uh, these are hash browns.

COOK/WAITER [after a long pause]:   Oh, man! I’m sorry! Man!

ME:  Don’t worry about it.  I love hash browns. Plus, you can find out if you did them right for the next customer.

I was pleased to tell him that they were excellent.  He was quite proud of himself.  He told me that he was planning to go to college.  I hope he does.

Did you know that Waffle House is the world’s leading server of T-Bone steaks?  I don’t know if that’s true, but they have a sign that says so.  Think about that.  More T-bones than Ponderosa, Longhorn Steakhouse, Texas Roadhouse–you name it.  Say what you will, but that’s impressive, assuming it’s true.  Even if it’s not true, the hubris required to make such an outrageous claim is impressive in its own right.  World’s leading server of waffles?  You wouldn’t even question that.  T-bones?  Wow.

What of the waffles?  I’m sorry to report that they’re just waffles.  Nothing special, really.  Oh, you can get chocolate chips or peanut butter which are both good.  Honestly, if you have a waffle iron, you can do just as well.  Then again, the waffle itself is a pretty lousy main course.  Pancakes are far superior, but I assume that IHOP would battle over the name Pancake House.  I don’t even understand why there are waffles.  It’s lot easier to make pancakes.  Are pancakes just too boring looking?  I don’t get it.

“How Can You Freak Out on a Frog?”

Waiter, Waffle House

The people who work at Waffle House are a different breed.  I like them.  They have good stories.  I stopped at Waffle House on a particularly desolate stretch of Interstate.  There’s just me, a guy taking orders and the cook.  They’re both smoking, which I assume is a health code violation or damn sure should be.

WAITER:  “Hey, have you heard about them hallucinogenic frogs?

ME:  “What’s that?”

Waiter:  “Frogs, man.  They’re hallucinogenic. You lick ’em and freak out.”

Me:  “Oh, that.  I’ve been hearing that story since I was a kid.”

Waiter:  “No, man.  It’s true.  They’re in California.  It’s all over the Internet.”

Me:  “Okay.  How does it work?”

Waiter:  “You just grab ’em and lick ’em.  Then, you freak out.”

Me:  “Huh.”

Waiter:  “They’re supposed to be some around here.  I know a guy lookin’ for ’em.  I reckon he’s just grabbin’ frogs and lickin’ ’em until he finds the right one.”

Me [laughing now]:  “I guess there’s no other way to do it, is there?”

Waiter:  “How can you freak out on a frog?  Who the hell figured that out anyway?  Did he just start lickin’ frogs for some reason?  Of course, somebody had to start snorting bath salts, too.  My mommy makes homemade bath salts, and nobody will buy them now, because they think it’s dope.  Wild.”

I have nothing to add to that story.

“There’s a subculture out there that’s off the grid, buddy.” 

My Dad

Dad may have been talking about Waffle House.  I’m not talking about those who show up drunk at 2:00 AM for a T-bone dinner.  I mean folks like me, who show up at 2:00 PM to eat breakfast.  I’m talking about the regular crowd with their homemade tattoos and dental hygiene issues.  We are the Waffle House subculture.  We order our food off menus that double as place mats.  The menus have pictures of the food in case we don’t what the food looks like (or can’t read).  We know what we want and where to get it.  We just look for the yellow sign just off any Interstate exit in the South.

I’ll continue to eat at Waffle House.  I will have plenty of opportunities, too.  I once read (at a Waffle House, no less) that there are over 1500 Waffle Houses.  1500.  I have one within walking distance of my office, in fact.

I don’t ever take my family to Waffle House.  I go there alone.  To be among my people.  Besides, the tables are too small for five people.

© 2012

Hell and Other Bad News

I drive a fair amount in my job.  I like to listen to radio preachers while I drive.  This is odd, considering that I’m not particularly religious nor do I enjoy listening to preaching in church.  There is something about radio preachers that always catches my interest.  My travel is largely confined to Eastern Kentucky (business) and the southern United States (vacation).  These areas are a mother load of radio preaching.

This post is not a theological piece nor is it intended as a criticism–or defense–of Radio Preachers.  Also, please do not take it as some anti-Christian screed.  It just so happens that Radio Preachers are Christians.  That’s a fact.  I’ve never heard a radio rabbi or imam, although I’m sure they exist.  Many of my devoutly Christian friends believe they are persecuted because of their beliefs.  That may well be true, but this post is not part of that persecution.  These are just some of my observations from my years of listening.

Oh, Hell

Radio Preachers enjoy talking about Hell.  Now, whether you believe there is a Hell or not, Hell sounds like no fun.  I guess that’s the point.  While driving through Alabama recently, I heard this description:

Listen to me, young people.  THERE IS NO PARTY ROOM IN HELL! There is no good time!  If you think there is, you are WRONG!  You will be too busy weeping and wailing and burning to have a good time!

Wow.  That sums it up, I guess.  Of course, it got me thinking:  Is there some group of misguided youngsters in Alabama who think–like the great band AC/DC–that “Hell ain’t a bad place to be?”  If so, why?  If you believe in Hell, then you surely know that in addition to weeping and wailing, there will gnashing of teeth and eternal damnation.  You might even tear at your robes (they did that a lot in the Bible), assuming your clothes haven’t been burned off.  None of that will be good.

Hell is the bad cop to Heaven’s good cop. The radio preachers make it clear that it’s really easy to go straight to Hell.  It’s discouraging.

I’ve always been baffled by why Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time threatening to send people to Hell if they stepped out of line.  Even the most casual reader of the New Testament will notice that the Disciples–for all the good they did–were kind of pain to deal with.  Ever notice how many times they question Jesus?  I think this is why he taught in parables.  These guys just weren’t that bright.  Honestly, I don’t think Jesus was all that concerned about Hell.  If he had been, he would have said something like:  “Step out of line one more time, and it’s straight to Hell.  I mean it.”

The only time I think about Hell is when I listen to a radio preacher.  Sadly, they usually convince me that I’m GOING to Hell.  I don’t want that.  It would be bad.  No party room.

Super Jesus

Radio Preachers are always torn between Jesus the man and Jesus the Savior.  Or at least it seems that way.  They always stress that Jesus was (“is”) God’s son, but he was also a man.  As God’s son, He was God incarnate; thus, infallible.  As a man, He was flesh; thus, flawed–but not really, because He was Jesus.  It’s like they want you to know that Jesus was human, but don’t want you to really believe that.  Very confusing.

I figure Jesus was a regular guy.  He was a carpenter.  I’ve known a bunch of carpenters, and they’re all pretty normal.  Jesus probably was, too.  If they had sports, he would have liked them (although, I’m not sure he would have like that “Kick The Goat’s Head” game they play in Iraq).  Jesus was Jewish.  He probably looked like Dustin Hoffman. Radio Preachers, it seems, are concerned that if they make Him sound too human, then they’ll take away his God qualities.  This makes no sense to me, but what do I know?

As everyone knows, the New Testament has a big gap in Jesus’s life.  I figure it’s because he was just working as a carpenter and living a normal life during that time.  Probably not much to report.  He certainly didn’t have disciples charting his every move.

Radio Preachers take everything related to Jesus and make it as dramatic as possible.  Here’s a recent description I heard about the Sermon on the Mount:

And the multitudes had gathered to see Jesus and touch the hem of his garments.  Jesus stood before them.  Oh, can’t you see Him with His arms raised to the Heavens?  Can’t you imagine the glorious moment when He spoke? He then spake unto them:  [Radio Preacher then goes on to read from the Sermon on the Mount].

Now, I really enjoy the Sermon on the Mount.  It’s real preaching, and good stuff, too.  But, it’s pretty clear that the folks gathered there were the sick and demon-possessed.  That means sick and INSANE. And sick means REALLY sick. Leprosy sick. Thanks to modern medicine I’ve never known anyone with leprosy, but back then people were slap eat up with it. They made you wear a big old damn bell around your neck to warn people. Notice what Jesus did? He healed them. He didn’t say: “Oh, don’t worry about that leprosy. Just ring your bell.” Even Jesus didn’t mess with it. He just got rid of it.  Imagine what a motley and disturbed bunch this was.  It would have been horrifying. This is what Jesus was able to draw as a crowd.  This is not a bad thing.  These are the folks who were the outcasts and needed help.  Frankly, that makes for a better story; however, there was probably a certain grunginess to it.

My other favorite Jesus story is in the garden of Gethsemane.  Radio Preachers love this story, especially around Easter.  To me, it’s the story that makes Jesus human.  He’s doing what I would do, saying:  “Hey, I’ll do this if I have to, but I’m okay with you getting me out of it, too.”  Nothing wrong with that.  It’s a great, great story.  Radio Preachers spin it to say that Jesus was REALLY saying that he was ready to roll.  Maybe so.  I’m no theologian, but I don’t take it that way.

Radio Preachers also like to call on Jesus to perform miracles, usually to heal people.  This presumes that Jesus is like a genie in a bottle.  Conjure him up and “POOF!” he takes care of things.  What was Jesus’s first miracle?  I think it’s when he turned water into wine.  Kind of a magic trick really but pretty cool.  Importantly, though, you’ll notice that he didn’t say:  “Oh, and if you ever need me to do any of these things for you, just give me a holler.”  Sorry, Radio Preacher.

God Is A Republican

Radio Preachers don’t hesitate to talk about politics.  In fact, they love it.  I’ve learned one fact which is undeniable:  God is a Republican.  I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but it’s a fact.  He supports Republican candidates for all public offices.  Jesus may have said “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, but God wanted Caesar to join the GOP.

Radio Preachers tell me that I need to pray for God to elect certain folks to office.  Here’s my problem:  If God decides who wins, why do I need to make a request?  Is He really confused?  Does He need MY input?  I don’t think so.  Now, if God’s candidate loses, which happens from time to time, what does that mean?  Here’s what it means to me:  God doesn’t care about elections.

Interestingly, Jesus was Jewish.  Seems like a lot of Jewish folks are Democrats.  It wouldn’t be the first time that a son took a different political view than his Father, I suppose.

End of Days

This is probably the most popular topic for Radio Preachers–the end of times.  Why?  I guess because it’s terrifying and segues nicely into talking about Hell.  Much like Hell, I’ve determined that the end times will be awful.  Just a total mess.

Evidently, we are in the end times, because the world has just gone to Hell (not literally, of course).  There are wars, earthquakes, famines, immorality, homosexuality, abortion and all manner of debauchery afoot.  Really.  We’re probably the 1000th generation who thought the same thing.  Why?  Because we’re alive RIGHT NOW.  Everything going on now is more important, because it’s happening to us!  I find it all rather entertaining, since this presumes that the past was all butterfly kisses and unicorn rides.

Google the word “pederasty.”  That’s a nasty little practice of a grown man taking on an underaged male lover.  Used to be quite common and accepted by polite society.  A harmless relationship between two consenting adults is pretty tame compared to that.  Read the works of the Marquis de Sade.  You’ll be hard pressed to find anything more vile today.  How about slavery?  Witch burnings (this means BURNED ALIVE)? Nice stuff.  There have been quite a few famines and natural disasters throughout history.  Ask our friends in China, Africa and Ireland about famines.  War?  Name a time when there wasn’t a war.  We’re humans.  We like to kill each other, especially over real estate.  The upshot of it is that we don’t have anything better or worse going on now that ever before.  Chill out, Radio Preacher.

I always heard that the end would come when we least expect it, like a thief in the night.  I’m confident that the Radio Preachers don’t know any more about it than the rest of us, but it’s still entertaining to hear about.

One last thing, whenever end times are discussed, the book of Revelation has to be mentioned.  First, it’s REVELATION, as in the Revelation of John.  It is NOT RevelationS.  I’ll stop listening when the Radio Preacher calls it Revelations (which is 90% of the time).  Secondly, let’s all be honest–it’s totally incomprehensible.  Most of the Bible is enjoyable to read, but this book is like something Hunter Thompson would have written in the midst of an acid trip.  If you can figure out the imagery of horses, pale riders, 666, Whore of Babylon, etc., you yourself are a prophet.  If so, please just write something coherent for the rest of us.  I’ll tell one thing that doesn’t help:  A Radio Preacher screaming about it.  It just makes things worse.


Radio Preachers need money.  Your money.  Well, it’s not your money.  It’s God’s money, but God wants you to send it to the Radio Preacher as sort of a trustee for the benefit of God.  God doesn’t trust you with His money.  He trusts the Radio Preacher.  You should, too.

Keep Listening

I’ll keep driving and listening.  You may think that I’m a horrible cynic with no religious faith at all.  Not true.  Okay, the cynic part is probably true.  I have my faith and my views of God, but I’m the type that keeps it to myself.  I don’t really doubt the sincerity of the preachers I hear.  Some of them are quite good and very persuasive.  I’m just irreverent.  As I heard the other day:  “Brothers and sisters, Hell can’t fill up!  There’s always room for one more!”  Ouch.

© 2012

Trolling Through The South

When I was a young feller, I read Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road. I’ll be honest.  I didn’t care for it.  I was much more fascinated by the fact that he typed it on a long, continuous scroll of paper.  I recall that Truman Capote made a humorous, disparaging comment about the book.  Of course, I can’t recall what it was, but I’m sure I agreed with it.  I just completed my own sojourn through the southern United States.  I won’t write a book about it, although I’m certain I could write something at least as interesting as Kerouac’s babblings.  I will, however, blog about it.

I should note that I travel alone for work quite often, but this was my first “vacation” alone.  Unlike a work trip, where my days are filled with productive activities, on this trip I had to entertain myself.  There was a time when I would never have been allowed on a trek such as this, out of fear that I might never get to my destination or perhaps hole up in a hotel like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas.  

My son plays high school baseball, and his school played in a tournament in Fort Walton Beach, Florida from April 1 through 6.  He traveled by bus with his team and stayed in a hotel room with three of his team mates.  I traveled alone and stayed alone.  While he and his mates stayed on the first floor of the hotel, I stayed in the separate high-rise in the back, overlooking the ocean.  Very nice.

The view from my palatial room. My son suffered through the week in a ground floor room with three room mates.

I drove from Lexington, Kentucky.  The drive is a long one, taking about 11 hours with the obligatory gas, food and restroom stops.  The first leg of my journey was the Bluegrass Parkway connecting US 60 in Woodford County, Kentucky, to I-65 South at Elizabethtown (known to us as “E-Town”).  From there, you drive due south for an eternity.  Actually, it’s probably 400 miles, but I’m not sure.  Not much to report on that part of the trip.  The only thing that caught my interest was a large sign in Alabama touting something called “The Sons of Confederate Veterans.”  Really, now.  There can’t be any “sons” of any Confederate Veterans left, can there? Because I left very early in the morning, I was forced to break one of my travel rules–I stopped at truck stop in Smiths Grove, Kentucky.  Truck stops frighten me.  I don’t like gas stations with showers, I guess.  Plus, a high percentage of truck drivers are probably serial killers.

The drive gets more interesting just south of Montgomery, Alabama.  This is where you drop off I-65 and drive about 150 miles on the back roads.  There are several things which caught my interest:

Cemetaries:  Alabama was WAY too many cemeteries.  I mean, every town and turn in the road has a cemetery.  When the Great Zombie Apocalypse starts, stay the Hell out of Alabama.

Luverne:  I like this town.  Why?  Because it’s “The Friendliest Town in the South.”  It says so on a sign.   I stopped and bought a Coke in Luverne.  The clerk was friendly enough but nothing special.  So , I’m not sure about it being the friendliest place, but I’ll admit that a one person sample is too little to draw any conclusions.  Luverne is also the home Sister Shubert dinner rolls.  I like those rolls; thus, I like Luverne.

Highland Home:   It has a restaurant called the “It Don’t Matter.”  Good name.

It Don't Matter Restaurant. I'm sure it's my kind of place.

 I didn’t eat there, but I think I’d like it.

Brantley, Alabama:  This is one of those small towns where there used to be something happening.  They have a downtown, schools and houses, but the town looks mostly abandoned.  I’m sure that if I bothered to do any research, I’d find out what used to be there.  But, they do have a one thing:  A big sign declaring it to be the home of Chuck Person.  Chuck played basketball at Auburn and for many years in the NBA.  He could shoot the lights out.  For this reason–and because his full name is Chuck Conners Person–he was called the Rifle Man.  I loved the TV show the Rifle Man, starring Chuck Connors.  It was the story of a homicidal widower and his son in the old west.   Great show.  Brantley is proud of Chuck (Person), so much so that they have this big, nice sign:

Brantley loves Chuck Person.

No matter how badly things have gone for Brantley, they remember Chuck.  Chuck’s brother Wesley was a heck of a ballplayer at Auburn, too, but he doesn’t have a sign.  I’d like to think Chuck comes back to visit from time to time.  The folks in Brantley would appreciate it.

Opp:  Opp is the name of another Alabama town.  I just like the name:  Opp.  Plus, they have something called the Rattlesnake Rodeo.   I can’t imagine what that it is, but I’m intrigued by it.

Whatever it is, the good folks of Opp have had 52 Rattlesnake Rodeos

I came to the end of my trek at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, where I spent the week.  Actually, I was on Okaloosa Island, but that’s just a technical difference, if any.

Fort Walton is not as nice as its newer neighbor, Destin, but still pretty good.  I blogged earlier about eating in Fort Walton, so I’ll spare you those details.  I worked out at Gold’s Gym everyday, which was across the street from this place:

No one does transmission work like a Bigot.

I’m sure he’s a fine fellow, but I’d think about changing my name.  Who is his biggest competitor?  Joe Racist Transmission?

All I did all week was the gym, the pool/beach, baseball games, naps, Starbucks and dinner.  Not too bad.  Substitute work for the pool/beach, and that’s pretty much what I do at home.  The only real downside to my trip was that my beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA Championship while I was there.  I watched it in a restaurant crammed full of UK fans, but it wasn’t the same as being in Lexington when it happened.  We have a tradition of burning furniture when the Cats win the title, but I just couldn’t do it that far from home.

Fort Walton has an inordinate number of tattoo parlors.  I’m sure they cater to the nearby military bases and spring breakers, but it still seems like WAY too many.  I counted 14.  That just seems like a lot.  I thought about getting a “UK” tattoo, but my wife shot it down.  That’s probably for the best.  The next time we suffered a bitter defeat, I’d probably be stabbing it with an ice pick.

Since I ate alone, dressed like a bum and had unkempt facial hair, I was mistaken for a local almost everywhere I went.  As my son would say, I was “rachet.”  I liked that. For four days, my trip was great.  After that, I ran out of things to do and was ready to head home.  I lost one of my credit cards, but no one used it for a bunch of tattooing.

My drive back was uneventful, but laborious.  Two traffic accidents and road construction turned my 11 hour drive into 14.  Plus, I followed this frightening vehicle for about an hour:

Possible tarp-covered corpses.

Oh, I almost forgot, I did this, too:

Your author at his most rachet

I may take another solo road trip, maybe not.  I didn’t get into any trouble (except losing my credit card), so my wife may let me do it again sometime.  By the way, my son’s team when 4-1 in its tournament, and he played well. So, there you have it:  My version of On the Road, only much shorter and only slightly less interesting.

© 2012

Eating for One

I’ve been on a road trip this week to Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  My son is playing in a baseball tournament.  I’m flying solo.  The rest of my clan stayed home in Kentucky.  I haven’t seen a whole lot of my son down here, except for his games and when he needs some cash.  In the name of team-building, the players stay together and ride a bus to and from their games.  The result is that I’ve had a lot of “me” time, which suits me to a tee.

I’ve been eating  my meals solo, too.  Yeah, I’m that guy, the pathetic fellow dining alone.  I know this conjurs up images of a serial killer sitting in his tool shed eating gruel from a human skull.  It doesn’t?  Okay, maybe I’m the only one who thinks about that, but that’s for another blog. I’m quite accustomed to dining out alone.  I travel a fair amount for work, and it’s usually solo.  This time, it’s different.  I’m actually on vacation and eating out among the vacationers.  They don’t eat alone.  But, I do.  Here are a few of my observations from this week.

Where to Sit

Would you like to sit at the bar?  I’m always asked this, and I think I know why.  If you sit at the bar, it’s not obvious to the rest of the diners that you’re alone.  You won’t trouble them by looking like a disturbed loner.  Also, if you eat alone, I suppose there’s a more than fair chance you have a drinking problem.  Sitting you within arm’s length of gallons of alcohol is just good business.

I don’t sit at the bar.  Why not?  First, I don’t drink, so I don’t need access to the bar.  Second, the few times I’ve eaten at a bar, I invariably will be seated next to a talkative drunk.  Mind you now, even though I don’t drink, I have no problem with those that do.  Unfortunately, I don’t like making conversation with strangers or listening to some slurred discourse on topics in which I have no interest.  I know now why people avoided me when I drank.

The exception to sitting at a bar is Waffle House, the poor man’s Cracker Barrel.  Okay, it’s not a bar.   It’s a counter, but it’s the same basic set-up.  You eat beside someone you don’t know and, being Waffle House, he may well be drunk.  I’m okay with it, because it fits the ambiance of Waffle House.  I can also watch them prepare my meal.  It’s like sitting in someone’s kitchen.  Now,the  cooking utensils seem really nasty, but they’re not.  Waffle Houses usually have good health department grades.  Who cares if the cook’s flop sweat occasionally drips into your scrambled eggs?  The food’s good and cheap.  Down here in Florida, I’ve eaten breakfast at Waffle House every day.  Bacon, egg and cheese wrap; side of grits; coffee; and water for $7.95.  Good eats.

I should also note that I do not include fast food restaurants and Cracker Barrel as dining alone, because they are set up that.  No one cares if you eat alone at a fast food restaurant.  People are there to get something quick with the assurance that they know how it tastes.  Cracker Barrel has really good food, and I’ve eaten alone at many of them.  It’s no big deal.  They cater to travelers, many of whom are by themselves.  It’s not a big deal to go solo for a stack of pancakes at 2:00 in the afternoon.

This week has been different.  I’ve been to several sit-down restaurants alone.  I usually have a copy of USA Today and my reading glasses hanging from the front of my shirt.  I prefer a booth.  Why?  I don’t know.  It just seems a little more private, plus the tables usually give me more room to spread out my paper.  It also seems like fewer people are looking at me.  They DO look at me, you know.  All of them.

Attention Please

Dining alone, I never seem to have a problem with service.  It’s odd, because one would think that a large table of customers–and potential tippers–would merit the most attention.  Not so.  I get checked on all the time.  I think it’s because I seem pitiful.  Look at that poor man who has no friends.  We should be nice to him.  I like that.  Coffee and water always topped off.  I never have to wait long for my check. It’s like they opened the restaurant up just for me.

Who are these people?

Of course, I’m not the only one.  There’s always someone else eating by himself.  I say “himself,” because it’s almost always a man.  Even though I am doing the same, I can’t help but think:  What’s the deal with that guy?  Does everyone hate him?  Probably.  Poor, pathetic bastard.  Glad I’m not him.

My reaction is similar to the rare occasion when I encounter the Day People.  You know them.  They’re the folks out doing stuff like shopping and washing their cars during the day.  I always wonder why they’re not at work.  It’s none of my business, so I never ask.  When I get to the age where I can say anything,  I’ll ask:  “What are you doing out during the day?  Don’t you have a job, hippie?”  Something like that.  Again, I digress.

I’m sure these folks look at me the same way and ask the same questions.  I’m just a guy eating dinner alone.  I refuse to order room service or eating crappy fast food just because I’m alone.  Now, leave me alone.

Where do I go?

I’m sure you’re curious about where I’ve eaten this week, so I’ll tell you.

Waffle House:  See comments above.  It’s Waffle House.  It’s consistent.  And I always like it.

BD Pizzeria:  I just ate at this place because it was convenient.  Pizza buffet for $6.99.  Nothing special.

Bridge Street BBQ and Cafe:  I just saw this place while out scouting around.  Kinda of a dump, but it looked like my kind of place.  I was surprised when I went inside.  It was nice, clean and looked like someone’s home.  My waitress was about 70, and I’m sure she must be one of the owners.  She was extremely nice.  I had BBQ pork, green beans and mashed potatoes.  It was nothing special.  The pork was inexplicable chopped into chunks but was pretty good nonetheless.  The beans and potatoes were of the cafeteria variety.  That said, I really liked the lady who waited on me.  There were only a couple of other folks in there.  One guy was clearly drunk and just wanted to use the phone to call a cab.  Of course, they let him.  The other guy is pictured below:

Bridge Street BBQ and Cafe. Note pathetic patron dining alone.

Anglers:  This is a seafood restaurant overlooking the Gulf.  I had bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with crab; garlic mashed potatoes; and green beans. It was all outstanding but a little too pricey for what I got.

The view from Anglers

Mary’s Kitchen:    I picked this place because it had a smoker out back.  I ordered the BBQ chicken/pulled pork dinner with black eyed peas and cheese grits.  The pork and chicken were as good as it gets, and I’ve eaten a lot of BBQ.  The grits were the only thing lacking.  They tasted like they had melted Velveeta in them.  Nevertheless, I’d recommend this place to anyone.  Excellent.

Old Bay Steamer:  I got the one-person steamer:  Snow crab legs; mussels; clams; shrimp; oysters; corn on the cob; and new potatoes.  This was a home run.  Everything was great.  Ronnie the Waiter (who bore a disquieting resemblance to rapper Paul Wall) practically hovered over my table.  My water glass was topped off repeatedly.  Good service and great food.

The Steamer Pot at Old Bay Steamer

I’ve got a couple of nights left.  I’m thinking about steak for tonight.  I might go to Ruths Chris in Destin.  I’m pretty sure Waffle House doesn’t have a steak, but it might.  Wherever I go, it will just be me.  And that’s okay.

© 2012