By road food, I wish I had experienced delightful diners with economical American dishes like salisbury steak, meatloaf, chicken salad, tuna sandwiches, iceberg lettuce wedges with thickish pink sauce, and a rotating case of neatly-plated pie and cake slices (with no squiggles of carmel). I wish I meant local specialties (though I once stopped at a promising unbranded diner and discovered that they made potato salad out of instant mashed potatoes in that part of Indiana).
As anyone who has been on the Ohio or Pennsylvania turnpike knows, road-food choices there are different now. Each rest stop has its own selection of fast food. Just a bit back from the turnpike, white stone buildings set at regular intervals once had identical Howard Johnsons in them -- my memory stops at fried clams, which were brown, mainly batter, but with unidentifiable clam morsels deep inside, and the widely-advertised 28 flavors of ice cream. HoJo pioneered predictable, unvarying food, but it was supposed to be good. The 20th century HoJos buildings have mainly been torn down or fully rebuilt to house Sbarro, Burger King, MacDonalds, Starbucks, and nameless vendors of Hershey ice cream.
Along the Ohio turnpike, the buildings are all 21st century; big and round with sort of a dome. Evelyn once called from one to report progress. "Where are you?" I asked -- "Food Court, Ohio," she said. A few of the stops in Ohio have Panera, but that's as good as it gets -- a bagel. If you haven't been along the pikes lately, you can learn what's in the food court by reading the blue panels just before the turnoff. If your car needs gas, though, you just have to suck it up.
Yesterday we made a big mistake: we stopped at one offering only a Hardees with its adjunct, Red Burrito. Horrible! Terrible! Microwaving chunks of avocado and shreds of lettuce should be a criminal act (though I wouldn't want them to arrest the cheerful teenagers and elderly folks who actually commit the final deed). The picture on the website shows some chips and salsa, but I guess the turnpike version inflates the price by omitting them (it would have been overpriced even if edible, which I didn't.)
The sogginess of the burrito wrapper made it seem more like a stale pita than like a tortilla. The chicken chunks were probably past redemption before they were nuked. It didn't help my reaction that 350 miles earlier, without asking me, the smiling retiree behind the counter at Sbarro had microwaved my meatball sandwich and soggyized the so-called submarine roll. I lose.
What lesson can I learn from this? The toll way is carefully engineered to make sure a detour beyond the toll booths will add unacceptable time to the trip. I wouldn't add even a few minutes, for some other kind of fast food. I guess we'll go back to packing our own sandwiches and eating in the car.