I pulled off I-80 between Cheyenne and Laramie, the exit before Buford. It was familiar territory; Yellow Pine Campground, Pole Mountain, Veedauwoo, Happy Jack. My stomping grounds. I drove through Veedauwoo, and somewhere between the picnic grounds and Happy Jack road I pulled my car off the road and parked it. I had a little tent, sleeping bag, change of clothes, water, a little food, matches, a hatchet, a knife, some music, and a book. I wasn’t sure if I was going for a day hike or an over-nighter. I’d figure it out later.
I headed out east off the road, because I hadn’t been that direction from that place before. It was a pleasant day in late summer. School was starting soon and I wanted to get a little down time, a little alone time. I had Sundays off at the theater, and I wouldn’t have to be back until Monday evening. My official college uniform (flannel shirt, long shorts, and hiking boots) was weather appropriate so I was ready to go.
I’d walked a couple miles over little rocky hills, sage, scrub, and pine. And then, right at my feet and invisible to me until I was right up on it, was a little ravine. At the bottom, about 20-30 feet down, there was soft green grass, little aspen trees, and a tiny little stream. It was wonderful. I never knew it was there. I set up my tent and slept there in my tiny little canyon.
I’m an optimistic man, occasionally gullible, and often enthusiastic. But mostly, I’m addicted to The Joy of Discovery. I love the surprise. I want to get in as many new things as I can before I no longer want to or I’m no longer able to. I’m the little kid in The Incredibles, riding around the neighborhood hoping to find something amazing.
Take today for instance. A good day, I got in several new things. I drove up the north shore of Lake Mead. I hiked in the desert. Thirsty, I stopped at this little store on the edge of the lake. Hoping to buy a bottle of water and a bottle of Diet Coke, I walked to the back where I saw the refrigerated case. The nice lady behind the counter asked what I was looking for.
“A bottle of water, and a Diet Coke?”
“Oh honey, we only sell Pepsi products.”
“No sweat, that’ll be fine.”
What she should’ve said was,
“Oh honey, we only sell Pepsi product.”
There was one Pepsi in the case. One. A big, glass-doored fridge like at the gas station and it had A Pepsi in it. I did get the bottle of water. And some road Funyons.
After my hike, and hungry for lunch, I headed back into Henderson. I pulled over at the College of Southern Nevada and found what I was looking for. A culinary gamble about 2 miles from me. A place called The Pho King Phenomenal Noodle Laboratory. No joke, that’s it’s name. It was going to be great, or I was going to die of food poisoning. No middle ground, no room for cowards.
I’m heading down Boulder Highway, a broad boulevard lined with palm trees and chain stores. Not bad, not new. I turn left onto Basic Rd. Yeah, Basic Rd. Within a couple blocks, the neighborhood changes. No boulevards. No chain stores. Parking lots, gravel, strip malls and warehouses. In the middle of one of the strip malls is my lunch. The green and white sign confirming that the name is indeed The Pho King Phenomenal Noodle Lab. But I can’t see inside as the windows are heavily tinted. There are no cars in the parking lot. At all, for any of the businesses. I guess no one in the neighborhood needed insurance, dry cleaning, or phenomenal noodles.
The front door had two features: one, an “open” sign, and two, a broken handle temporarily held together with a towel and duct tape. This was going to be sweet.
I push on the door, which having no hydraulic piston or springs, flies open like a gate. The first thing I notice in the restaurant, probably because it seemed to be looking at me, was a giant poster of Lo Pan. You know, Lo Pan, the evil sorcerer bad guy from the 1986 classic Big Trouble in Little China.
To my right is the restaurant, about four or five tables and the little register counter. Oh, and a cooler full of Coke products. To my left is a large room, like a big living room. But there are only three things in this room. A little plastic kid’s table, like you’d see at a kid’s dentist office, and two more posters from Big Trouble in Little China.
So I walk into the restaurant and see the menu on the wall. It’s spread over two boards, one labeled “Noodles and stuff”, the other labeled “Sammiches”.
I hear a voice behind me asking what I’d like. I turn, expecting to see a Vietnamese woman. Instead I see a pale blond woman about my age.
“The banh mi or the drunken noodles?” I ask. Though to be honest the real name of the noodles was “Drunk AF Noodles”, and the name of the banh mi ‘sammich’ was “The Big Wang”.
“Well, you’ve never been here before, so get the banh mi sandwich.”
So I order the The Big Wang and the Korean Tots. With a Diet Coke dammit. The chef, a Vietnamese-American gentleman about my age brings out my lunch and says,
“Hey man, here’s your food. Have you had this sandwich before?”
“DUDE! I’ve got to bring you some of the broth! You know, to dip it in!”
“Sounds great. Thanks.”
“My pleasure man!”
Now most banh mi sandwiches I’ve had are about the size of a Sloppy Joe. Roast pork, pickled vegetables, I love them. THIS banh mi was stacked with marinated and shaved beef, a wicked slaw, loads of fresh sprouts, cucumbers and jalapenos, and was at least a foot long. It was the best banh mi I’ve ever had.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I hope something new. But I’m going to sleep well tonight because today I did something I haven’t done before. And it was Pho King Phenomenal.