The restaurant at the truck stop a couple of exits down I-40 from here is now a Denny’s. More and more, truck stop restaurants are operated by chains. That is all well and good and there is logic behind the concept, such as a smaller burden on the truck stop staff and the advantage of a familiar brand to attract auto drivers and truckers. However, when I’m hungry on the road and a hearty meal is on my mental menu, I try to go to independent truck stop restaurants.
In 2002, I had the good fortune to co-author The All-American Truck Stop Cookbook, published by Rutledge Hill Press/Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc. When authors Jim Clark and Ken Beck asked me to join them in writing this book, I jumped at the chance. Doing the research (i.e. – eating good meals) was enough to lure me into the project, plus working with those guys was a delight.
We gathered recipes from truck stops all over the country and in between them in the book, we wrote feature stories on many of the truck stops, overnight trucking radio announcers, truck drivers themselves, trucking music, films and other related subjects. I was lucky enough to spend some time with a waitress who had been at the same job for thirty-one years and she shared some wonderful stories with me. I met Pat Deck at the restaurant at Griffis Truck Stop on I-55 in Tillatoba, Mississippi.
Pat told me about the wedding reception that took place there one time. Yes – a wedding reception in a truck stop. That, in itself, may be considered unusual by some but not to the bride, groom, friends and family who enjoyed the big affair. An unexpected guest arrived in the form of a deer, who wandered in because a door had been propped open for some reason but never closed. The deer headed straight for the cake but was promptly shooed out by the people who were yelling and laughing at the entire incident. I’ve always wondered if another of the guests may have followed it out with visions of venison for dinner on his mind later that week.
Then there was the time that country singer George Jones’ bus pulled in and the Possum and his entourage all enjoyed a good meal. Jones’ band members were apparently mesmerized by the merchandise in the truck stop store, according to Waitress Pat. They went on a shopping spree, buying western vests and other items and piled back into the bus and headed down I-55 to their next show.
About the time the bus was fully underway on the interstate, a man nicknamed “No-Show” came out of the men’s restroom in the restaurant wondering where his band had gone. Oops. The CB began to buzz and the bus returned to pick up its primary passenger. If Jones, who has notoriously missed concert dates throughout his career, hadn’t made it to that one, at least this time it wouldn’t have been his fault.
Like an 18-wheeler pulling into the terminal, our book reached the end of its run after about eight years and is now out of print. But I occasionally still enjoy a good country-fried steak and a cup of tasty, hot truck stop coffee when I’m on the road. That’s a big 10-4.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Les Kerr.
Learn more about Les Kerr’s books and music at www.leskerr.com