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Thursday, June 29, 2017


CHOP TALK—Perry’s Steakhouse in Austin Texas serves a three-deck pork chop thick as a Henry James novel.


GUEST BLOG / by Eric Peterson--Let’s just say that one of us overestimated how many Juicy Couture sweatshirts, Papaya print chiffon tank tops, Abercrombie jackets, and pairs of ASICS running shoes and Lucchese boots would fit into a rented Lincoln Navigator—that is, after the flat-screen TV, computer monitor, bedding, and framed horse pictures had already been loaded.

The happy result? I’d have company on my road trip. 

It was Memorial Day Weekend, and my daughter Caroline was relocating from Austin, Texas, to San Francisco. The obvious solution to our dilemma was that Caroline would follow me, her father, in a second, equally jam-packed SUV.

Four days on the road with my precious, 26-year-old daughter. Heaven. But the prospect of embarking on a road trip always engenders a certain amount of apprehension. I’m convinced it’s in our genetic makeup—residual atoms from ancestral pioneers who crossed the untamed West in covered wagons. 

Caroline and I would be spared the perils of prairie fires and marauding Indians, but traveling through four western states, we faced savagery of a different sort: gas station restrooms, two- and three-star low-rise hotels, and a plethora of casual dining restaurants.

On our last night in Austin, leery of meals to come, I steeled myself with a Perry’s Steakhouse pork chop. Thick as a Henry James novel, with three ribs protruding from the top of the chop and a slice of tenderloin they call an “eyelash” served on the side, a pork chop at Perry’s will have you raising your hands and singing hosanna. This moist, buttery, decadently fatty interpretation of “the other white meat”—each bite loaded with notes of smoke and bacon—is Perry’s signature entrée for good reason.

The highways of Texas are a joy to travel. The smooth, spit-shined asphalt surfaces put California’s potholed freeways to shame. The posted speed limits of 75 mph mean you can safely cruise at 80, and my Lincoln Navigator was up to the task. Its acceleration was impressive; its air conditioning robust. 

The soft leather appointments of the cabin enveloped me in a cocoon of quiet luxury, and the Sirius satellite radio served up a seamless selection of uplifting country music. Passing trucks, I relished seeing the Navigator’s LED turn signals as they flashed on the side mirrors—like a police cruiser.
For the record, the ‘80s-era Lincoln Town Car still stands today as the best road-trip automobile ever made. Nothing facilitated a weekend screamer like tooling around in a big, stinkin’, rented Lincoln—some of those weekends are among the better memories of my early adulthood, but mention Phoenix, Arizona, to me and I will deny ever having set foot in the place. Mention it twice and my lawyers will sue you for libel.

By the time Caroline and I reached Lubbock, Texas, night had fallen. Exhausted and hungry, we checked in to the Hilton Garden Inn. For spaciousness, comfort, and cleanliness, our rooms at this hotel rivaled any of their big-city, high-rise cousins. The hotel’s glittering lobby was stunning, and the staff of leggy, impeccably tailored Lone-Star brunettes who welcomed us—well, in my next life I hope to come back a Texan.

We settled for a late dinner at a nearby sports bar. The bright overhead lighting, the banks of buzzing TVs, the multicolored menus with their pages stiff and glossy as children’s storybooks, the bar tops tacky as glue traps—it was like eating in a nursery school. The chicken piccata came out defrosted, microwaved, and solidly breaded. 

Even the garden salad tasted like Chicken McNuggets.
The next day, we caught Highway 40, a route that parallels active railroad tracks. Mile-long freight trains came in scores, gifts from a munificent God. In Albuquerque we met Caroline’s sister, Katie, and Katie’s fiancé, Lucas, for dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Both girls ate sensibly. I, on the other hand, flouted cirrhosis of the liver and coronary artery disease by matching Lucas in a wild carnival of gluttony: a slew of Manhattans followed by too much red wine, calamari with spicy Asian chili sauce, a bone-in New York strip, and a fully loaded baked potato. Did I mention that I love my future son-in-law? That night I slept well, certain I could make San Francisco by living off my body fat.

Monday was a long day of driving for Caroline and me—10 hours. In Flagstaff, Caroline found an elegant workaround to fast-casual dining: she led us to a Whole Foods Market, where I soothed the jackhammering in my head with a 750 ml bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water and two slices of a thin-crust vegetarian pizza.

On the last morning of our trip, leaving Barstow, California, passing through the Mojave Desert, I suffered a shock: it seemed Southern California was being overrun by an army of colossal robots from outer space. On closer inspection, these gargantuan beings were horizontal-axis wind turbines, arranged in hideous Orwellian eyesores euphemistically called “wind farms.” I am convinced these blots on Mother Nature’s splendor will be the bane of our generation. And as far as I could tell, only about one in ten was turning. What’s with that? And who will dismantle these monstrosities when mankind comes to its senses?

Like most road trips, this one ended too soon. Crossing the newish Bay Bridge into San Francisco, I panicked as I realized I’d have to return my Lincoln Navigator to the car attendants at AVIS. I’d become attached to this big black truck the way a cowboy ranging over four states might grow fond of his horse, and now I had to shoot it.

Caroline and I finished our trip on a high note: dinner at Tadich
Grill, San Francisco’s oldest restaurant, that landmark spot in the Financial District where my father and grandfather once dined. I had successfully delivered Caroline home—home to the site of her first job out of college, home to that bone-chilling summer fog, home to that bustling, Bohemian, disgraceful city by the bay.
HIGH NOTE--San Francisco’s Tadich Grill was the perfect dinner stop after a father-daughter road trip covering four states.
At our table near Tadich’s busy kitchen, I mopped my melancholy with chunks of garlic toast dipped in the simmering tomato sauce of a seafood cioppino, knowing that our father-daughter road trip was one for the ages, thinking that in an era of flying, self-piloted cars, when cancer and heart disease are cured by a simple pill, when a technology called Hyperloop is moving people from place to place at 4,000 mph, Caroline can tell her grandchildren that she once drove from Texas to California with her old man. In those days, she’ll tell them, you had to stay awake and steer your own car, which traveled strictly on the ground. The journey took four grueling days.  


Eric Peterson is the author of  The Dining Car, a contemporary novel about a former college football player who enlists as bartender and personal valet to a curmudgeonly food writer and social critic who travels the country by private railroad car.

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