I’ve always liked rest stops along the interstates. They are a study in what humans will settle for after sitting in a car for seven hours. Suddenly, a soppy hamburger that has been sitting under a heat lamp passes for a meal. And the bathroom, where the soap is out and the toilet paper is only 1-ply, and that smells like the monkey house, seems like an oasis after chugging all those Cokes.
The other thing I like about rest stops are the sundries, the small soaps, the beef jerky in camouflage-colored bags, and the remarkable selection of Loggins & Messina cassette tapes.
And in fancier rest stops, there are even restaurants, the one with the Bob’s Big Boy we found in Delaware. We took a New Year’s trip up the coast to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and one of the first things on my itinerary was to visit the Bob’s Big Boy along the way, a location whose existence I have silently committed to memory during other road trips.
What I really hoped for was to find some Big Boy swag, like a bank or a keychain, or the Holy Grail, a Big Boy Doll. He would have sat nicely on the shelf with the Shoney’s Bear.
The problem is, this Bob’s Big Boy isn’t even a real one. It isn’t listed on their website under locations, and doesn’t list any of their specialty sandwiches on their menu. In fact, the menu itself looked like it was printed with Print Shop for DOS. This should have been the first red flag.
This is a restaurant that franchised the Big Boy’s name and likeness, but doesn’t serve its actual food, and isn’t even recognized by the actual company. This should have been the second red flag. But since we were at a rest stop, I wasn’t complaining. I was pretty happy to accept a level of skeeviness in exchange for a chance to eat in a restaurant with a nine-foot Big Boy at the front door.
But somehow, this place seemed to out-skeeve even my lowest standards.
I shuddered at the way the name of the restaurant was hot glued to the wallpaper in Family Feud font. The writer in me cringed at the apostrophe missing in Bob’s.
Then there was the showcase–generally used to show off the desserts, enticing you into a slice of apple crumble or cheesecake–but here, the only thing offered was a display of dusty plastic fruit.
Our waitress took our beverages and pointed to the buffet, informing us that it was only $8.49 “if ya want that.” Then she walked away, presumably to get our drinks. She didn’t do the chatty thing. She was very much a woman who wasn’t about to deal with bullshit. She was probably used to truckers and other crazed folk who came in off the highway. She didn’t even wear the uniform of white slacks. Instead, she wore cream-colored Mom-jeans, likely from the No Boundaries (NoBo) table at Wal-Mart. This is the kind of woman you wouldn’t cross, the kind who wouldn’t let anything prevent her cigarette break. We asked no questions but declined the buffet without hesitation.
I went up to peruse the buffet anyway. I came back to the table sheepishly, and begged to borrow the camera from the girlfriend. She said taking pictures of a buffet at a rest stop would be embarrassing and weird, but I insisted it would be photojournalism.
There were too many people slopping food onto their plates, so I had to wait approximately fourteen hours to get up there and snap a few pictures. I waited for grandma’s palsy hand to get some shreds of salad on her plate, and for the girl in the Adidas jumpsuit to pile up her plate with drumsticks. People kept getting up refill their plates with the gruel, and I just wanted to take pictures like any reasonable person would.
Finally, I got my chance to take some pictures:
Pop quiz: is it pudding or gravy?
I’d like to keep the mystery alive about whether that’s pudding or gravy, but for those of you just dying to know the truth, I’ll reveal the answer in the comments section of this post.
Then there was this appetizing trough of peas and carrots, drowned in a tank of water.
I wasn’t super hungry by the time I sat back down, but the food came out in record time. Almost like it had been sitting back there already, just waiting for us to order it.
My lunch was a grilled cheese, while the girlfriend ordered some sort of fried fish thing with a ball of white stuff.
Another pop quiz. Is that coleslaw!?!
Or is it a scoop of cottage cheese with bits of carrot in it? And what was up with the chariot of iceberg lettuce it arrived on? To add color to the plate, to jazz it up a bit? The mystery scoop remained untouched but I’ll reveal its name in the comments….the suspense!
Well I did manage to find one piece of take home swag, a coloring page for kids, and it does not disappoint:
BIG BOY LOVES LITTLE PEOPLE.
A few hours after writing this post, I came down with the worst food poisioning I ever had in my life. I’m not talking about a little bit of stomach pain and barfing once or twice. I’m talking about scrub-down-the-cruise-ship-with-bleach caliber food-poisoning. I’m talking about when they warn kids in schools about saying no to drugs, they should also warn them to say no to Big Boy.