Prue Leith’s 2,200-Mile Street Journey From California to Florida


​​Final fall, my husband and I set our hearts on renting an R.V. for a street journey from Los Angeles to Florida. We imagined picnicking on mountaintops in New Mexico, sleeping beneath the celebs in Texas and barbecuing prawns (the R.V. would include a grill, after all) on a Mississippi levee. In the long run, our 2,200-mile American journey ended up being memorable, however for none of these causes.

“We will’t settle for anybody over 70 with a British driver’s license,” insisted the lady on the cellphone. I’m 83, however in my head I’m a sprightly 60, and my husband, John, is 76. No one had warned us about this potential impediment. If that they had the identical age cutoff for Individuals, I believed, the R.V. enterprise would collapse.

We known as one other firm. Their rep stated he’d by no means heard of any age restriction. “No downside,” he stated. “We’ve obtained the right R.V. for you.” Besides it was 45 ft lengthy. The considered parking one thing the scale of a London bus was an excessive amount of, even for my gung-ho husband.

Frequent sense prevailed, and we rented a Ford Explorer.

New Mexico

We had been overdue for a break. Except for my traditional job consuming cake as a choose on “The Nice British Baking Present,” I’d been doing trial runs of my one-woman stage present in Britain and the USA, and it had been exhausting.

So, earlier than we set off on our nice journey, we rented a mobility scooter for 2 and hit the boardwalk at Venice Seaside, in Los Angeles. However our crawl by way of the deafeningly loud music, junk meals and stands promoting shorts emblazoned with vulgar phrases and messages like “Beat Me” did little to re-energize our spirits.

On the day we left California, torrents of rain had been falling. By the point we crossed into Arizona, the solar had exploded over the hills in an excellent show of opera lighting.

We made it so far as Sante Fe, N.M., the place our resort, the Vanessie, a captivating assortment of picket buildings round a courtyard was, like in every single place, affected by an absence of workers. The only worker handed us a laminated discover: “Our restaurant, room service and bar are at the moment closed. A $30 service cost will likely be added to your invoice.”

Fortunately, Vara Vinoteca, throughout the road, was open. We ate tiny padrón peppers full of cream cheese and cumin, tuna ceviche and pineapple salsa, and a small bowl of heat, barely curried mussels within the shell, all served with a flight of 4 glasses of various California cabernet sauvignons.

I’d have been glad to have all our meals in that easy little room. However Santa Fe brims with good eating places, quirky structure, artwork museums and retailers full of fascinating issues, so we set off to discover. John fell in love with a hatter’s store, the place he purchased two genuine Stetsons. He additionally spent eye-watering quantities of cash on two baseball caps for his grandsons. Is there a distinction between a $41 and a $5 baseball cap? Apparently.

John was equally dumbfounded at my lusting after an irresistible $150 necklace created from cut-up plastic water bottles and sprayed with pink, black and gold paint. Vibrant, bouncy, gentle as a feather — it was a murals. However apparently it was a chunk that, at the least for us, cash couldn’t purchase: The store’s bank card system required a U.S. ZIP code, and money was not accepted. We gave up.

Costs continuously amazed us. The trade price has made the U.S. shockingly costly for Brits, and taxes and tip on high of that? I’m already vaguely offended to be anticipated to tip when shopping for a espresso at a counter. And now with the contact screens suggesting ideas of 15 % and up, a latte seems like a serious buy. Solely petrol appeared low-cost, at half the U.Okay. worth.

Texas

“Boring, flat, brown, goes on without end”: Everybody stated we’d hate Texas. However we beloved it. Possibly as a result of I grew up within the wide-open areas of South Africa, the little cities with not way more than a windmill and a church touched my coronary heart.

We stopped for lunch at Dirk’s, a Lubbock diner full of locals consuming hen tenders, sticky ribs and burgers, all flooded with gloopy barbecue sauce and adopted by doughnuts or pancakes in a lake of syrup.

The waiter appeared puzzled once I requested, “Do you’ve any inexperienced greens?” Then he smiled and stated, “Oh, sure, we have now inexperienced beans.” They turned out to be canned beans in a cloying juice.

We had been additionally puzzled by the way in which American waiters routinely congratulate you in your menu selection, rewarding you with “Sensible choice,” “Glorious” and even “Superior.” You need fries with that? “Superior!”

By the point we obtained to San Antonio, we had been prepared for a drink. A waterside cafe among the many raised flower beds, paved walks and roving mariachi bands of the River Stroll delivered first-class margaritas (freezing, salt on just one fringe of the glass, not too candy) and still-warm tortilla chips. Watching the younger waiter make guacamole at a riverside desk was a pleasure: knife razor-sharp, chile contemporary, avocado and tomato completely ripe. And his judgment was advantageous — a smidge of chopped uncooked pink onion, an honest squeeze of lime, and a beneficiant grind of pepper and salt, all turned collectively gently moderately than crudely mashed. I discovered myself consuming very slowly, simply to carry on to that taste so long as potential.

We had the worst meal of our complete journey not distant within the Texas Hill Nation vacationer city of Fredericksburg, which prides itself on its German heritage. We’d spent a contented morning touring the retailers, museums and galleries of the city’s north finish, and loved a lunch of fried hen sandwiches and banana walnut pancakes.

So we had excessive hopes for the south aspect. However sadly its historic homes had been stuffed with vacationer junk like plastic stein mugs and Barbie dolls squeezed into lederhosen. We retreated to a restaurant whose menu boasted of genuine German dishes. We had been served pork chops ruined by oversweet gravy, tasteless sauerkraut, candy and vinegary pink cabbage, and potato mash clearly made with powdered combine that had not been delivered to a boil. We deserted our plates and went again to our motel to microwave emergency rations of Campbell’s tomato soup.

The following day, on our method to Houston, we handed a roadside church whose big hoarding exhorted us to “Give Up Lust — Take Up Jesus.” I believed that signal is perhaps my most abiding reminiscence, till I’d spent a number of hours on the Area Middle Houston. I by no means guessed I’d be so riveted by subjects just like the geology of the moon and the way NASA astronauts practice underwater.

However the cafeteria! It’s astonishing, the perfect I’ve ever seen wherever in a public constructing: brioche or sourdough sandwiches, do-it-yourself soups, sizzling roasts and grills, contemporary tortillas, a salad bar to tempt probably the most die-hard carnivore, and no junk meals in sight. It was a good distance from the standard NASA fare of freeze-dried meals in pouches and tubes.

Louisiana

Louisiana is legendary for gumbos and étouffées, so I used to be anticipating gastronomy as we crossed the state line and drove towards Louisiana State College’s Rural Life Museum, a Cajun heritage village in Baton Rouge. I suppose I used to be overly optimistic. The jambalaya and blackened fish within the cafe had been tasteless and dried out. I’ve had higher Cajun meals in London.

Plantation Alley, alongside the Nice Mississippi Street, with its half a dozen “Gone With the Wind”-style estates, now open to the general public, swept me away. Essentially the most stunning of them was Oak Alley, with its avenue of 250-year-old Southern reside oaks, their branches creating an unlimited inexperienced tunnel. However I couldn’t perceive how the magnificent bushes had been clearly a lot older than the home. It seems that these oaks are native to the world, and had as soon as grown all around the property. When the home was inbuilt 1836, enslaved staff had been made to dig up 28 of the large 60- to 70-year-old bushes, with root methods equal to the scale of their canopies, and replant them in an avenue right down to the Mississippi levee.

The Nice Mississippi Street ultimately results in New Orleans and the well-known French Quarter, with its balconies of elaborate wrought iron — a daytime image of Victorian good style. We, ignorant Brits, had no concept that at night time on Bourbon Road, that “good style” turned the flavour of daiquiris, pizza and sizzling canine in opposition to a backdrop of bands belting out rock ’n’ roll, babies beating dustbins, grown-ups taking part in jazz, and the raucous din of drunken vacationers till 3 a.m.

However I appreciated the get together ambiance, and I’m mighty keen on a daiquiri, so we set off on a pub crawl. I now know that the key to a superb mango daiquiri is contemporary mango, and never bottled mango syrup. And the subsequent morning, after one too many mango delights and little sleep, I realized that shrimp and grits, with a superb grating of cheese, is the right hangover treatment.

Florida

Our street journey ended, because it had began, at a seashore. Solely this one was a mercifully far cry from the Venice boardwalk.

We had rented a home for the week within the small Florida Panhandle neighborhood of Seacrest Seaside, on the Emerald Coast alongside Freeway 30A. This eight-mile strip — a type of manufactured, completely designed fashionable Eden — consists of 16 neighborhoods on white-sand seashores between Pensacola and Panama Metropolis. Developments with names like Rosemary Seaside, Seagrove Seaside, Alys Seaside, Grayton Seaside and WaterColor share the right sands and the specified 30A tackle.

Everybody rides round on bikes, and completely tanned moms gossip over kombucha and wheatgrass at sidewalk cafes. Even the youngsters look straight out of an upmarket catalog.

Buddies of associates, on vacation, invited us to their Thanksgiving dinner — turkey with all of the trimmings, candy potatoes, pecan pie and ice cream. In thanking them, I stated one thing concerning the pleasure of such generosity, household closeness and their kids’s politeness. Our host laughed. It’s as a result of we’re from the South, she stated.

I’m glad we did not lease my dream Winnebago again in Los Angeles. If we’d succeeded, we’d by no means have skilled a standard American household Thanksgiving. We’d have been in a trailer park, consuming takeout. Thanks, Girl Luck.


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