Hot dogs & Mac n’ cheese

In the summer of 2007, I took a long road trip in an old Chevy Blazer that I bought on the side of the road for $1500. The trip started in Wisconsin, just north of Madison, where I was struggling with decisions about what to do with my grandparents’ house, a place full of my fondest and most vivid childhood memories. A dear friend of mine from college was getting married in Oregon, so I put my troubles aside and headed west.

The first leg of the trip on i90 took me through southern Minnesota, across the Badlands of South Dakota, up through a corner of Wyoming and into Montana where I almost ran out of gas on a slow upward climb through the mountains. Once across and into Washington, I started my descent, landing in Portland where I laid up for a couple of days with an old friend. McKenzie Bridge was my ultimate destination, and I showed up with a lovely farmer’s tan for the wedding (though I couldn’t go through Oregon without doing a drive by of my alma mater and stopping for a Ritta’s Burrito). It was a beautiful celebration, but I decided not to linger for fear of being enticed into old Oregonian habits… I packed up from my flea-bag motel (literally, was attacked by fleas – the owners comped me the stay) and moved on to the second leg of my trip.

Down into California I went. The last time I had been on the West Coast was in 2002 when I won round-trip airfare for two to San Francisco — including two weeks free car rental — in an on-line auction. I didn’t make it that far south on this trip, but I did get to stop and see by mom’s best friend and her parents, our old neighbors from Noe Street. It was odd seeing them in these modern spec houses – so bright and clean and new-fangled. Such a contrast from the funk and character and age of the old San Francisco Victorians I grew up in and around. The McGraths actually lived behind us on Harper street, so that our yards shared a property line. All I had to do was slip through the trees to visit with Julie, another neighbor, or Paula, the McGraths granddaughter, when she was there visiting.

We sat together in their new suburban surroundings and chatted. I told them about my trip so far and talked about life in France. Of course I mentioned stopping for a Ritta’s Burrito, and probably about some of the local wines I had tasted at the wedding since the bride and groom were friends with the producers. I guess food comes up a lot when I talk.

Then Lillian told a story about one of those visits through the fence from back in the day. She said I must have been 6 or 7, and I showed up at the house one day quite uninvited, and asked what was for dinner. More specifically, I asked if they would be serving hot dogs or Mac n’ Cheese, and when I learned that neither were on the menu that evening I turned around and left.  I didn’t even say goodbye. I just left. Apparently that’s all I ate back in those days. Of course I have no recollection of the event, but I can just see myself doing it. We all had a good laugh and I still chuckle to myself every time I think about it. My palette’s come along way since, but I do get a craving for Mac n’ Cheese every once in a while…