ROAD-KILL GRILLS
(Cont. from the Previous Indigestion)

Chicken’s a better bet than beef in roadside Urgent Care facilities. Except the fried chicken in a big joint in Akron, OH. This Ohio thing is just an unfortunate coincidence, according to my daughter Susan, who used to live near Cleveland. Or maybe it’s not a coincidence. Maybe Ohio is where angry military cooks go when they retire. We had asked an Akron motel owner where we could find a good, plain dinner. She waxed enthusiastic over “the big place up on that corner? (she pointed north, toard the freeway) It’s REAL good. . . And it’s close!”
Well, she was wrong, although it WAS close and big. Or maybe she was mean-spirited and this was her little “gotcha” against folks from California, where they put avocado on everything and think their food is so damn sophisticated. The restaurant was indeed popular. Very large, very busy. This must be a good place, we thought. At last.
But no. The chicken was pathetic. Fried too hard in old oil (you can tell: the darker the finished fried product, the older the oil. My son taught me that when he worked in burger joints). The fries were brown too, but not hard like the chicken. They were limp and wet with oil.
We ate some chicken and fries out of sheer stubbornness and went back to our room. No point in arguing with the woman who recommended it. Our stomachs were OK, and we would live to drive another day. I asked SD, “If these people eat crap like that when they go out on the town, what do they eat at home?”
She (from Indiana and would know) shrugged and said “Kraft’s macaroni, from a box?”

But let’s balance these low points with some good travelers’ food: I still remember the chicken tenders (called “streeyups,” meaning strips) in a small Kentucky town. Really tasty Kentucky-fried food. My brother-in-law was driving us around southern Indiana and on into Kentucky. He had told me that Appalachian hillbillies are . . . a little strange, a little “different.” (I knew that, being an Okie, originally. We southern Scots-Irish are all related.) We stopped at a small cafe with a swinging, banging screen door, went in and felt the stares of three fat guys in bib overalls. They sat still and watched us. We sat at the counter so as not to have to stare back and forth with them. A young blonde girl behind the counter slowly approached and stood silently, staring down at me as if waiting for me to draw a gun and shoot her. I didn’t see any menus. “Hi” I smiled. “No menus, huh?”
“Huh uh.”
“Do you have hamburgers.”
“No,” she said quietly. So apparently she could speak a variant of English.
“Oh. Well, whatcha got for lunch?” My three companions sat quietly, amused.
(Imagine slow Dixie accent here) “Chicken streeyups.”
“OK!” I brightened up. Didn’t want things to get any trickier. Didn’t want to scare her any more than she already was. “I’ll have the strips. And a Coke.” I was tempted to mimic her accent,  but wisely didn’t. I didn’t want to get her or the boys angry with us. We all had the streeyups. Ate, talked quietly and got the hell out of there.The chicken was good, fried taters are fried taters and Cokes can always be counted on.
We hurried out to our car and resumed looking at green fields and gray little houses.
If you want upscale in the rural South, try Country Kitchen, Howard Johnson’s or other chain diners to see why folks down yonder are so fat. Good ol’ grub, and lots of it for a reasonable price. half-gallon jugs of Coke, Pepsi, whatever, as long as it’s got a lot of sugar in it.
Time out for an anecdote: A friend from Kentucky, a well-educated official with the Peace Corps, said his brother figured something out in a rural Kentucky Col. Sanders joint. After studying the relative costs of Coke sizes and the fact that refills were free, he whispered, pointing at the soft drink machine, “Gollee, lookie there! Yew kin git a great big ‘un for a dollar an a haif, are yew kin git a medium one fer only…”
“I get it, I get it, buy small and refill.” his brother said, shaking his head once again at the . . . what shall we say, simplicity of some country folks, including his own brother.

So there’s the good stuff: Country Kitchen is where I took my cousin and her husband in Lawton, OK, and we had a fine time.
Come to think of it, chicken strips sound pretty good right now, as I’m hungry again. Happens every few hours. For lunch or dinner it’s hard to beat that American classic, probably first perfected by slaves — Southern Fried Chicken. Saw a fried bird outlet on each corner of a North Carolina intersection, and saw the same thing in the Los Angeles ghetto, just south of USC. The four are usually Popeye’s, Kentucky Colonel and a couple of local enterprises.
My mom fried chicken regularly (in the old days, country folks didn’t have ovens, so it was boiled or fried food, period), and I do the same: dredge the bird parts in flour, salt and pepper them, and fry till crispy on the outside and then simmer for a while. I have a secret ingredient: Douse the parts with lots of powdered sage, to give them the musty flavor of the Old West. Pour off the remaining fat, leave the gritty residue, and make southern pan gravy by cooking the stuff in a cup of milk and a couple of tablespoons of “flahr.”
Just avoid Akron, Ohio, the city with a huge rubber tire statue rising up from the town center, proudly looming over all, including the place with the rubber chicken. Maybe it was soft plastic food, come to think of it.
I like the coastal Carolinas for dining out. Lots of fine seafood there. But you’re still in the South. You recognize southern humor in billboards here and there, advertising Dirty Dick’s, a popular chain of crab takeout places. (This is a true story.) Big signs show a battered old gal, weary and thin, saying solemnly, “I get crabs from Dirty Dick’s.”
Redneck humor. Too bad their secession efforts failed. Lincoln was wrong to bring them back.

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