A bit weary and not looking forward to another 130 miles at the wheel, I slightly dreaded the ride back to South Bend from the Indianapolis Speedway, so I was really happy when Jerry Peppers, the Pillsbury Winthrop lawyer from New York City who’s been working to get some Lincoln Highway signs and an Eastern Terminus plaque in Times Square, said that he’d ride back with me in my car rather than on the tour bus. I love to drive alone, but sometimes company completes the day and keeps you wide awake.
Last year, when my sound man Glenn Syska and cameraman Bob Lubomski drove with me on the Lincoln Highway to New York City, we shot and interviewed Mr. Peppers standing beside a jersey barrier in the middle of busy traffic in the honking heart of Times Square. It was a great location. And he was a great interview. He’s a lawyer; he’s a talker. And he ended up being a great part of the finished RIDE ALONG THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY.
He’s passionate about his commitment to the Lincoln. He’s the director of the New York Chapter of the new Lincoln Highway Association, but there’s only a mile or so of the highway in Manhattan before it heads west to the Hudson and New Jersey. Short in length but high powered because of real estate, the New York stretch is important and exciting, and everybody in the association seems thrilled that a powerful attorney like Jerry is working on getting some recognition for the road in NYC.
I get the impression that Jerry really just loves cars and driving and all sorts of highways. He did some preliminary research for a BARBECUE show (which he thinks I should do next) but I really love his idea for a series on NUMBERED HIGHWAYS.
That morning, Jerry had ridden south on the bus that was guided by LHA legend Russell Rein from Michigan. Jerry said Russell talked lots of history, pointing out distinguishing marks of the Dixie Highway, and acknowledging the history of older Native American paths that established the basic route of this (and so many other) roads. (Be sure also to check out the Comments on my entry #10 and Jim Grey’s website about the nineteenth-century Michigan Road, which also helped set the route of the Dixie Highway.)
Jerry said Russell also talked about Indiana’s prominence in the world of pork tenderloin sandwiches. And having had a grilled tenderloin at the Whitehouse that morning, I was hoping Jerry might be willing to stop there at the Whitehouse now for a sample of their breaded tenderloin for dinner. “I’m ready,” said Jerry. Unfortunately, when we got to Logansport, the Whitehouse was closed. We moaned and drove on.
But it wasn’t far to the Char-Bett, the cute little roadside ice cream and sandwiches place where I snapped some shots that morning. We could get a tenderloin sandwich here. I pulled in. The place was obviously named for some Charlie and Betty, right?
It’s one of those places where you bend down to talk into the little window that’s a bit above waist high. The girl at the window endorsed the tenderloin. The guy I talked to that morning in the parking lot recommended the hamburgers but I can get hamburgers anywhere.
We ordered tenderloins, fries and one order of fried cauliflower which was highly recommended by the girl at the window.
Last year in New York, Jerry took us for a delicious and memorable lunch at one of his favorite Italian restaurants, Tre Colori on West 47th.
Oh, perfect calamari and extraordinary grilled sardines! Great lively conversation, and dessert with Jerry’s wife Sue and daughter Amy. It was pretty sublime. He picked up that tab, so I insisted that I pay here at Char-Bett.
You can get served in your car with those hook-on-the-window trays that are mighty rare these days, but Jerry and I walked over to the picnic tables on the one side of the building. As we waited, I noticed the little igloo that held an air conditioner or condensor unit of some sort. Folk art.
Before our dinners were delivered, a huge 18-wheeler pulls onto the berm on the far side of the road. A huge silver tanker truck. The driver gets out, crosses to the Char-Bett, and almost immediately he’s jumping back up into the cab with a small brown paper bag. We find out that truckers on the Dixie Highway often call ahead, put in their orders, then grab it to go in a flash. The efficiency of the road.
Our dinners arrive. Served even at the picnic table on one of those snazzy old trays. The tenderloins are pure Indiana. The fries hot and crisp. The fried cauliflower surprisingly tender and good.
I say we have to get ice cream because the guy in the parking lot that morning had said their ice cream was really good. The three girls behind the counter are chatty now. I ask for a vanilla cone, and I get a soft serve but Jerry gets a scoops of butter pecan. The girls say all the ice cream is made here on the premises. I am disappointed with my dull old soft serve. The girls say I should have gotten real ice cream, and I say that’s what I expected. They said they should have asked which I wanted: soft serve or hard ice cream, They have vanilla in both. They suggest I try one of the more unusual flavors: orange pineapple. I say OK. Two cones for dessert. I ask if we can get a picture. They are the Char-Bett beauties.
It’s a great little dinner. A roadside moment. Jerry and I hop into my Honda and head for South Bend, happy with our tenderloin sandwiches and the chatter at the Char-Bett.