some travel notes

Our love of chain restaurants.

Elana will, I think, be writing more on this subject soon, but we have a sort of project to review America’s non-fast-food chain restaurants. I covered the Olive Garden in Washington state on a trip for the military recently, and before we left L.A. we went to an Outback Steakhouse. Both of those offer preposterous cultural cliches and somewhat-to-quite edible food manufactured by Sysco, but we were looking forward to some plain, old-fashioned American cuisine… manufactured by Sysco.

We stopped, quite late in the night, at a nearly deserted Western Sizzlin, which I am convinced is making 90% of its money from weary travelers who mistake it for a Sizzler. You stop in expecting a kind of steak-and-baked-potato place, and it turns out to be some weird hybrid cafeteria with a confusing array of bars and buffets. Bottom line: you can still get a steak, and apart from a certain degree of fattiness, it’s probably no worse than the one you get at Outback. Stay away from the salad bar — it look as though it was stolen from a Wendy’s in 1986 and they haven’t changed the lettuce since — and forgo the “pies.”

The survivor tree.

Want to make your pregnant wife weep? Take her to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which stands on the site of the 1995 Murrah Building bombing. She can cry openly at the tiny chairs that represent the small children who died in the building’s day-care facility. You can stand around and pretend you’re not nearly so moved.

The chairs.

The memorial is dignified and serene in presentation, but there’s an undercurrent of fierce resilience, a determination to resist the violent, apocalyptic vision that the McVeighs of the world offer. This is what America’s reaction to 9/11 might have looked like, had a fight in the Middle East not been of such value to so many powerful people.

Best park name in America.

Toad Suck Park. No, really — it’s a real thing. Thanks, Army Corps of Engineers!

God bless our dumbass Founding Fathers.

People with a hard-on for the Tenth Amendment, out of all due proportion, give me the creeps. We’re one nation made up of many little organizational units called “states,” and have been since the end of the Civil War. I don’t give a flying fig what Jefferson or Hamilton thought — those wig-wearing old fools didn’t even have the foresight to anticipate assault rifles or define money as speech; you really think their limited perspective as former inhabitants of a bunch of semi-autonomous British colonies should hobble our national unity forever?

But as you drive across this country, you can’t help but be glad for the federal system. Whether it’s Texas’s single — yet spectacular — rest stop on the entire 300-mile stretch of I-40, or Oklahoma’s charming blue signs describing the tourist attractions in each of its towns, complete with tiny Oklahomas for bullet points, I really love the quirky little differences in personality that define each state. God bless America, home of the outlandish and the silly and the unnecessarily complicated. God bless our union.


One response to “some travel notes

  1. Oh do try some local non-chain places. They are essential to the trip.

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