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American Road Trip

What I’m about to say may be considered blasphemy, especially coming from a former teacher: I love watching television with my 10-year-old son, Andrew.  After the rush out the door every morning, followed by the activities buffet of the afternoon and the dinner-and-homework sessions of the early evening, he and I have a standing date each night, a time for the two of us to re-group and reconnect.  We head into the sunroom, grab some blankets, and sink into the comfy couch.  Sometimes we make popcorn. Occasionally, we grab a handful of Hershey’s chocolate kisses.   And then we always grab the remote.

Andrew and I are really into reality television.  I know some other television-bonding families that connect via American Idol, The Voice, or Dancing with the Stars.  Andrew and I dabbled in The Sing-Off for a few seasons, mostly because I used to sing a capella in high school and am an original Gleek.  And, before that, I used to make him watch Divine Design with Candace Olsen until he finally protested, and rightly so.  That was cruel and unusual punishment.

We now have two very manly reality favorites.  The first is American Pickers on the History Channel.  The second is Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with host Guy Fieri.

My father-in-law, Steve, is a bit of a history buff (and a bit of a hoarder who thinks his stuff is worth something) and he’s the one who got us hooked on American Pickers.  This show follows the conquests of Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, owners of Antique Archeology, a store that features finds from their “picking” forays across America.  What is “picking”?  Well, Andrew knows all about it.  I’m not sure that this year’s New York State English Language Arts test is going to ask about picking, but if by chance Andrew needs to write an essay about collecting memorabilia by looking through other people’s junk, then he’ll pass with flying colors.

Pickers Mike and Frank like to say that they are “uncovering the history of America, one piece at a time,” as they dig through people’s overgrown yards and barns filled with collections of miscellanea.  They are looking for “rusty gold,” anything they can make some money from.  These guys are knowledgeable about all kinds of Americana, but specifically they are passionate about bicycles, motorcycles, cars and anything else that fits into what they call “petroliana,” items relating to gas, motors, and gas stations, like big signs or cans with logos.  Mike is a fun character, who say things like, “If you’ve gotta crawl through dead chickens, raccoon poop and goat urine to get something cool….do it! What a honey hole!” And Frank is the master “bundler,” working deals by bundling items together and saying, “So, how about $120 for all three of these?”

Andrew and I enjoy watching the guys make a great discovery and we like learning the history about specific items, like a Model A car or an engine for an early Harley-Davidson Knucklehead.  We also like meeting the characters that own all this stuff, people with names like Hippie Tom and Dollar Dick.

But our favorite part of the show is when the guys buy something, but aren’t exactly sure of the value.  Will it be appraised at a high enough price for them to turn a profit?  As we speed through the commercials to find out, the tension is nailbiting.

“Andrew, time for bed,” Brett will call down from upstairs.

“Just a minute!” We’ll call back.

Before you get all politically correct on me, telling me that television warps one’s brain waves and that, further, realitytelevision really warps the brain (think The Jersey Shore), give me a moment to explain.  Because Guy Fieri has really enhanced my relationship with my son.

Watching Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (or Triple D, as us insiders affectionately call it) has made Andrew want to do two things of note: try new foods and travel.  Night after night, he and I sit on our couch with our feet intertwined on the ottoman, and “roll out” with Guy, traveling across America in a vintage red Camaro convertible.  From the Deep South to the Midwest all in one half-hour episode, Guy has sampled the best of “real deal barbeque” taking us from Texas to Chicago and Kansas City.  In general, Guy’s a really big fan of pigs, taking us viewers to smokehouses, shacks and holes in the wall, showing us “how it’s done.”

Guy will hold up a giant sandwich that’s got layers of beef and pork and cheese and sauces between two slices of homemade ciabatta bread and then he’ll get ready to eat it by doing “the hunch.”  The hunch involves rolling up one’s sleeves (Guy always wears short sleeves, so that’s not a problem) and leaning over so as not to drip any grease on oneself.  Then you take a big-ass bite.  “Now that’s how it’s done,” he’ll say, fist bumping the chef, a huge grin on his face.  “It’s porktastic.”

“I’m so hungry!”  Andrew will say.  “I want to go there!”

“That’s just disgusting,” my husband, Brett will say, leaving the room.  “Who eats like that?”

“We do!” We say, even though, in real reality, we don’t.  However, Andrew does have a favorite sandwich at a local diner in town that he swears requires the hunch.  Other favorites, like a burger from The Shake Shack, also require the hunch.  (The hunch adds fun and danger to a meal.  You should try it.)

What’s really fun about Triple D is the road trips it has inspired.  When Guy featured a diner in Providence, Rhode Island called Louie’s, Andrew and I turned to each other and yelled out, “Providence, Rhode Island!”  Brett’s whole family lives outside Providence.  “Can we go?”  Andrew asked.

“Are you kidding me?  Of course!” I said. An enthusiastic high-five followed, and our first Triple D road trip was planned. (Andrew had the bacon, egg and cheese and did the hunch.  I had the homemade granola pancakes and did not need to hunch.  Brett’s dad had the famed homemade corned beef hash. I can’t recall if he hunched or not.) Once we got there, we discovered that all the places Guy has visited have a special stamp or seal hidden somewhere in the restaurant.  We also found a framed picture of him over the grill.  The items featured on the show are highlighted on the menu for easy reference.

Since then, we have hit another Rhode Island diner on Guy’s list, as well as one place on the Jersey Shore and two in Manhattan.  Gazala’s Place, right behind the Museum of Natural History, proved to be a nice respite from dinosaurs and serves authentic, child-friendly Middle Eastern fare.  The Redhead, in the East Village, has the most delicious fried chicken, mac n’ cheese, and homemade, New York street-style soft pretzels.  Plus, it’s up the street from The Strand bookstore and Momofuku Milk Bar, so we added those destinations to our tour.

Any time we visit a city in the future, we will be sure to look up one of the Triple D hot spots and incorporate it into our travels.  America never tasted so good.  With our bellies full, we might even come across some rusty gold, now that we know what to look for.

I have this friend who bans television for her children during the week.  I think I’m supposed to admire her, but instead, I just pity her.  Oh, well.  She doesn’t know what she’s missing.

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