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Truck stops: a shrine to unhealthy eating
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
Several weeks ago, I went bowling with some friends. One of them was surprised that there wasnít a haze of cigarette smoke lingering over the bowlers, until I reminded him of the smoking ban that went into effect last year.
Still though, it is weird to not see cigarette smoke walk in a bar or recreational-type place. But the other night, I walked into a truck stop and saw a woman smoking near the fuel desk. If you want to indulge in things that are bad for you, just go into a truck stop. The old school ones will allow you to smoke. If there is a non-smoking section, it will be designated with a sign and little else. Forget about it being closed off; even if you are sitting in non-smoking, youíll still get the benefit of secondhand smoke.
The old school truck stops are comforting, if not particularly healthy. They look very mom and popóformica tables, metal frame chairs with a little padding. The dťcor variesódepending on the location, you end up with remnants of whatever is in fashion locally. John Deere signs, clocks advertising the logos of local businesses, rusty license plates, a deer head on the wall. Even if the walls started out white, they are now Nicotine Yellow, not courtesy of Sherwin Williams. You probably wonít find any carpeting on the floor. There will be nondescript tiles that have felt thousands of scrapes from the chairs nestled against the formica tables. In the back, you might find ancient video games.
And the food? Well, sometimes itís cheap, sometimes itís not, but usually it will be very good and served to you in huge portions. Pancakes will be as big as dinner plates. The chicken-fried steak will probably be seven inches across and drenched in gravy. And donít forget the biscuits and sausage gravy. Thatís a truck stop staple. The booths at the restaurant will be super-comfy, and it will be hard to roll out of them once youíve stuffed yourself with comfort food. Thereís a good reason why a lot of truckers arenít just overweight, theyíre obese.
Then, there are the other truck stops. I think of these the way I think of Times Square right now. Times Square used to be seedy, a place you wanted to avoid, even though it was a New York landmark. A few years ago, the city cleaned it up until itís about as harmless as Disneyland. The bright lights are still there, but the peep shows seem to be tucked away on the side streets. Modern-day truck stops are sort of the same way. They are clean, well-lit, and chock-full of crap, just like your local shopping mall. CDs, books on tape, snacks galore, toys for your kids back at home, knick-knacks you can live without, novelty items, supplies for professional drivers like load locks, ratchet tie-downs and atlases, and a display of lights and chrome for your ride. Oh, and donít forget the high-octane coffee, and be sure to buy a huge plastic jug to put it in. The food isnít comfort food; the shiny new truck stops are littered with Subway, Wendyís, McDonalds, Arbyís and other fast-food places. Yes, they sell salads, but I can tell you that about the only way you can eat a salad and drive is to put the salad in a large enough cup and hope you can shake enough of it into your mouth and not into your lap. I donít eat dressing, so I am probably one of the few people who can treat salads as finger food.
But since Iíve started driving, Iíve been eating less. Iím worried about getting there on time, so I wait to eat until after Iím done with my deliveries. Iím usually so eager to get home though, that I bring something to munch instead of popping into one of the shiny, chock-full-of-crap truck stops for food. So far, the snacks on my return trips have been trail mix, cashews and beef jerky.
Beef jerky. Hmmm. If I go on the Atkins diet, that will be one of the things I can eat. I prefer Jack Linkís Steak Nuggets, as they seem a bit better tasting than the usual shoe leather thatís passed off as beef jerky. Itís hard to pig out on this stuff, because, well, it just is. But I figure itís better than trying to eat chicken-fried steak while driving. That gravy is murder to get out of the seats.