What happens when a couple of car-free city kids discover the sudden need for a commuting vehicle? With only days until Doc's new job starts, North of the city, way off public transportation paths, we learned that his very generous parents were willing to give us their car. The only catch: how to get it from Bakersfield to Boston in just a few days' time? Welcome to our road trip, affectionately entitled: "Yermo Be There." My nickname for the trip is "Mac Kerouac" since I'm using the iPhone and Macbook to stay connected. Doc's we haven't agreed to but I'm leaning toward "The Machine" since he drove straight through 1,320 to get our first leg out of the way in record time: 24 hours. Why did we name the trip Yermo Be There? Because Yermo (pop. 4,200) was such a funny-sounding name we fell in love with it. We immediately thought of the scene in "40 Year Old Virgin" "Yah Mo Be There" when Paul Rudd says: "I would rather listen to Fran Drescher for eight hours than have to listen to Michael McDonald. Nothing against him, but if I hear 'Yah Mo B There' one more time, 'yah mo' burn this place to the ground." Here are some quick facts:
- Yermo is soon to be the ex-home of a USDA ag inspection center.
- Yermo is the home of Del Taco.
- Yah Mo Be There - is a version of Yahweh Be There. Yahweh, another name for God, was thought to be risky in a song title so they changed it to let the listeners interpret for themselves what the terms meant.
Given that we missed the storm that was predicted to hit the mountains at the same time as we were driving through, maybe Yermo was with us...
Eating Across America
As usual, food is our main organizing principle. When we're planning a trip, a day, an event, a visit: food is the thing other aspects get ordered around. Our journey began with lunch in Irvine, the Bakersfield and San Diego clans convened with us for a Japanese lunch and a frozen yogurt treat. Sushi, sashimi, teriyaki and more were shared around the table. With the two adorable nieces and the Sister- and brother-in-law to catch up with we barely got to say hello to Mom and Dad. It's always fun to eat crunchy fried shrimp heads to the amazment of others. We (somehow) saved room for dessert and enjoyed a tart frozen yogurt with fresh fruit and mochi. (we do funny faces for the camera) "Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner on Ghost Town Rd" sounded promising, until we saw the dinosaurs in the back and the lonely three cars in the lot...we skipped it. I know the 50s were a long time ago but I didn’t see Stegosaurus in that movie “When Peggy Sue Got Married.” Maybe the movie got it wrong. Sheese, if you can’t get your history from the movies, who can you trust anymore? Mad Greek - right across from the Bun Boy Motel. Couldn’t make it up. (Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute to let those homophobic Greek joke scroll through your head.) I ask you: what do you have to do in a motel that’s so crazy that you can’t risk it in Vegas? What is so freaky that you'd rather drive 100 miles to Baker to do it in the Bun Boy Motel? We saw a sign: Baker Pop. 600 thought - "boy is that town small." Then after we ate at the main attraction: the Mad Greek Diner, we saw a sign that said “Mountain Pass: Pop. 37” I wonder if that includes the two coyotes I saw? In-N-Out - There’s a certain joy in a predictable good meal. This is especially true when it comes with a healthy dose of “our story.” Having grown up without In-N-Out, I knew nothing of their family business story, their surfer dude clientele, their secret menu. One trip and I was sold. On top of a great business story, simple business model: small menu that doesn’t cater to flavor of the month enhancements; fresh never frozen beef, all food made to order, fries made from potato julienne to french fries. We happened to make my first visit after a superb meal at a high end restaurant in Boston. We traveled to California, found our way to my In-N-Out. Doc still remarks how unusual it is to see someone enjoy a gourmet meal one night and a burger and fries the next day, with equal relish. By the time we arrived in North Platte we were like zombies. My in-laws generously packed every single square inch of the car with treats. In the car we have: fresh papaya, bananas, mango, oranges, tangerines, avocados (thanks to Yen-Yen!), Chinese style jerky (SO good, sweet, salty, anise-y), chips. Water, coffee drinks, juices, teas. Chocolate, Dewar's Chews. Around the 24 hour mark, we were ready for a hot meal, a shower and a bed. We passed on some scary truck stops and decided to hold out for North Platte. Boy are we glad we did.
Yermo Loves a Good Steak - The Canteen Grill
Although our hand-drawn and Xeroxed map of North Platte showed three restaurants serving local Nebraska beef, we knew we’d found our spot the minute we stepped out of the car to "check the menu." When the smell of charred beef smacks you in the parking lot, you gotta listen. Walking into the Canteen Grill we were delirious from 24 hours of travel. When the hostess asked if we wanted “smoking or non-smoking” I giggled. “You still have a smoking section in restaurants here?” She said, “Yeah, but only in the bar area, until June 1st. Then they’re gonna make us all quit!” I looked around the bowling alley-sized room and was secretly tickled to find a place where old and young, smokers and non-smokers mixed and mingled. My thrill was amplified by the Grateful Dead playing over the heads of the diners and drinkers, many of whom were certainly not the types you’d see at a Dead show. No matter, folks were enjoying themselves and the soundtrack played to background of tinkling ice and laughter. As we took our booth, (I’d declined the smoking section’s nostalgic draw in favor of our health) and settled in, we grinned like kids at Christmas. Not only did they have Nebraska beef on the menu, it was aged and it was cheap. For my friends in Boston and readers in other cities, prepare to gasp. Neil Young, followed by Jethro Tull played while we perused the menu. I fixed my sights on the 24 ounce Ribeye with Maytag Blue cheese butter. $24.00. Tobacco onions (onion strings - $2.50) and baked potato (butter AND sour cream) and a salad with Ranch dressing. Sides in Boston are a la carte, you pay for each one. In North Platte, you still get a potato and side included. Doc ordered the King Cut Prime Rib ($22.00) which was a perfect rare. We also had two Bombay Sapphire and Tonics. By “we” I mean “me”, of course (each cocktail was $4.50). And we split a Mud Pie dessert. We discussed the merits of old-school Maraschino cherries to the song stylings of Bachman Turner Overdrive, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. We felt this might have been the best overall meal experience we’d ever had. As another family was seated nearby, (Grandma, Grandpa, Son or Daughter and two grandkids) I noticed that the grand daughter’s sandwich arrived with the crusts trimmed. The family’s burgers arrived with house-made chips that looked so good I almost wanted to order some. Chicago played (don’t you love big horn sections?) 25 or 6 to 4. Our bill arrived as I resisted the temptation to lick the caramel sauce from the dessert plate. $67. For our non-Boston friends even with a substantial tip this check is less than half what you’d pay in Boston for a comparable meal. Next up: the middle leg of the journey. Where "Farm-to-Table" doesn't translate well and "High Speed Wi-Fi" means "Slow as molasses and we'll lose your work by kicking you off the network randomly." Oh yeah...and the World's Largest Truckstop, complete with girls in Prom dresses and all sizes of plastic bulls balls...