Food and Drink Feed

My Long and Weird Relationship with Greek Salad

Members of my family used to give me ride alongs in their big trucks down to the Houston Ship Channel to dump massive loads of grain for export. A skinny and long-legged preteen, my biggest joy was to wake up with the seagulls and step out into the gravel-like oyster covered parking lot and go into the cool air conditioned ambience of this one particular Greek restaurant on Clinton Drive. I never knew what entree to order, but I'd always start with the salad, fresh and cheesy, cold, vinegar based, with tons of olives and cucumber.

I remember eating my salad with some kind of fish, and I'd drink glasses of iced tea, and then force whatever family member it happened to be to splurge on coffee and Greek pastries. The place is long gone; the building stands empty; but the decor will live forever in my memory. Painted statues of Greek goddesses, topless, with scenes of the Mediterranean behind them guided you through a maze of columns covered in ivy to the main dining hall where rows of tables dressed in white linen and Greek inspired flower arrangements provided luxury in a neighborhood of trucks, ships, longshoremen, and an assortment of other working people, both good and bad. I continued to visit this restaurant into my adulthood, when in the late 80s it suddenly closed.

After I moved to Saskatchewan in the 90s, I found another wonderful Greek restaurant. It was inside of a mall, and what it lacked in decor it made up for with cheesy and hot delicious food, fabulous intricate desserts, and, of course, the staple of my life--Greek salad. The people that owned this place catered a dinner for me, and if I wanted to meet someone in that end of town, I would always ask to meet in my special place knowing I could always count on a table and be treated to a first class experience.

Now, everywhere on every corner, a Greek restaurant awaits. I could choose from at least half a dozen within a few miles of my Houston home, but I often attend the same one, a chain store offering both Greek and Turkish cuisine that in some ways perfectly overlap in flavor and texture. I am okay with their kabobs and pistachio covered desserts, the array of hot vegetables and the pita bread. But, for various reasons, the Greek salad comes out limp, without a fresh and crunchy texture, so I have to eat that in another place down the road. Now that I am an old lady and completely deserving of something special, I can't have my salad with my fish. But I'm not complaining. I am happy with my memories of my Greek places. I love them.




Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

Periodically, we all move into the mind numbing mode of disillusionment that pushes us into the blackest caves of our cranium, moving us closer to depression. We start to imagine our time as a force ticking past; we can hear the tick, tick, tick into the abyss of nothingness, but the bills march on, and the children continue to grow, and time shapes us into an older version of our beautiful, earlier self; normally a bigger version, a fatter version, a version with wrinkles, gray hair, folds of spotted skin, and unspeakable abnormalities.

This would all be acceptable if only one could find a sense of justice. Of course, something larger and more material than a "sense of justice" would be better: justice on a platter, or justice from the top, maybe justice that coincides with truthfulness, a justice that is not blind to reality. After all of the meanness, and the petty lies, the thievery, and the troll under the bridge whispering into the ears of a snickering fat butter ball, then we could all accept our place, and toil for less with more joy in our hearts.

And this joy would be for the queen's rapid packing, and the whining and sniveling know-nothing ignorance of a test passed too easily will flirt off into the dance floor of another time, and another place, and all of us will benefit from the justice of the dotted line on a highway headed north, back home where this constant back and forth, backstabbing mediocrity is accepted as normal, and the nasally whine of a voice too cheap, and too falsely dramatic, will fade into the muffled memories of a building meant to spread truth, and reveal justice.

Finally, after years of struggle, a flower will find time to bloom in a garden that was once toxic with hate, lies, insecurities, jealousy, and petty greed.

That will be the day.

Castaic is Getting back to Normal

I am up in Castaic, California, my third home north of Los Angeles. Yesterday we had a chilly rain, snow over the Grapevine Pass, no internet service, no credit card service, no automated tellers, and very limited cellphone access. The day was strange, gloomy, and lonely as hell with nothing to do but watch movies and sit in the cafe. Mike's Diner gave me the 'power' over the remote control, and because I wasn't wearing my reading glasses, I managed to accidentally shut the television completely down. Everyone looked over at me like I was the devil. Finally, a really smart waitress was able to restart programming while I sat squirming with embarrassment in my hot little chair--lucky for me!

Starbuck's is still experiencing some wifi connection issues, so I am blogging from McDonald's today. A family is visiting Castaic from Squaw Valley. They have had seven feet of snow in the last week. The wife is telling me they would like to go home, but their community is overrun with tourists out for a day on the lovely slopes. Every run is open 100 percent, and the temperature is a mild 22 degrees. I bet it's perfect!

Last night the Grapevine was so treacherous that the California Highway Patrol escorted traffic across the pass in groups. I can only imagine the miserable wait times while vehicles crept down the steep mountainside. This morning a lovely coating of snow covered the green foothills, but now the hot sun is shining, and the lower elevation snow is all melted away.

Tomorrow I start up my truck and leave Castaic behind. I will miss the nice people, the palms and flowers, and Mike's Diner. I hope I am going home to see my family.


IT's a Beautiful Day in Castaic California!

Yesterday I arrived in California to some beautiful weather, and truly friendly and helpful people. I love it out here, and if I was wealthy, I would live somewhere around Santa Barbara. Today I am in Castaic, located just north of Los Angeles on I-5. If you have ever visited Castaic in the past, then you already know how truck friendly it is. Of course, it has a large population now, and lots of new housing. Some of the newer locals wish the trucks would all go away, forgetting how much money is spent in town by drivers buying everything from fuel to Starbuck's coffee.

The Country Girl Bar is rather famous, and has a huge parking lot for trucks. MIke's restaurant still offers delicious Mexican Food, truck parking, and ice cold beer. Lake Hughes, with its beautiful park and trail, is within walking distance from the stores and strip malls. In the spring, the wildflowers blossom all over the hills. Winters are mild with beautiful palms, warm breezes, and garden boxes.

But, like most places I visit, the people are what make the trip. In Castaic, they are friendly, helpful, and fun. If you are ever north of Los Angeles, take the Lake Hughes exit. You will love it too.

The Petro Stopping Center in El Paso, Texas

One of the reasons Flying J went bankrupt was because it had the sorriest food in the country. They shipped everything out pre-made and they would leave it sitting on the buffet table for hours.Sometimes I would take pictures of the buffet and send them to Ogden. I got caught doing this at the Flying J on Merced Avenue in Bakersfield, California. The chicken was undercooked and the refried beans had water floating on the top. The spaces between metal pans were covered in spilled food, and the glass over the buffet was filthy. The manager came out and asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was a food photographer for Time Magazine. He didn't think I was very funny; he grabbed the phone and called the sheriff, blaming me for the line of customers refusing to pay their bill. 

When my little boy rode in the truck with me, I would use Flying J food to enforce good behavior. If I threatened him with a Flying J meal, he would shape it up immediately. He liked Petro though, especially the one in El Paso. Here you can order a real chicken fried steak, with homemade mashed potatos, his favorite roadside meal. The salad bar has always been something the El Paso employees stock with pride. This morning it is loaded down with fresh berries, grapes, melons, jello, and raisins.

Sonny, a longtime Petro kitchen employee, is cooking omelettes. You can get fresh jalapeno, mushrooms, ham, and bacon cooked into your eggs, along with many other items. The place is sparkling clean, the staff is very professional, and the mix of Spanish and English conversation is comforting and pleasant.

Most truck drivers do not like to eat pre-made food. Healthy food in a pleasant atmosphere can help some of us live a lot longer. We are all hoping the upper management of Petro/TA preserves the restaurants that do work, and phase out many of the premade restaurant selections. Soup boiled in a bag is radically different than soup cooked from fresh vegetables.

Well I guess that's it for now. This holiday week has dragged on for too long, and I really need to get home. I miss my big computer, my cozy apartment, my huge television. I would like to drive my car for a change, and go someplace nice. I need to go to the Anytime I ever!

Mr. Mike Yager, Director of Operations TA/Petro, left a nice comment on my post!

Tonight I am sitting in the Travel Center of America in Boise, Idaho, because my load in Oregon isn't ready to go yet. While I was here, Mr. Yager responded to my post featuring the big TA red, white, and blue sign.

His comments are interesting, well written, and humorous; they are worth the time to read. I want to thank Mr. Yager for making huge improvements to our truckstop home. I hope the TA/Petro management team will continue to listen to all of us who work and live on the road.

I know a lot of women can remember the day when showers were usually located in the men's restroom. If you didn't have a man willing to act as lookout, then you borrowed the hose on the fuel island. Because a lot of the showers were truly filthy, the hose was often the best resort anyway. I am sure glad those days are over.

In one year I fell sick to food poisoning three times. The Husky Truckstop in Golden, British Columbia, caused me to lay out my bunk door, on top of Roger's Pass, and vomit for hours with the freezing wind and snow blowing bits of oatmeal back into my hair. I will never forget that night; I honestly thought I was going to die.

Thank you Mr. Yager for caring about us. It really is a jungle out here; it is nice to know that people are watching out for our health and safety.


Happy Halloween and Houston Aquarium Fun

If you haven't been to the Houston Aquarium Restaurant yet, then let me say it is one of the best family fun adventures you can take. My cousin invited us to her home for Halloween fun and dinner out. Late in the afternoon we headed to her place, and after dark she took us to one of the nicest neighborhoods in Houston for trick or treat. The homes were gorgeous and many of the neighbors had tables set up on their lawns piled high with goodies for the kids. After a couple blocks of this, we hopped back into the car and headed off to the aquarium.

Maybe the food wasn't gourmet, but it was still very good. I had to laugh at my kid piling his plate up with fried calamari, he certainly didn't know what it was. I had a few oysters, some stuffed crab, (which was very good) and a big piece of fish. My cousin had stuffed and fried shrimp. The cocktail was wonderful though...a nice and very dry gin martini, made just right. But what we loved most was the tranquility we experienced just sitting together and watching the fish swim around.