Sunday, April 17, 2011

Just Call Me Road Food of the Morning

Like many of us, I enjoy a good road trip now and then.  The destination doesn't always matter, because getting there can be fun -- sometimes there are challenges, but generally, a voyage is a nice change of pace.  Something about propelling oneself across the network of highways to another place, under one's own steam (and a few tanks of $3.99 per gallon gas), is gratifying.  Of course, one delightful element of travel is so-called "road food", assortments of edibles that we probably wouldn't indulge in at home, but which, given the freedom of the road, we eagerly consume on the way to and from our destinations.  Besides, calories don't count as much when you're traveling, because you're burning them off as you...oh, wait...never mind.

But today, I'd like to focus on one particular type of road food: the "free breakfast" included with hotel stays these days.  This concept is eminently likable, if only for the fact that it's so can show up down in the dining room, completely unannounced, in whatever you'd like to wear.  Personally, I always try to look somewhat respectable (and I'll provide an example later in this post why this is sometimes a good idea), although I've noticed that not everyone follows this same line of thinking.

By the way, we all know that this breakfast isn't really free, but there's no one standing there to take your money at the time, so it feels like you're actually getting away with something, which I think makes us all feel somewhat dashing and ready to face the new day.

I have observed that at hotels across America, there are several common denominators which constitute the typical hotel free breakfast.  See if you spot anything you recognize here:
  • Six-ounce containers of fruit-flavored yogurt in an ice bowl - The yogurt can only be provided in six-ounce containers, and it must be strawberry, peach, or blueberry -- nothing else is acceptable.  The two favorite brands are Yoplait and Dannon.
  • Two orange juice spigots - Although other kinds of juice are often provided, there are generally two spigots for OJ, owing to its relative popularity in the juice world.
  • Coffee in the dining room, but also in the lobby -- You're never really sure where to get your coffee, but it doesn't matter, and I've noticed that those tiny cups fit quite nicely into the minute BMW cup holders.  Getting my coffee in the lobby makes me feel quite daring.
  • Fruit that is not really ready for prime time -- As my friend Tanya (who also provided this post's picture) says, "inedible bananas" are the rule here.  The fruit is often highly polished, which makes you wonder where it's been.
  • Instant oatmeal, a.k.a. "glue" -- Oatmeal is pretty safe, but face it, it doesn't make you feel daring or dashing.
  • Generic cereal -- From looking at the cereal offerings, one would surmise that Froot Loops and Raisin Bran are the two largest selling cereals in America.
  • Make-your-own waffle machines -- The MYOWM is is probably the greatest invention since the light bulb, as long as you're careful.  Once, in a grand faux pas, I almost set the Boone, NC, La Quinta on fire by forgetting to flip the waffle thingie after I put the batter in.
  • Prepackaged sausage biscuits -- Now, you may say "gross", but let me tell you, for those of us who are Southerners, these things can be our saving grace when we're traversing uncharted waters in other parts of the country.
  • Donuts/danish -- I believe there is one supplier for donuts and danish across the United States.  I have seen exactly the same cheese danish from Massachusetts to Florida.  I believe the frosting pattern was identical, which makes me wonder if it was actually the same danish.
  • High concentrations of styrofoam -- The amount of styrofoam in the typical hotel breakfast bar pushes the envelope for safe limits set by the EPA.
  • Tongs with everything -- If you stood at the breakfast bar long enough, a hotel employee would emerge from one of those secret doors (where do those go?) and put a set of tongs around your neck.

This all being said, I have to admit that I have had some nice experiences in breakfast bars.  On one occasion, while traveling with our daughter up to Boone for her freshman year move-in weekend, our reservations at the La Quinta were lost, but we were able to procure a room at the nearby Fairfield Inn.  I went down to breakfast the following morning, and the dining room was mobbed, but fortunately, I managed to get a seat.  

Shortly after I'd started sipping my "lobby coffee", a nice lady about twenty years my senior asked if she and her husband could join me, since the place was so crowded.  They were a charming couple, and while we were talking, I asked them their names and then suddenly realized that her husband had been chancellor of Northwestern University during my years there.  Small world, I thought, and wow, was I ever glad I didn't wear an old t-shirt...he would have thought I had not made the best of my education.

So, with that being said, I hope your next road trip includes a morning of pleasant refueling at one of these uniquely American oases and that you will have the chance to bask in the plethora of entertainment options offered therein.

Bon voyage, everyone!  Oh, and don't forget the antacid.