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It's Nelly's World

Ride: to Eat

alec vanderboom

The motel nights punctuated the days: the period at the end of the sentence. The next day, a new sentence to write. At last, they strung together in a long prose poem, The Big Trip. The meaning was not known until the end. And the end has not yet been arrived at, since big trips have an endless coda--memories. They recur at strange moments, disconnected sensations bubbling up from somewhere unseen. The sun slanting across the Napa grapescape. Garberville ("The Hemp Connection"; the Sherwood Forest Motel). And, like the commas and semicolons in the middle of those sentences, meals.

Outside Yosemite, at the Best Western, the Spaniards swum darkly in the pool; the French spoke in low tones to one another. The Germans asked politely, and formally, in near-perfect English for directions at the front desk. And at the "breakfast buffet" the next morning, I cringed: So this is American cuisine, they thought to themselves. Cheerios, white bread soft as paste, gluey margarine, "coffee," gelatinous jam inseparable from its plastic pack.

This is largely how I, too, ate for a month. The high end was Outback Steakhouse; the low end was . . . low indeed. Much trail mix passed through the digestive system, many cheese crackers. In the hellish heat of Kansas, of Nevada, orange dye mixed with chemical electrolytes washed into the bloodstream. A pack of peanuts, ice cream, French fries. More French fries.

In San Francisco, we wandered through the farmer's market at the Ferry Building, and my craven sighs were audible. Not just organic peaches, by the cartload, but nine types of organic peaches. A great spillage of colorful produce. And none of it would last a half hour in a tank bag. So we wandered some more (twelve dollar malted milk balls?), fresh fruit juice from our single taste dripping from our fingers, and then turned to walk back to the shop: the bikes were ready, wearing fresh rubber, and we needed to ride again.

There is a kind of riding where meals are simply a kind of fuel to burn, and procured at exactly the same place as the bike gets its gas. Or maybe from the saddlebag, where you've stashed the granola bars you bought at Target way back when. I had food that had seen hard miles, crushed beneath the electric jacket and the laundry bag, from New York to California and now back to Colorado, where their crumbs perform a utilitarian function at last, when I was hungry enough not to care. Much.

The motel rooms
were our temporary home. (What is it with the astonishing proliferation of chain hotels in America? I must remember to update my drugstore rant; there's something up with the economics of so many, many imposingly large, anonymous structures, with their expensive rooms and, yes, identical [and identically bad] breakfast buffets). For maybe ten hours. A quick swim. Then to dinner at the nearest option, usually scoped out while still on the exit ramp. Applebee's, IHOP. There was real food out there, but it required getting back in gear. Sometimes you just want to walk, you know? So, next to the chain hotel, surprise, there is the chain restaurant.

This is America. But that is also America, too, and we saw it all: the miles, the miles, the miles. The variegated. The old, the places they have not touched. The Cowboy Cafe nearly made me laugh, its perfection. The dust in the air, across the empty crossroads.

We saw it all. Or what we passed, which felt like all.

For the record, the pies at the Thunderbird Restaurant were delicious. And if they were in fact ho-made, well, I think everyone deserves a pleasant way to spend their downtime.