Jane’s Diary: Free Food

It is no secret that during our long career as food writers Michael and I ate a lot. Now that we are no longer young I look back on exactly how much food we consumed on the road in our early years, and am in shock. We probably should be dead or stars on My 600 lb. life.

When we began the life long adventure of writing Roadfood our days went something like this:

4.30 a.m.; Get up, drive around whatever small town we were in and see where the local café was. We would go in and order biscuits and gravy, chicken fried steaks, pancakes, omelets, waffles. When we were through we drove to the next town and ate breakfast again, and then the next town, literally ad nauseum.

After our third or fourth breakfast we would try and cover around 200 miles. When we had clocked this much driving time we repeated the pattern at lunch. I do not ever remember ordering a salad or anything light. The kind of places we liked served fried chicken and mashed potatoes, big juicy steaks and smothered pork chops. The vegetables were gilded with sugar and butter. Then we had to try every pie in the refrigerated case.

We drove aways and stopped for three or four dinners. Then around 11pm we found a cheap motel and checked in but not before we bought a bottle of bourbon and a pillowcase size bag of potato chips.

Yes we were often dyspeptic, gulped Alka Seltzers, and both looked pregnant but the next morning we were raring to go again.

As we got older we ordered as much as ever but had lost the capacity to finish it all. We began to ask for doggie bags, Styrofoam clamshell take out containers, and would put our leftovers on the back seat.

While we never took a free meal (still don’t) we were occasionally recognized by restaurant owners who we had written up in previous editions of Roadfood.

Our write-ups brought a great deal of business to these Mom and Pop cafes, and the owners wanted to thank us by gifting us with vast complimentary of slabs of ribs, buckets of fried chicken, and fresh out-of-the-oven pies. We were thousands of miles from home, and not even slightly hungry but to not be rude we graciously took the gifts.

Now here was the problem. We were deep in rural America where nobody knew us and we didn’t know anyone. We never saw a Charity Soup Kitchen, and never drove past anyone holding a cardboard sign asking for help. Those kinds of things were urban, and in Gnawbone Indiana you just did not see it. We even looked for hungry dogs but there were none to be seen.

Sometimes we would stop at a one-pump gas station and ask the attendant if he would like free food. Even when we told him the restaurant it came from and that we were food writers, no one wanted it. At first we were miffed, but in retrospect realized if a stranger on an empty road asked us if we wanted his sandwich, would we take it? Hell no!

The grand climax of the free food dilemma came one dark night in Tennessee. The owner of one of our favorite BBQ’s had presented us with three aluminum platters of pork ribs. These were perhaps the best ribs in America, but we were full, tired, and far from home.

It would have been a sacrilege to throw them away, and as if a mirage sprung up in the distance we saw a group of old fashioned “hobos” warming their hands around a flaming oil drum. We screeched the car to a halt and filled with the milk of human kindness ran towards the men with the big platters of ribs.

Suddenly red and blue lights were flashing and on a bullhorn uniformed cops with pistols drawn yelled “stop and drop”.

As we soon learned these were not hobos, but meth dealers who gathered at this deserted road waiting for customers. The cops had set a stake out and we had barged in.

After interrogating us as to why we were “catering the party”, they let us go. Happily they took the ribs into custody as evidence. At least someone appreciated them. 


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