Several weeks ago, I’m traveling with my youngest son, Connor, 15. We’re driving several hours from home to meet my wife and other son for an event.
Connor has assembled his road-trip collection of snacks, so he fends off the need for lunch for most of our journey. Eventually, however, we decide we’ll stop in this one particular town on the way and grab some food. Should be simple.
Or so you’d think.
Have you ever noticed that food doesn’t always obey the same rules on a trip as it does at home? On the one hand, you can go almost anywhere in the world and find a McDonald’s or Starbucks, same as at home. But sometimes, less than 100 miles from your house, you can’t find anything you want to eat in a place that looks just like home, but clearly isn’t.
I’m in a “let’s eat semi-healthy” mode, so this day, we stop at a grocery chain store that, around where I live, tends to have a really nice deli section and a variety of soups and salads available. In this store, however, there’s a single canister of what the sign says is chicken noodle soup. I lift the lid and detect a faint sheen on the bottom of the cylinder and a few dried noodles on the side.
“Any other soup?” I ask the woman behind the counter.
“Oh no, hon. That’s it until tomorrow,” she tells me.
I inspect the other options. They have a rubbery looking chicken breast or a burrito in the display next to the remains of some pasta and bean salads. I point to the burrito.
“Is there a way to heat that up?” I ask thinking that while pizza and certain other foods are fine cold, a cold burrito sounds as appetizing as well, a cold burrito.
“Oh no, hon. We ain’t got a microwave. They tell us we’re getting one in the remodel next year.”
I decide not to wait till then.
I pick up some green salads for my wife and oldest son. There aren’t enough for all three of us so I give up on finding anything for me to eat that appeals here. Later, when I finally get to our destination and my wife and son open the sealed salad containers, they both scrunch up their faces when they take a whiff and say almost simultaneously, “Ewwww! Salad isn’t supposed to smell like chlorine!”
Thankfully, I’d picked up some fruit and chips at the store, so they dined on those and a couple of granola bars from my younger son’s travel stash.
Back at the store, while I’m having my delightful conversation about microwaves and burritos, Connor has given up on finding anything that sounds palatable here. He strolls over to the neighboring Burger King and gets some French fries. He meets me as I reach the car.
“There has to be someplace around here to get something other than fast food,” I say.
“Whaz wong wiff fassfood?” he mumbles through a mouthful of fries.
We start to drive back toward the freeway. And that’s when I see it: A sign for a Teriyaki restaurant. It’s one of those folded signs like a temporary road sign you see on the sidewalk when people have businesses that they know no one will ever find based on the proper signage of the establishment. It may not be elegant but it works. It got us to pull into the parking lot.
I wouldn’t call the location a strip mall. That has too much of a consumer shopping connotation to it. This is more like a business park with some retail spaces, most of which are empty or closed. That should have been a clue as to what is to come, but sometimes you let hunger do your thinking.
Not a good strategy: Hunger doesn’t have a brain…
To be continued…