Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Fishwich in Hooverville



After enough hours on the road my culinary and ethical standards slipped far enough downward that a filet-0-fish sandwich in rural Iowa became my least-bad choice when measured against a hot dog in a gas station that had likely been spinning on that greased rotisserie for days. I used to think no one bought those sausages and they were just for show, then I met my husband.

You know that disoriented feeling you get after being on the road for a while where you pull off and just sit quietly before making certain your legs still work when getting out of the car? It was like that, but combined with the disorientation that comes with being in a small, midwestern farming community. Unless you knew better, it was just an exit along the Interstate with a gas station, a MacDonald's, and newly ploughed fields. Obviously, I missed the brown roadsigns indicating there was a historic site nearby.

My Ukrainian grandmother, Clara absolutely adored fillet-o-fish sandwiches. Granted, she'd lost most of her teeth by the time the sandwich debuted, and food you can mash against the roof of your mouth without risking damage to the remaining molar does have a certain appeal, but really I think it was the bun. Soft white bread from flour so refined and bleached it almost seems an entirely manufactured, highly engineered product of chemical origin was as far away from dark, chewy rye bread as it gets-in America the peasants can eat white bread-with a deep fried square of Alaskan pollack as a bonus.

I haven't been in that many fast-food joints in recent years. It was never my first choice for a meal, even as a child. We had a MacDonald's in our neighbourhood that began as a walk-up window. A few years later they added indoor seating, and my mum liked to have a hamburger now and then. I think it was something like 15 cents, so it was easy to justify on a budget. My dad wouldn't touch the stuff, and with a perfectly good delicatessen across the street serving sandwiches, he didn't feel obligated to try it. I'd go along, and because I was one of those kids with big eyes that always looked pathetic without really trying, someone would custom-make me a toasted American cheese on a bun so I'd have something to eat. It was a smallish-town in the 60's, I wouldn't try that today.

"Wow, this is a really nice MacDonald's" I blurted out as we shuffled in. And it was! Light-flooded from big windows, and a decor that had 1930's looking photographs on the walls. "Look at that guy in a fedora..." I started to say before the quote alongside the picture started sinking in. "Oh shit, that's Herbert Hoover."

I mean, I knew Hoover was from Iowa, even if I didn't know West Branch was his hometown. I wasn't really prepared for the irony of having lunch in a place with a big sign outside offering employment for a non-living wage of $10.10 per hour festooned with images of the American President at the time of the stock market crash that began the Great Depression. "I'm eating a goddamned fishwich in Hooverville" I thought, but didn't say aloud as the friendly locals tamping fistfulls of fried potatoes into their pie holes might have taken offense at describing their town as a Hooverville. Still, $10.10 an hour can't buy you much, even in small town Iowa and the hamburgers cost considerably more than 15 cents these days.

To be fair, Hoover didn't cause the Great Depression, and though his response to it was seen by many as, "Too little too late", the country had been through economic depressions before and he was following precedent in the way he dealt with it. Still, if it happens on your watch, you own it and in Hoover's case his legacy has largely focused on the economic suffering of the 1930's.

A few miles down the interstate on the Illinois side is the historic site where Ronald Reagan was born. I didn't bother stopping to check if the fast food offerings in town carried a Reagan theme as there's only so much irony I can take in the space of a few hours.


12 comments:

ThriftyParka said...

My goodness Danny is growing! He looks like a young adult.

I can all too adamantly concur that pulling over and enjoying the quiet is very pleasant. Since Thunder Bay is located almost in the middle of nowhere, I have experienced many road trips.

Hooverville, chuckle. I wonder what Reganville would have been like.

What?? No outfit pics??

Safe travels and happy thrifting ;)

Bibi Maizoon said...

Glad you're back!
McD's has really changed their game. Most are really clean & tidy and even have decent coffee now. I was 6 yrs old when we got a McD's in Sonoma in the early 70's & recall only one visit there about a year after it opened (my mom was on her 10 yr hippy healthfood kick). I remember being entirely disappointed in the squashed little 15 cent burgers, greasy limp fries and the pasty thick milkshakes- nothing like the commercials with muppet-like characters dancing around (I loved Grommit & Hambourglar) eating picture perfect burgers & shakes. The Sheikh loves McD's fries & I love their sparkling clean bathrooms on roadtrips.

Apparently the "Prolonged Ecomomic Downturn" or "Great Recession" we suffered 2006-2011 rivaled the Great Depression. We don't here much about people who lost most of their home equity & life-savings in that mess but I know quite a few.

Mim said...

I haven't been to a McDonalds in YEARS. Their burgers were always a sort of guilty pleasure, squashy and not exactly tasting of anything they were supposed to contain. Somehow if we're going for fast food we always end up with a bucket of KFC instead. And our local McDonalds, even the Bath branch, are nowhere near as swish as the Hooverville one.

Minimum wage in the UK has age rates attached. For people under 18 it's £4.20 an hour. No wonder there's been such a growth in food banks over here :-(

Vix said...

Danny does look very grown-up.
I loved The Christians' song "Hooverville" in the 1980s, I wonder what that was all about?
xxx

Beth Waltz said...

Talk about being discombobulated by a photo! Never mind him in the hat, who is that young man glowering at us in the first shot? The one who resembles your husband...

Loved the story about Clara and the phony white upscale bread! My Great-aunt Nora lived into her 90s, devoted to TV dinners eaten on a tray while watching Ed Sullivan on the biggest console television available. Such convenience and comfort!

beate grigutsch said...

you even make a common roadtrip + fastfood to a cool story!!
chapeau!!!
danny does a good job looking serious ;-)
xxxx

Propagatrix said...

Our next mission: gather in the nearest Levittown for TV dinners.

Polyester Princess said...

Brilliant writing, Goody, I missed that! Great title too! I don't think I've ever been to McDonalds, or similar fast food joints for that matter. As for Danny, I totally agree with the other commenters that he's looking very grown- up here. I see a lot of you in him, must be the scowl ;-) xxx

Goody said...

@Thrifty Parka
Ha! I spent the holiday photographing food and forgot to take outfit photos! Wouldn't have mattered-it was 30 degrees and snowing most of the trip. Almost froze to death at Wrigley.

@Bibi
We don't hear much about your part of the world unless there's a natural disaster. I guess economic disasters don't get the same television ratings. I had no idea you even had a downturn.

@Mim
I suspect KFC is better in the UK because here it is a disgusting last-choice before starving food.
So what happens? Do employers just hire teens because they are cheaper labour? How evil.

@Vix
Don't know the song, but a Hooverville is a homeless encampment.

@Beth
I told him to look, "Confused" and that's the face I got! That child is now a few inches taller than I am and wears the same size shoe.
TV dinners are God's gift. I'll always have a soft spot for potatoes with a blob of margarine.

@Beate
Thank you. It was an interesting trip. 500 miles each way but it was like another country.

@Propagatrix
Yes!

@Ann
I am pleased to know he's inherited my scowl!
I would reccommend the potatoes at MacDonald's but since you are Belgian I won't as you can get much, much better ;)

Mim said...

I don't know much about what employers do, but I think it's massively unfair - rent and food cost the same regardless of age. Minimum wage has several age brackets and people are only eligible for the full amount once over 25, which is daft as a woman could easily have several kids by then. My guess is our stupid mostly posh or middle-class government haven't looked beyond their own little Alfies and Amelias, and assume anyone under that age who's working is doing it as a student side-job. Or possibly they're just gits. Increasingly our government is revealing they're not the incompetents I thought they were, they are genuinely and consciously unpleasant.

Goody said...

@Mim
Oh, I think they know exactly what they're doing.

Melanie Folly Bird said...

I have only been to drive through McDonalds in recent years, being vegetarian, and then we only ever get fries and milkshakes. Yum xxx