Friday, December 07, 2018

O Christmas Tree

Place: The Habit Burger Grill
Lunch (well, early dinner technically): Double Char (no tomato), onion rings (w/ranch), strawberry limeade

The Habit is a fast casual burger chain that dates back to 1969.  The idea behind the name is they want you to "make it a habit" to show up and order food.

Everything's cooked to order and priced in line with the usual suspects.  The burger is good, if not a little too intensely charbroiley tasting.  Loving the strawberry limeade, which is a flavored drink you can refill...there's no fresh fruit in it.  There's at least three other sandwiches I'd like to try on the menu (an Ahi tuna, a tri-tip steak, and a portobello Char), but I'm only in town for a few days and have like 17 places I'd like to eat at while I'm here, so probably not.

Ford has a commercial running for the Escape...a car-based SUV not really designed for off roading...that suggests that you should give your kid a life lesson by taking them into the woods and finding a random tree to cut down and bring home for the family Christmas tree instead of going to a tree lot.  A family adventure.

This seems ill advised.

First off, it can be outright illegal or at a minimum require permits.   The US Forest Service has some guidelines here

Second, make sure you're on public property where this is allowed and what the rules are.  You'd feel terrible if you cut down a tree that turned out to be on private property and had the family dog's remains buried under it.  Poor Fluffy.  And poor you when the family's attorney gets involved and it turns out they had security cameras and you're suddenly a YouTube star for all the wrong reasons.

Third, know the conditions.  Saws can spark.  Dry climates can catch fire.  And as the people of Paradise, California will attest, fires can burn whole towns down.  Even the local Jack in the Box.   Nobody wants to lose their local Jack in the Box.  I mean, all those wasted tacos.

Fourth, there's safer places to do this.  Find a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm.  Find your perfect tree, saw it, properly secure it to your vehicle, and pay the attendant.  Off you go.  i have a memory of doing this as a child.  Dad found the perfect tree at the bottom of a steep snow covered hill and intended to drive our '61 Transporter (the VW pickup version of the Type 2/Bus) down there and get it, but the lot owner wouldn't let him.  "There's no way that thing will make it back up the hill."

"Yes it will," my father flatly replied.

They argued until Dad wore him down by accepting responsibility if he got stuck.  He drove down the hill, cut the tree, loaded it in the back, and drove straight back up the hill, where the guy, arms folded, watched with surprise.  "Damn.  I need to get me one of those," he said.

But whatever adventure you have, it will never top the ones we had when we moved to Alaska.

Dad's boss had a 50-foot yacht.  Every year, he'd take us and other friends out to some random uninhabited island to find the perfect "free" Christmas trees.  Because who would pay for a tree while living in the middle of a national forest.  We'd anchor off shore, take the skiff in, wander inward to find our perfect trees, cut them down, drag them back to the skiff, tie them to the back, haul them through the salt water, and put them on the back of the boat.  Scrapes, bruises, colds, and once a broken leg ensued.  But hey...we had our "free" trees.  Not counting the untold hundreds spent on fuel and food and supplies and what not.  A point Dad never missed pointing out, but nobody cared.

It was, after all, really about the adventure.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Milepost

Place: Cook-Out
Lunch: Cook-Out Tray (Cheddar-style burger (add pickles & ketchup), onion rings, Chicken quesadilla), Cook-Out-style hot dog (no slaw), Cheerwine (hellz yeah!)

Everything you need to know to understand Cook-Out is in their dining room tables.

Cook-Out is a Southern chain that focuses on grilled foods as if they were made on an outside barbecue.  They serve burgers from fresh never frozen beef, chicken, hot dogs, BBQ pork, and, for some reason, quesadillas.  And 40 flavors of milkshakes, which I assume are NOT grilled.

Their version of a combo meal is a "Cook-Out Tray", which gets you a main menu item, TWO sides, and a drink.  The drink options at all 200+ stores includes Cheerwine, which would have been enough alone to draw me in.  The food is served unapologetically in a styrofoam clamshell with the burgers and quesadilla wrapped in foil.  And Cook-out is cheap...this whole lunch, including the Cook-Out style hot dog I added beyond the tray, was less than $9 even with tax.

The Cheddar-style burger has bacon, onions, and cheddar sauce.  The bacon is thick, crunchy, and flavorful.  The patty tastes legit home grilled.  The onions seem grilled too but not enough that they're soggy.  It isn't pretty. It isn't premium looking.  It's an unapologetic total in-your-face "screw you, i'm a burger, and I'm awesome" kind of burger.  And it is.

"Cook-Out Style" means chili, onions, and slaw, and that's what's on this dog (minus the slaw).  It also has a deli mustard.  Perfectly decent chili dog.  You can get the burger "Cook-Out Style" too.

The onion rings are good.  Nothing remarkable.

But the big surprise for me is the quesadilla.  It's really great.  Similar to Taco Bueno's.  Smaller, but just as good.  A single is an option as a side in the Cook-Out Tray.  If you order it as a main entree, they give you two of them.

Tradition for years has been to spend Thanksgiving weekend and the week after in Salt Lake City.  It's my biggest vacation of the year.  But it's not happening this year because next week is my last week of gainful employment.  Seemed silly to not show up.  So I'm on a four-day road trip to eat a couple of chili dogs I haven't had before.  Because chili dogs are synonymous with Thanksgiving.

Last week, I started going through papers and personal effects at my desk and ran into a folder full of stuff from years gone by.  Inside were a pile of old state road maps...the kind you used to get for free at rest areas...and a sheet I used to have on the wall of my office (back when I actually had a physical office in our nice building before we moved into the unremarkable dump we're in now where I have a desk in a cattle pen) called The Milepost.

Yep.  My favorite restaurants and the distance to their closest locations at the time.  This has to be at least ten years old, as a lot of this is inaccurate now.  Some have closer locations (one even in town now).  Some are now further away.  One entry isn't even in business at all anymore.

In 1978, my family packed into the late 60's VW Bus my dad had converted into a camper (a very convincing replica of an official VW camper) and took our last vacation together.  A 90-mile ferry ride and 3,700 road miles later, we arrived in his hometown.  After a  week of fun and mayhem with all the aunts and uncles and cousins, we headed back west to my hometown to see my mother's family before heading back up to catch the ferry back.  I was 12.  I wouldn't see the Midwest family again until I was an adult.

Being a pop culture fanatic on a remote island with no road access out (let alone being under driving age) made for a depressing childhood, particularly in the pre internet and social media days.  I was as alone as it got in the world.  So I often killed the hours by going down to my father's work after school, locking myself in the camper, and pouring over the old road maps, travel guides and brochures I collected on that trip.  Wishing I were anywhere but there.  In class, I used to draw depictions of interstate exits on the header of school assignment papers from the vantage point of approaching from the highway with big glorious signs of the era for everything from McDonald's to Stuckey's to the Holiday Inn Great Signs and the flashing crowns of Best Westerns popping up on the horizon.  The artwork was probably better than the school work turned in because paying attention in class is boring.  I drew hundreds of these.

My first great road trip of my own was at the age of 20 when I moved to the Midwest.  With the promise of a job awaiting, I packed all my personal belongings into my '75 VW Dasher Wagon and headed east.  Stayed in no-name motels with $19 rooms.  Subsided on McDonald's and 7-Eleven roller grills.  Broke down once (an issue solved with duct tape), and had all the car lights quit working (solved with fuse box fidgeting in cold howling winds in the dark at a Husky Travel Center.  Said fuse box, of course, was in the engine compartment, not inside the vehicle like most cars).

I loved every minute of it.  I was finally out there.  I was finally free.

Being out there became a way of life for me.   When the wanderlust hit and I craved some food from a distant land, I didn't go digging for a travel guide, I just went there.  At my high point, I was putting in excess of 50,000 miles on my cars annually.  It's sort of an obsession.  One of my greatest regrets in life is that I never got to experience Pup 'n' Taco.  That would have been my dream restaurant  Tacos and chili dogs in a 70's style wood panel dining room.  Doing my best to not make that mistake again.

And that's how I ended up at Cook-Out.  First heard of them a few months ago.  People raving about their food.  So here I am, having driven hundreds of miles to eat another burger, eat another chili dog.  I'll be doing the same thing tomorrow at G.D.Ritzy's, a nearly extinct chain I hear really shouldn't be.  And don't think I didn't take advantage of the Krystal down the street too.  It's been years since I've been near one of those.

My search for new work starts in January.  I'm taking December off.

Haven't made any specific plans, but I'll be out there.

Not sure where, but I'll be out there.