A truck stop somewhere in Iowa.
A truck stop somewhere in Iowa. Jim Hilgendorf
Truckers have been calling our Hidden Kitchens hotline since the beginning. Bob "Trucker Dad" Stanton told us this story that we included in our book Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More. Call us at 1-866-OVENMIT with your Texas Kitchen tales.
I'd like to tell of a hidden "nomadic" kitchen. This kitchen forms among the itinerant professionals that make their living over the road — long-haul truck drivers. Usually, this kitchen begins in the back corner of a truck stop parking lot when a driver pulls out a grill that he keeps hidden in his toolbox. This is a special grill as most carriers do not allow drivers to carry charcoal grills which they perceive as a fire hazard.
He starts grilling the pork chops he purchased that morning, halfway across the country. As the smell begins spreading across the parking lot, other drivers gather to see what's cooking that night. One driver goes back to his truck and brings out barbecue sauce. Another driver says, "Well, I've got eighty pounds of raisins." Another one brings in his Tabasco and Cajun pepper. Quickly, an improvised mashed raisin, Tabasco, Cajun pepper glaze is tried on the pork chops, which turns out to be amazingly good. Potatoes, onions — a make-do potluck dinner begins. But the poor flatbed steel hauler, not having much food in his truck, stops by and laments he can't offer any food to this buffet. It is suggested, "Well, build the table." Pallets, load jacks and other improvised lumber are found and a buffet table springs up.
Now, problems arise. First, the livestock truck with the live pigs parks across the street upwind from the improvised buffet. A quick bribe gets the stock truck moved to the other side of the parking lot. Next, the truck stop manager appears, walking through the parking lot. Trucking is a business and this truck stop manager recognizes that the drivers eating in his parking lot for free are not coming into his restaurant to eat. He speaks to the drivers, but it's apparent that they are not in the mood to move their potluck. Discussions come up regarding the $3,000 some drivers have spent recently at that truck stop to fuel their trucks. Offers to fuel trucks for two or three thousand more dollars before leaving quickly appease the manager and he leaves the impromptu buffet to go on unabated. The truckers gather around the grill swapping stories of missed families, the storms they've weathered, the nomadic lifestyle of an over the road trucker.
So, the next time you're merging onto the interstate, planning to cut off that 18-wheeler, think of last night's improvised truck stop buffet and go cook with the people in your life. — Bob Stanton