I was just driving through a mountainous, and thus comparably isolated, region of the United States. While stopping to get gas, I saw and decided to enter a true American cultural institution: the roadhouse. For those not in the “know,” a roadhouse was once a place located outside city limits, where one could generally find dinner, booze, and carousing. It was (and to an extent in some areas, still is) a seedy stop along the roadside, a place where inhibitions were lost almost as often as fiancees.
The place I visited is one of the more modernized pastiches of roadhouses, the rustic steakhouse. It was not one of the giant chains, like Texas Roadhouse or Logan’s Roadhouse, but it was of similar, if more local and charming, ilk. There was a bucket of peanuts on every table and a layer of shells on the hardwood floor. Littered around the restaurant were various markers of Westernness(?) –old tin cans; flour and meal in croker sacks, as if they came from the local mercantile; horseshoes and ropes. The place was trying very hard to sell itself as a window into the past, into the Frontier, but from a rational perspective, it read more like a window into a Cracker Barrel.
Still, as I elbowed up to the bar, I was struck by how oddly effective the illusion was for me. I felt like my cowboy boots should be echoing on the dirty floor planks, that I should remove my hat and set it on the bar. “Whiskey,” I would say, because that would be all I needed to say. There was one kind of drink, and I would be ordering it. A relatively dusty but comely whore in a once-ornate dress and lace gloves would saunter down from the upstairs hotel and offer me some company. “Figurin’ on settin here a spell,” I’d say, “I ain’t et and I aim to have a nip at this ‘yere bottle. But if you’s around after a time, I reckon I might have a mind ta tup ya. Barkeep–menu!”
Then, I’d see much the same menu as I saw at this roadhouse: steak, steak, and steak. With potatoes. And in huge portions. At the modern roadhouse, I ordered the 12-ounce(!) chopsteak with loaded potato, and that came with a hefty salad and all the rolls I could eat. Though I knew that 12 ounces was three-quarters of a pound, I was still surprised by how much meat was on that plate. The fully loaded baked potato looked like a pebble beside that rounded slab of cow flesh. But man, was it good. It was cooked on a grill, and the flame-kissed-ness was ridiculous. In addition, the potato was stuffed with sour cream, cheese, real bacon, and a bucket of butter, assuring me that I would not go back into the harsh Western environment without a proper layer of fat to bolster me against the cold nights. In addition, I drank a kettle-full of iced tea. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the steak came with sauteed mushrooms and a side-trough of gravy, so there was that, too.
After stuffing myself so full that I feared a clothing malfunction, I looked about me, and the mirage started to fade a bit. There were no cowpokes to be found, but rather, hordes of hefty, hefty people about me; and instead of chaps and blue jeans, they wore flip-flops and bahama mama shirts. In addition, I hadn’t noticed that beside the door was a fully digital jukebox, ready to spit out all the latest Curren$y hits.
But, before the dream could fade completely, I paid my bill and got out of there. Though I would nearly fall asleep and die on the drive home, I had sweet memories of my not-that-unique, but jaunty experience with the Old West at a probably super-corporate steakhouse. I know that I was horn-swaggled, but durn if I didn’t like ever’ minute of it!