Monday, April 06, 2009

Not on the Menu

I'm on final for a landing late at night. In the back is a mission specialist who is sharp on aviation matters. I have briefed for a sterile cockpit--no conversation not directly related to aviation safety--between confirming the cabin secure for landing and exiting the runway after landing. He understands and respects this, and tolerates me reciting my checklists aloud. Perhaps he even appreciates it. "Landing flaps and props to go ... landing flaps coming set ... props up ... prelanding checks complete." I'm over the approach lights and double check "red blue green silver." Mixtures (the red levers) are full rich, props (the blue levers) are full fine, gear position indicator (the green lights) are all on, with no red lights there, and the silver mirror on the nacelle reflects the landing light. That's not so much to see that the light is working, but that the nosewheel has come down. The light is attached to the wheel.

I'm past the threshold. I've come in a little high, as I do here on purpose. It's a long runway and this end is in the woods, where I've been warned there may be deer. I have a better chance of seeing them if I wait until I'm over the darkness by the threshold before I start to flare. There are no slender-legged shadows on the runway and no mysteriously missing runway lights. I level out, still in descent, hold off ...

"HELLO!" There's a yell from the back. It's the sort of thing you yell if you wonder if someone is there, or have fallen asleep. Or if you have to yell something NOW to get someone's attention and can't formulate a better word to say, like "gear!" or "deer!" In that instant above the runway I recheck everything, and then realize at the end of the last instant before touchdown that "HELLO!" is also what you say when you're answering a telephone.

The mission specialist has picked up a cellphone call, probably from a manager calling to say, "have you landed yet?" and he has not swung his headset microphone far enough out of range not to pick up his voice. It turns out to be a good landing anyway. My heart catches up and we taxi in.

"You scared me," I confess. But he's taken off the headset now, still on the phone, and doesn't hear me. Just as well. The pilot is supposed to be unflappable.

He's hungry, and wondering what might be open this late at night. I remember that Whataburger was open 24 hours, and has a drive-through. He suspects that only the drive-through will be open this late at night, but as we pull into the parking lot we can see that the place is hopping. We park and walk in. The tables nearest the door are taken by a fairly large group of young twenty-something men. It never crossed my mind until just now as I wrote that sentence and thought of how it might sound to someone else, that the group could be a gang, even though they were clearly hanging out together. They were all so individualistic. Different fashions, different way of standing, different hair. I thought they were young to have no need for a group identity, and creative to have developed their own styles from what in this small town must be a limited palette of available wardrobe options. One is wearing a long khaki jacket and jeans hanging down to his knees. Another is almost preppy. One white guy sports a kind of orange mohawk, and military dogtags worn on the outside of his clothes. (Could be just a style thing, you can order them on the internet, or maybe he's grown out and dyed his hair during leave). You could cast him as the scary redneck in a Hollywood movie, except that he's lounging around peaceably at the Whataburger with all his black friends. And you know Hollywood didn't put together this group of friends, because they're missing a chubby one with glasses.

The breakfast menu at Whataburger is available from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. and we were well after eleven, so now was my chance to try the assigned egg and potato taquiera. Or taquito. Taquiero? Taquito, te quiero! What was it called. I looked at the menu. There were taquitos (taquitoes?), but egg and potato wasn't listed. "Uh, I'm looking for a potato and egg taquito, but I don't see it on the menu."

"That's okay. Lots of things aren't on the menu."

Woo, I'm getting a secret menu item.

"He asks me, "Do you want any sauce with that?"

I confess that I've never had one and I don't know what it is, but that I'd like to have one how people normally have them, please. He says people like to have hot sauce to dip them in, and throws some hot sauce in the bag. I also order a cinnamon roll and a medium milkshake.

While we're waiting another party who were sitting further into the restaurant leaves. They are three women, a lot dressier than I'd expect for a fast food restaurant. I guess they've stopped for a meal on the way home from a dressier establishment. They are all wearing long western skirts, down to their ankles. One looks very much like a pair of blue jeans opened up into a skirt with extra fabric added, but still quite close fitting. The others are similar styles. They are also wearing cowboy boots, and short fitted jackets. That's when I realize that Texas forms a bridge between the Wild West and the Deep South. No wonder it's so different. That's a lot to assimilate.

We take our food back to the hotel to eat, so I get to investigate mine while blogging about it. The milkshake is unremarkable, what I'd expect of a fast food milkshake, except that the medium is huge. I think I ended up throwing over half of it away, and I usually drink a large McDonald's milkskake easily. The cinnamon bun is also what I expected, but I have no idea and no expectations of this taquito.

It's wrapped in paper, and when I open it up it looks like a burrito. But what's inside the tortilla shell? It's mostly scrambled egg, but it's spicy, probably lots of salt. Presumably there is potato inside, too. It is, as promised, really good. I dip it in the salsa provided, and it tastes even better. I wish I had bought two of these. I can't really distinguish the potato, but I suspect it's been fried in something spicy before being mixed with the egg. I would eat this again. I wonder what other secret items are not on the menu. Also I promise to stop posting so much about food.


the Ambulance Driver said...

Post about anything you would like to post! Food, flying, the weather, it doesn't really matter. Your blog is a delight to read and your impression of the southern US is a treat for all. (Even for those of us who grew up in the south!) As the son of a former commercial pilot and a former student pilot myself, the flying bits and pieces are the icing on the cake! Have you ever revealed in previous posts just exactly what you are doing, boring holes in the sky all day and night long? I suspect if you told us you would have to kill us, but I (like many others, I am sure) are curious! Take care and keep writing!

GPS_Direct said...

Heh heh. Always entertaining to get your take on things...

For the three ladies, the "fancy establishment" was probably a "cowboy bar." Their attire is the norm for doing a little Texas Two Step, or if they are less skilled, Line Dancing!

Not that you have much free time, but that's another Texas experience you should try while you're there... Anyone can pick up line dancing (not like a samba line) - just follow the moves of the folks around you. Of course, the boots help.

Anonymous said...

Well I agree with AD about posting on anything - but I also want to hear about flying (and particularly flying this Sunday if you were up). We did sort of a round robin in Northeast Texas/Northwest La. - last landing was on 35 with the wind from 310 at 13 gusting to 28 - like the plane owner said - it was a squirrely.

John Lennerton said...

I'm beginning to worry about your cholesterol; any more time down in Texas and you'll have to do remedial work to pass your next medical!

Lawrence Musci said...

All this food talk makes mr hungry! I HAD to get an Oreo McFlurry last night. haha

Anonymous said...

Please keep writing about food.
And everything else.

Last night a bloke I've known for some time told me he was nicknamed "Coyote" after narrowly missing a group of them on a Texas runway. Take care!

Ladder360 said...

Damn I miss Whataburger and their 11 to 11 menu!

(From Houston...currently in San Diego)

syrad said...

I think all of us Americans are very entertained hearing about your experiences with Southern/Texan American food. I'm guessing it's just as entertaining to us as it was to my Canadian friends when I told them about my first poutine experience. Or about how my jaw hit the ground when I saw poutine at a McDonald's in Quebec. It's fun to see others experience your own regional food!

yoman said...

honey butter chicken biscuit!
honey butter chicken biscuit!

next time your at whataburger for the breakfast menu you must try this. they are fantastic.