I learned something on our three-week, 6,600-mile road trip: Miles and time will vaporize a playlist like a rocket does rocket fuel.
I put together a Spotify playlist that ran 12 hours and 40 minutes (about 250 songs), which I assumed would be enough to get us across the country and back.
Wrong. Two-hundred-and-fifty songs won’t see you through Missouri with Kansas looming like Oz.
I was so sick of music that I wondered why I even liked music and if I would ever be able to listen to music again.
It didn’t help that we couldn’t figure out the inner workings of Spotify. Songs seemed to repeat themselves every 20 minutes. As good as “Ring of Fire” is, after eight times, you feel as if you are in the seventh ring of hell.
Podcasts help and “In the Red Clay,” the podcast about Billy Sunday Birt, the most prolific killer in Georgia history and head of the Dixie Mafia, filled 12 hours nicely. Twelve episodes, an amazing story.
Driving is interesting. You don’t think it takes a toll but after three nine-hour days in a row, when you stop, you can have a driving hangover.
I was surprised and delighted to see the 80 mph speed limit signs in Nevada, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah and Colorado. At 80 (84, 86, 88), you feel as if you have wings and you can touch the sky as the road bends toward the horizon.
More surprises. The food. How good it was and how good it was almost everywhere.
Way back when, when dinosaurs prowled the earth and shoes were optional, the best food and the finest restaurants were in the big cities. Not only has the food revolution spread to private homes and small towns, but it’s as if a whole generation of chefs have returned to where they grew up.
We ate at the Dish Room in Burlington, Colo., (population around 4,000) and had a wonderful meal including a pear Gorgonzola salad that made me want to burst into an Italian aria. Same with the Pit Stop Pasta & Grill in Fancy Gap, Va., which had an incredible bacon cheeseburger and fries and minestrone so good that Sue had two bowls.
However, the bigger cities aren’t dead either. I thought we had great barbecue (brisket, smoky beans, vinegary coleslaw and banana pudding) at Feast Barbecue in Louisville and I swore I’d never have barbecue again because it was so good in Louisville but I lied because the prospect of good barbecue will make you do that. The next day we stopped at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que in Kansas City, situated in an old gas station and I changed my smoky tune.
I’ve never seen a busier restaurant or had anything that spectacular in the barbecue genre.
Sue had the chicken and I nearly fired her on the spot. I ordered the ribs and one meat dinner, which included three ribs, slow-cooked pulled pork and smoky beans.
We made friends in line with two women who worked in the medical field and one told us we had to order the onion rings and when we didn’t, she gave us one of hers and now I’m ruined for onion rings. Onion rings usually start out promising with that crispy outer shell and then you get the slippery uncooked inner onion that slithers around like an onion snake.
This onion ring was an onion ring miracle — crisp all the way through. I’d eat onion rings every day if I could those from Joe’s.
What’s a trip without chocolate? How about a slice of the quintessential chocolate cake from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge in Asheville, N.C.? It was the Mount Everest of chocolate cake and a lot easier to conquer.
What’s better, chocolate cake or the cinnamon roll we had at Kennedy Coffee Roasters in Bentonville, Ark. That’s Walmart headquarters and boy, is there money in that town of 50,000 along with Crystal Bridges, a world-class art museum funded by Walmart heir Alice Walton.
The cinnamon roll was so light I thought it was going to float off the plate like a cinnamon roll flying saucer. It was so good I had to order a second one to make sure it was that good.
Travel advice: Don’t be shy about talking to people in restaurants sitting at nearby tables. If it’s a couple, most likely they want to be rescued, principally from each other.
They’ve already talked about their kids, grandkids, their friends and their hopes and dreams, if they have any left.
A new person or couple is like fresh meat. You can have a great conversation, find everything out about them and then never see them again. There is nothing wrong with a dinner friendship that grows, blooms and sheds its petals because spring has passed.
Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at email@example.com or (661) 395-7279.