For his Hotel breakfast in San Antonio my nephew had ordered tea but when it arrived he began to study it intently. It was just the usual white cup with lukewarm water poured over a tea bag, with a piece of cotton attached to a small cardboard square hanging over it’s lip. But he was more interested in something else.
It’s red ,’ he said, ‘ this tea’s red.’
‘ It can’t be,’ I replied, ‘ it’s just the light in here. Put some milk in it and it’ll be OK.’
He took the usual ten minutes to open one of the tiny cartons and pour the milk into the liquid.
‘ It’s pink now!’ he exclaimed, ‘ it’s gone pink.’
There may also have been a couple of mild expletives intermingled somewhere in the sentence.
‘ No, it’s just the light.’ I said, looking up at the bright yellow bulbs above, ‘ Take the bag out and give it a taste.’ I thought as a teenager he could use technical advice like that.
He held the cardboard, extracted the bag and left it on the side plate. Then he noticed something written on the cardboard over a little picture of something red.
‘ Loganberry? Loganberry!’ he said,’ Who’s Logan and who put his berry in my tea?’
It was good, for one so young, to have learned two very valuable lessons for the independent traveller to America; never, ever, order tea, and do not be seduced by free hotel breakfasts. I have found throughout numerous journeys across America that an early start and a stop at a roadside diner, or indeed a walk around the locality of the Hotel, can often provide the most memorable breakfast experiences.
An exception is obviously the wonderful B&B’s that abound in many of the more popular touring areas, as the breakfast element is already paid for and more often than not excellent. Further exceptions can be found in some highly individualistic Hotels that may not provide the best breakfasts but offer an experience beyond the ordinary. One such was Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel in Cody Wyoming, where the breakfast room is graced by the original bar donated as a gift to William Cody by Queen Victoria. At the time it was valued at $100,000, as much as the rest of the Hotel added together, and is probably worth the same proportion even now. Unlike the breakfast I do remember the view through to the current bar area. There was a large table, with about a dozen Harley-Davidson bikers sitting around it playing poker. The table was scattered with dollar bills, full to bursting ashtrays and breakfast bottles of Jack Daniels. Still there from the night before they sat with their long dank hair, their leather boots and trousers and their black short sleeved tee shirts showing off their tattoos. There were however no mustaches as these were the women of the group, the men probably unable to take the pace through the night.
Some mornings do not go to plan however, like one Sunday in a Mid-Western bible belt town. We spent a couple of wasted hours driving from diner to diner, all full to bursting, with snaking queues outside their doors, with families either on their way to or returning from Church. It was little wonder with all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets at $4.99. That morning we had to make do with a Subway on the road, as we tried to make up the lost time.
One great advantage of travelling West is the benefit of early rising. Nothing beats a just post dawn walk through New York’s streets, past the grills in the roads gusting their steam ( Where does that come from?), searching for that different experience. I always look for the NYPD patrol car parked outside as offering the best advertisement for the breakfasts and having just looked up ‘stereotype’ in the dictionary I can confirm the doughnuts will always be delicious.
Another pre-dawn start was to watch the sunrise over the Mesas and Buttes on the horizon of Monument Valley. Unwilling to wait for the breakfast room to open we moved on for fuel and noticed a Navajo diner shaped like a Hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling, with six sides and a door facing the eastern sunrise. The seating was around the edges by the windows while the counter and ovens were in the centre, just like a Hogan. It was before 6am yet it was full of groups of local Navajos on their way to work, just relaxing and reading the local papers. These are the papers found all across America with three pages devoted to the previous night’s High School sports matches and a small paragraph on page 14 announcing the outbreak of World War 3. I ordered a traditional Navajo omelette with chilli-peppers and when it arrived I thought I should just pep it up a little with a liberal sprinkling of TABASCO Habanero sauce from the bottle on the table.
Pleasant surprises often occur when leaving breakfast locations to fate. Departing from beautiful Bryce Canyon one morning and driving along the equally spectacular ‘Hell’s Backbone’ ridge, with views of valleys on either side, we came across a small diner. As we walked onto it’s rear decked area we had magnificent views of the valley below. The breakfast and service were of course excellent, yet I wondered why they would put so much effort into a transient customer base with little chance of repeat business. The permanent smiles of contentment on the faces of the staff, at a job expertly done, gave us our answer.
We took another risk on leaving Chicago en route to Indiana but wanting to just cross the border into Michigan. This entailed skirting the Southern tip of Lake Michigan through an area known as ‘the rust belt’. Old refineries belching smoke and fire, closed steel mills and assembly plants littered the route. There were closed stores, homes and businesses, for mile after mile, with nobody about and grass growing on the side-walks . Almost two hours of travelling and we were in despair at even finding a ubiquitous Denny’s , never mind an interesting diner, and even thinking a giant yellow M would be acceptable, when a small building with a ‘Diner’ sign and a flat bed truck outside came into view. There should have been a passport control at the door because it was like entering a different world. On the walls were original landscape oil paintings, two ceiling fans revolved, and on each table red and white gingham tablecloths were crowned with vases of fresh flowers. The server looked as if he was on a break from Harvard with polo shirt, chinos and loafers, topped off with a spotless blue and white apron. Of course the menu was all organic local produce, and excellent it was too.
‘ This place is like coming across an oasis in the desert,’ I said.
‘ Thank you,’ he replied with a smile,’ we try our best, but our water comes in bottles.’
Sometimes a little planning is required, as was the case with Winterset in Iowa, the birthplace of John Wayne, but more famous as the film set for ‘ Bridges of Madison County’. I took my wife for breakfast at the Northside Cafe where the star had been filmed. As we entered I directed her carefully to the fourth stool from the door and we ordered our hot cherry pies and cream. There was a group of older women walking around looking at the film memorabilia on the walls. They approached the counter and one asked the waitress in a soft Southern accent,
‘ Excuse me but where exactly was it that Mr. Clint Eastwood sat?’
The waitress raised her arm and flicked out her finger in my wife’s direction and said,
‘ Right there Honey.’
It was probably the smile on my wife’s face or more likely the look on mine that told them they would have a long wait before they could acquaint their bottoms with Clint’s seat, so they quietly shuffled out the door.