If Memory Serves: Truck Stops

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If Memory Serves chronicles moments from my dining past, perhaps explaining why I'm so damn strange.

I love truck stops.

Not the modern, multi-functional, linked up facilities along the interstates where they sell everything from Confederate flag license plates to Internet access and lot lizards prowl the asphalt, but time-worn mom and pop cinderblock structures dotting the old highways.

You know the ones--gravel parking lots, Formica counters and at least one jackalope mounted on the wall. They can be downright vile, of course. Once when I was traveling through rural Virginia with Michael Boatman (of Spin City fame), we pulled into such a place. Even from the outside it was grimy and he gave me a "no way" look, expecting a welcome involving glares or banjo music. He'd already pointed out that the past 20 miles of roadside probably hid the remains of several murder victims.

"We'll walk in and they'll say 'that boy's got an earring and, by god, that other one's a negro,'" we decided.

But there was also a shack outside of Culpeper, Virginia, serving all you could eat seafood for one low price--which meant anything from their seafood menu, from spindly king crab legs to some of the best fried oysters I've ever tried. Think it was called D & D's...and I have no idea why they stocked king crab.

That risk-reward thing makes them so interesting. You never expect much, but sometimes you're surprised to find the "best" fried chicken, the "best" cinnamon rolls, the "best" whatever. And the best truck stops have a warmth about them, even at 3 a.m. You see people at various stages in their day--some slumped over coffee, trying to stay awake during a long haul, others just starting their day.

And you used to see short order cooks slinging hash browns while smoking a cigarette, though probably no more.

What I really love about truck stops, however, are the breakfasts measured out (apparently) by the pound. I've covered a chunk of this country by car and always stop at little highway joints called Square D or B-Z ("busy," get it?) or Doris' Cafe, looking for pancakes those big-ass pancakes that flop over the edge of the plate--followed by bacon, eggs, sausage, potatoes, biscuits and gravy...

OK, so truck stops aren't the healthiest of options. And the guy in the next booth may have just murdered a rest area prostitute. At the very least he shows off his ideal woman on his mudflaps.

Guess I've never really cared as long as the place could do flapjacks.

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