Marty’s photo of the day #1503. It’s Book Excerpts Week, featuring an excerpt from my first book, “Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents,” and a corresponding photo (that may or may not be from the book). This excerpt takes place in France, shortly after Republicans in Congress renamed French fries, “freedom fries” and French toast, “freedom toast” in their cafeterias:
Rather than return to the tollway, we decided to take the alternate route. We thought the old two-lane highway would provide quick access to restaurants but soon regretted our decision. The dark and lonely road led us through miles of nothingness.
This was a dangerous, possibly lethal, situation. When Deb is hungry she’s like a female black widow spider, and that would um . . . make me her mate.
“On the left!” she screamed. “There’s a restaurant!”
When I glanced to where Deb was pointing, my eyes were drawn to the multiple rows of semitrailer trucks in the parking lot. I was looking forward to a meal of traditional French food, not truck stop food.
“Are you sure you want to eat there? Let’s drive a little farther.”
“I need to eat now!”
I dutifully swerved into the lot and parked the car.
We entered the restaurant dressed in our mud-smeared shorts, casual shirts, and invisible “We are Americans” signs. I scanned the crowded main room. About fifty men were inside. Some were standing at the bar, and the rest were sitting at tables.
“You’re the only woman in here,” I said.
“You’re right,” said Deb. “Oh, wait. The bartender is a woman.”
“She doesn’t count.”
Imagine stepping into a restaurant filled with burly truckers. Members of the ruling party in your home country have recently insulted the truckers’ nation, heritage, and even their manhood with degrading comments and jokes. Now you feel their eyes upon you, as if you were the one to blame for the insults. You look for an open table and catch your breath when you realize the closest one is on the far side of the room. You cross to it, as if walking a gauntlet. Intimidation floats in the air. Then you notice a small detail that changes everything. The truckers, many with tattoos covering their muscular arms, aren’t drinking hefty mugs of beer—they’re sipping dainty glasses of wine.
I know I’m playing with stereotypes here. Certainly every trucker isn’t a beefy redneck looking to start a fight. But picture Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the Terminator with a glass of red wine in his hand. It just wouldn’t work.
As things turned out, the restaurant’s customers and employees were friendly. Our waiter even went out of his way to speak English to me while patiently encouraging Deb to practice her French.
Deb ordered from the menu, and I opted for the buffet. Midway through our meal, Deb subtly pointed to the large snails the truckers next to us were eating and said, “I’m surprised you didn’t try the escargot.”
“Oh, I overlooked them. I’ll be back.”
When I returned to the table, I smiled, pulled an escargot from its shell, popped it into my mouth, and washed it down with a splash of wine. “Mmmm—truck stop food!”