The Lettuce Line

St. Louis, Missouri

Our load to Oxnard, California canceled. Is this the beginning of the financial meltdown? Thankfully people still need toilet paper and diapers.

Today I want to tell you about The Lettuce Line.

Fifty miles inland from each US coast is a little known, but clear demarcation line. The Lettuce Line. It separates real lettuce, the romaine, the green and red leaf lettuces from iceberg.

Head inland across this line and salad is a paler, tougher shade of white. In fact, beyond the Lettuce Line there may be no knowledge of deep green and red lettuce leaves, let alone leaves of green tinged with burgundy, baby beet greens, baby spinach and definitely no arugula.

Every salad in the middle of the country is iceberg lettuce typically tinged with rust acquired in transit in its bag. Iceberg lettuce’s only redeeming quality is that it is largely water, but rain soaked cardboard is mostly water and completely unappetizing and without nutrition.

Since March, when we arrived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to begin training we have consumed a steady diet of iceberg lettuce house salads. It was the only raw vegetables in a restaurant and many times the only vegetables with some bite left in it.

To be fair, we gained no weight in training despite eating every meal at a diner. Some of the credit must go to those iceberg lettuce salads, one with every meal. As we get closer to the West or East coasts, the food improves immensely.

The salads get a little greener with a few leaves of romaine tossed in. In Portland we found the restaurants so generous that green leaf lettuce was used as garnish.

The best middle America salad is at Wendy’s. It uses mostly romaine lettuce, only some iceberg. The Southwest Taco salad is my favorite. Wendy’s chili, a healthy 90 calories poured over romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes and shredded carrots. The only problem, not many Wendy’s at the Pilot truck stops, which is the truck stop where we fuel and shower.

We have become students of the truck stop menu. The food gulf in America is wide.

There’s a big difference between Delaware and Pennsylvania. At the middle-of-the-road family restaurant chain, Applebees, the Delware location serves its house salad with romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrot and red onion. Yummy. Only an hour away and a few miles away, across the Lettuce Line, Applebees in Pennsylvania, serves its house salad with iceberg lettuce, shredded carrot and one lonely piece of red cabbage, where they found that I don’t know.

In the truck stops, the healthiest food is orange juice, bananas, apples and egg salad sandwiches, usually on white, but we are surprised. At the TA, the egg salad is on multigrain. In Searchlight, NV – close to the West coast – we found low-fat yogurt. I must give a pat on the back to the Pilot in Lebanon, Tennessee, yogurt!

In the center of the country, say Arkansas, egg salad is on Wonder Bread, a little to each coast it’s on Vienna bread (white with a little more substance) In Wyoming, it was on multigrain.

The typical truckers diet appears to be Dew and Doritos, which is often on sale for $2.22. Mountain Dew has more than twice the caffeine of Coca-Cola we’re told, vats of hotdogs, corndogs and potato chips are consumed, always on sale – nutrient low and profit high.

My provisioning, done in a grocery stores, ranges from our local organic market in New York to Food Lion in North Carolina, Safeway on the West coast, Pic n Save in Neenah, Wisconsin, Haggen’s in Bellingham – the best so far.

Many people collect souvenir spoons on their travels, I am collecting grocery store discount cards.  

Our goal is to buy a week’s food supply at a grocery store.

My list includes: baby spinach leaves for sandwiches, hothouse cucumbers, baby carrots, red peppers, grape tomatoes, broccoli florets, sugar snap peas eaten alone or with hummus or babbaganoush. Apples, oranges and through the summer,  glorious, fresh fruit. Whatever we find we gobble up immediately, cherries, blueberries, apricots and peaches.

We have honey roasted turkey and ham with slices of cheddar cheese for sandwiches. Wasa crackers, granola bars, yogurt and granola. I found some “chips” made of brown rice. I spend about $75 every four days. A lot of money, but I figure eating well will keep us well.

Do you think our road colleagues would be surprised to peek inside our Koolatron? I described our diet this morning to the occupational therapist at the St. Louis OC. “You are the exception,” she said.

There are relatively few things to do inside the truck when it’s barreling down the road at 65 some 20 hours a day. We can drive, we can sleep, we can read email and we can eat.

I weighed myself in her office. One hundred thirty-five pounds with shoes and jeans, which means that Greg and I have maintained our weight loss for four months on the road.

We live on both sides of the Lettuce Line and it’s what I love about this life. We enjoy uptown and downtown, country and city and feel like we fit well anywhere. In July, we celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary at Park Avenue Summer, a restaurant at 62nd Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan. We know we’ve been in Manhattan too long because paying $255 including tip seemed reasonable.

The restaurant’s gimmick is that the decor and the menus change every season. Park Avenue Summer is white in summer and and in October Park Avenue Autumn reflects that season. This season the decor is all white. White chairs and benches, white turtle shells on the wall, with yellow and green flowers and pink rose bottles of wine artfully gracing the entrance wall.

Our several course meal included soft shell crabs, crunchy on the outside and delicate inside that they cut with a fork accompanied by strawberries, grape tomatoes, avocado and passion fruit in some sauce that can best be described as fancy mayo with a hint of spice. Greg had the fluke sashimi. A long strip of gelatin infused with green and red dots of flavour. Looked like an art piece that might go over the stove in the kitchen.

While “sides” on the other side of the Lettuce Line generally are mashed potatoes with gravy and weird stuff like beet jam or corn marmalade, too, too sweet. Our side here was a fresh peach slaw.

The main courses, fire roasted lamb chops with a cherry sauce for me and yellow fin tuna for Greg and for dessert three fabulous blueberry confections including sorbet, a warm tart and blueberries in a lemon custard sauce. Two glasses of wine, a glass of champagne and a port rounded out the meal.

On the other end of the food spectrum, we ate breakfast at Zelma’s in Indianapolis. A diner, decorated in 1950s with hard, wooden booths and church basement tables and chairs, a counter with stools. Open grill behind the counter. The man who took our money must have been Mr. Zelma. He was decorated with a Western bolo tie. Basic breakfast. Egg, easy-over, short stack of pancakes and very mild coffee.

We had lunch yesterday at the Detoriter Truck Stop just south of Detroit. The truck stop and restaurant was built by
a Second World War Flying Ace, Mr. Vollenweider and his wife. He had flown 72 missions when his commanding officers sent him home. The day he left his squad was lost without a trace.

Greg’s omelette was fantastic, he said, ham and pineapple. My wild salmon salad, it was on iceberg lettuce.

2 thoughts on “The Lettuce Line

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