What I did on my summer vacation: Fear and loathing in rural America

This time last year, my husband and I were relaxing on the Hawaiian island of Maui, savoring fresh seafood, tropical fruit and the magical menu at Da Kitchen.

For our 2008 summer vacation, we decided to drive from Seattle to visit our friends Sarah and Damon in Salt Lake City. You may be wondering what could possess us to take a road trip while gas prices are at an all-time high. And why did we decide to go to Utah during the absolute hottest point of the summer? And were we insane to do take our infant son with us?

Sarah and Damon had moved to Utah last summer, and we missed them. Sarah had been back to visit, but Damon had yet to meet our newborn son. We were curious about Utah. My husband had been there many years ago for a short stay, but I had never been to the Beehive State. Basically what I knew about Utah was that a lot of Mormons lived there, the Sundance Film Festival was held in Park City, the skiing there was reportedly amazing, Salt Lake City’s NBA team was the Jazz, and the 2002 Winter Olympics were hosted there.

As to the timing, we wanted to celebrate my husband’s birthday with Sarah and Damon. He was born in July. The average temperature in Salt Lake City in July is 89 degrees. Seattle’s average high in July is 75 degrees.

So why not take a short 1 1/2 hour flight there? Why drive? My husband and I were driven to take a road trip by a romantic food notion. We wanted homemade chicken fried steak, real pie made fresh daily and roadside produce stands. We wanted food that was real and earthy–food that was made by cooks, not chefs or grown by farmers we could meet. We dreamed of finding truck stops and small town restaurants with delicious food that couldn’t be found in the city.

I’m sure these places exist, but we didn’t encounter them. The landscape was dominated by familiar golden arches, burger royalty, chicken colonels, pizza joints and Flying J gas stations and convenience stores.

My disappointment was that much more acute because of the level of risk I felt this road trip involved. To get to Utah, we drove through Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho. This part of America is overwhelmingly White, rural and remote.

Not exactly the safest place for an Asian American family to be traveling through.

I know it’s incredibly unfair to believe that most rural White Americans are racist and that rural areas are more violent, but I do. Most of my negative ideas about rural America come from mass media, but unfortunately, there plenty of real life examples that support my fears.

For example, in the 1930’s many Filipinos living in the central part of Washington state had repeatedly been threatened with lynching by their White neighbors. Sure that was 80 years ago. But as we drove through this area, I wondered if the descendents of those violent Whites were still living in Washington and if they had inherited their forefathers’ bigotry.

I was relieved when we encountered other people of color at rest stops. And I never thought I would be so happy to reach Boise, Idaho. I thought that if something happened to us in a city, our bodies should be discovered. Out in the middle of nowhere, we could just disappear.

Returning to the topic of our quest for good roadside food, my husband and I encountered the Redneck Cafe (pictured above) in Durkee, Oregon (population 195). We were intrigued by it and drove up to get a closer look, but we never got out of the car.

We discovered we would only go so far to find good food.

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2 Comments

Filed under Essays, Food and race, Travel

2 responses to “What I did on my summer vacation: Fear and loathing in rural America

  1. Beth Ann

    oh you should have stopped at the redneck cafe!!! it was soooo yummy. my cousin and i had the best fried oysters we’d ever had, so good we packed the rest to go and nibbled on them later that night. and cold beer. and a nice waitress. and a dirty old man cook eyeing up our chests…ah well, could have done without that last part but i guess he put the redneck in the redneck cafe. even tho he had a foreign accent. whatever, you missed out!

  2. Pingback: Summer vacation part 2: Holy mole! « Edible Joy

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