I often wonder how many miles I’ve clocked on highways. When I was a baby my dad lived 100 miles away, taking care of his cancer-ridden father. My mom and her sisters loved a good family road trip. I went to college just far enough way to be out of state, but not so far I couldn’t pop down the highway for a long weekend. Nearly all of these trips back and forth started with a QuikTrip hotdog.
I’m tempted to write off QuikTrip hotdogs as not special. Just another sausage on an automatic roller. But there is something special about that Oscar-Mayer All-Beef. Soft steamed buns, DIY toppings (including celery salt and neon green relish for the Chicagoans), 2 for $2 specials that meant it was cheap for my mom and aunt to feed all the kids in the back of the minivan. Lots of gas stations have that, but not to quite the QuikTrip quality. In fact, QuikTrip has started billing itself as a convenience store/restaurant with the addition of QuikTrip Kitchens in the back of each store. You can order a pizza online and then pick it up while you fill up your tank.
I will always profess the quality of a QuikTrip hotdog, but for me it’s what it meant. QuikTrips stops were always a beginning. Visits to see my grandparents started with a QuikTrip stop, and ended with me and my cousins each bringing an empty 32 oz. Big Q inside my Gran Gran’s to throw away. My college visits, zipping across the Midwest, included a QuikTrip hotdog or two, as I tried to imagine myself in these new cities that weren’t my bubble of a hometown.
I was at a QuikTrip when I realized I lived in my college town, I wasn’t just some 4-year visitor. It was the first time I stayed for the summer, between my sophomore and junior years. I was crashing on a cot in my friends’ house and working at a regional magazine. I’m sure I was homesick, I had no family barbecue to be at and I missed the same Fire in the Sky radio commercial I’d heard every summer my entire life. But I wasn’t going to just lie in my (makeshift) bed and be sad about it. So I gathered my friends and figured out that fireworks were happening at the state fairgrounds. So we piled into somebody’s car, and rode toward the edge of town. The streets and parking lots were packed with real adults who had made a plan and read a schedule. But there was an open spot at QuikTrip. We parked, leaned against the car, and looked up at what I’m sure was an average Fourth of July fireworks show. But it was special. It wasn’t a show I spent with my cousins down by a stinky local lake. I wasn’t with my mom in a lawn chair on top of a parking garage. I was in a parking lot with people I had chosen, rallied, and successfully transported. And I had the knowledge of my college town to make that happen. After the show traffic was terrible—or at least as terrible as traffic in Iowa gets. Instead of jumping back into it, I introduced my friends to my old pal, the QuikTrip hotdog. We got our dogs, and ate them outside, laughing as Iowa drivers attempted to head home, “awww”ing at chunky babies in their patriotic outfits, “oooh”ing at every dog waddling past. That QuikTrip hotdog was another beginning. The beginning of my out-of-state, big kid life.
Apparently, I couldn’t be happy with that win. I needed a new out-of-state, big kid adventure. So after graduating from a college in Iowa, I moved back home to central Missouri for three whole weeks. Then I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. And yes, I ate a QuikTrip hotdog at 7 a.m. in Kansas City as drove my packed sedan westward.
Honestly, my first months in Vegas were a blur. Just flashes of a job I hated, depression dinners consisting of Boom Chicka Pop and San Pellegrino, and anxiety convincing me my roommate hated me. I didn’t feel like I was on an exciting new journey, no matter how many Baby Boomers told me I was. At that point, life in Vegas sucked. One day, during a rough bout of homesickness and job dissatisfaction that had me crying at my desk before noon, I thought I would try to find some of the brand new life excitement I thought I’d been promised. I clocked out for lunch and walked across a 90-degree blacktop parking lot to not-QuikTrip—a 7-Eleven. Maybe the hotdogs had just been sitting out too long. Or they weren’t all-beef. Or maybe they needed some type of gas station aroma. Or, they just weren’t the same. I learned the hard way that no matter homesick I get, any old convenience store hotdog isn’t going to cut it.
And that’s okay.
I’ve gone back to Missouri three times: a Labor Day wedding, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Each trip included a QuikTrip hotdog. One was used as bribe, if I stopped crying left the wedding my old college roommate would stop at QuikTrip on the way to the hotel. I was not ready to leave that wedding. It was the first time a handful of my college gal pals were in the same place, at the same time since graduation. I didn’t want to trade that in for my shitty, lonely desert life. But I conceded. And that QuikTrip hotdog, eaten before I’d even changed out of my formal wear (feel free to tell me how good I looked in that coral color), was a beginning too. It was the hotdog that forced me to look at myself for realsies. I was crying into a gas station hotdog because I didn’t like the life I myself had created. A hard bite to swallow, but the mustard helped.
Since then I effortfully made some Las Vegas friends, quit my icky job, kept up a more rigorous FaceTime schedule with my college pals, and got my ass into therapy. I’ve had two QuikTrip hotdogs since then. Not the most significant hotdogs in my life, but they were extra-special.
What about you? Is there any food that reminds you of a big life event? Let me know in the comments below!