I'll be on the road for the next month playing keys with my band The Weight, who you may remember from Practice Space on VBS. We're traveling to nearly 30 cities in 19 states and will be passing through a bunch of others. One thing you do on the road is eat at establishments both iconic and obscure, so I'm going to keep you updated about what I’m putting in my mouth.
I first fell asleep somewhere in Delaware. I woke in Virginia to a rolling backdrop (rolling as in continually moving--the landscape itself is completely flat) of corn and tobacco fields, roadside vegetable stands, tackle shops, and motels that had seen their special time in the 50s. Every house we passed seemed to have a boat or a kudzu-covered clapboard farmhouse in its side yard, sometimes both.
The summer and the landscape together overwhelmed me with nostalgia. I remembered picking vegetables in my grandaddy and mema's garden that would either end up on the supper table, put up in mason jars for the winter, or brought to neighbors in wide-weave wicker baskets. I remembered traveling the same roads in my grandparents' Winnebago Chieftain bound for great uncles' and aunts' houses in the country outside of Brookneal, Virginia, or the Pennsylvania Dutch country, which my grandaddy was fascinated with for some reason. I remember going at least three times.
I'd had a crappy lunch on the New Jersey Turnpike earlier, so I wasn't really ready for the lunch counter. But it's pretty tough to stop into a Stuckey's and not walk out with some sort of sweet snack. It's one of the things that they're famous for and the main reason that Stuckey's was a childhood favorite of mine. After taking a few minutes to consider my options (moon pies, peanut brittle, pecan fancies, salt water taffy...hmm...). I decided on a Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer, an original Goo Goo Cluster, and a Stuckey's World Famous Pecan Roll.
In the Pennsylvania Dutch country, my grandaddy would stop at the side of the road to buy warm bottles of birch beer from Amish farmers. I'd always have a sip, but my childhood taste buds weren't really ready for that. I'd gladly swap that birch beer for the one from Stuckey's, but hey, I'm an impulse buyer and will sometimes make a purchase based on the cover and not the words in the book.
The Goo Goo Cluster's "original recipe" is a perfection of peanuts, caramel, and marshmallow covered in chocolate, and even though this alone might've given me diabetes, I have to have a Pecan Roll every time I stop at a Stuckey's. A log of nougat coated in caramel and pecans and inside... what is that? Maraschino cherries? I definitely don't remember that being there. They make the inside an unsettling shade of pink with bright red specks. Kinda gross really, but what the hell.
This kind of junk food's rooted in a time and place, and that's becoming increasingly hard to find in a world that every day looks more and more the same no matter what city and state I might find myself in. But in the end, nostalgia lost out to sheer sugar. I got about halfway through everything before it all ended up back in the bag and finally found its way to the floor of the van with the rest of the debris that six dudes and a couple of pit stops can create in a day.