Wednesday, January 23, 2008

COLUMN: Loose Meat

I've never claimed to be a particularly worldly kinda guy, but there's a secret part of me that's convinced I am.

I went to a liberal arts college, and that's supposed to make me well-rounded and stuff. I've travelled to at least a third of these United States. I watch a heck of a lot of TV, because I like to be aware of the issues -- or at least the latest episode of "Lost." As I type this, my web browser is tuned to a streaming video feed of a courthouse that perhaps sometime today Britney Spears may or may not walk into. See, I'm well-rounded and informed.

And as a well-rounded, pseudo-worldly cool dude, I like to stay abreast of national politics -- or at the very least find out who these mildly annoying people are who've been stumping through Davenport for the past month. As a former speech major, I'm intrigued by the campaign process and the tactics used by the candidates to gain support. Let's face it: Many, many people vote solely on a candidate's personality and NOT the issues.

Look at the famous Nixon/Kennedy debate. Polls at the time showed that most radio listeners felt that Nixon easily won the debate, but those who watched the debate on TV found Kennedy to be the clear victor. Why? Because on TV, Kennedy looked confident and unstoppable while Nixon looked like a pale, sweaty mess. To the average voter, the way a candidate comes across on camera is far superior to their message -- just ask Howard Dean, who was one "hooooooooah" away from the White House four years ago.

Anyways, as a fan of the way candidates manipulate the media, I was perusing an article in our paper the other day when something caught my eye. An Associated Press reporter was following the Clinton campaign and wrote this, in a piece we ran on January 3rd:

"Clinton put massive resources into the state over an objection from one of her top advisers who warned early on it would be tough for her. In pursuit of the Iowa prize, the world-famous senator ate locally popular 'loose meat' sandwiches while cameras recorded every bite..."

I was perplexed by this paragraph. Why the big deal about a loose meat sandwich? In fact, why the quotation marks around "loose meat" as though it were some strange Midwest delicacy unbeknownst to the rest of the world?

I mentioned this to a co-worker and was blind-sided by her answer: Loose meat IS a strange Midwest delicacy unbeknownst to the rest of the world. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I knew Maid-Rites were sort of a Midwest phenomenon, but I never had a clue that the entire concept of loose meat sandwiches is lost on the rest of the country.

Surely not. I decided to prove my co-worker wrong. As part of my work week at the paper, I routinely speak with an advertiser who lives in sun-baked Palm Desert, California. I immediately got her on the line and grilled her over the sensitive topic.

"What would you say if I mentioned the phrase 'Loose Meat Sandwich' to you?" asked the naive columnist.

"I dunno," she replied, "For starters, I'd probably go 'Ewwwwww!' What on Earth is loose meat?"

Maybe they just call it something different in California.

"It's like a hamburger but with crumpled ground beef," I tried to explain.

"Ewwwww!" again came the response. "You EAT that?"

All I could do was sigh.

"We kinda have that," she said as I felt a momentary relief. "It's like when you're grilling a hamburger and the meat accidentally breaks in two. Is that when the meat becomes 'loose'? Because I just call it 'Oops, the burger broke.'"

I tried to explain it one final time to her, to no avail.

"So it's like a Sloppy Joe but without the, umm, slop?" she inquired as I affirmed. "It's just, like, a Joe?"

"Kinda," I said with an eye roll.

"Ewwwww!" she said for the millionth time.

My "worldly" self had no idea that loose meat sandwiches are thought of as freaky by most of the continent. My friend in California, in fact, was so fascinated that she insisted I go take a picture of one and e-mail it to her. As all this talk of loose meat set a hankering in my gut for one, so I happily obliged and popped across the river to Ross'.

As I sat there enjoying the sandwich that apparantly the rest of the world considers more of a "Fear Factor" stunt than lunch, I wondered just how many Presidential candidates had choked one down for the cause. I have no idea, but I certainly hope that most of them did it at Ross'. I like to imagine countless Washington bigwhigs smiling their way through a Rossburger while staring at the bizarre mural that appears to show Humphrey Bogart mingling with Ross regulars, while I-74 is drawn as if bearing down on the restaurant itself (and is that Truman Capote sitting alongside a guy with cornrows in his hair?) Between the mural and the Magic Mountains, Ross' is a cherished institution and should be the dominant tourist attraction in town.

Apparantly we're not the only weirdos, though. My Californian friend tells me you can't find a BLT in the Golden State without avacado on it, which totally grosses me out -- though someday I'd love to walk into a restaurant and order something called a "BLAT." All I know is that I'm done pretending to be worldly. If the rest of the world can't get their head around loose meat on a bun, I'd rather stay a Quad Citizen.


Anonymous said...

Hey ya'll, FYI, loose meat sandwich to southerners is pig that's been bbq'd until it falls apart and slapped on a bun with coleslaw... delicious!

Anonymous said...

I, too have had to explain "Loose Meat" to New Englanders. New England (Boston, spec.) there is this absolutely bizarre thing: I cannot count the number of "Roast Beef & Seafood" restaurants. Why Roast Beef? Why always paired with seafood? This is a weird blue collar surf & turf. No one here thinks it is weird. But it is.

jenna said...

As a former Bostonian, I have to defend the "Roast Beef & Seafood" establishments (even though I eat neither). Boston is a coastal city, hence it's got a lot of seafood. And, for some reason, New England has a thing for roast beef sandwich shops at the beach like many other places have their famous pizza shops near the beach. So, combining the two seems (vaguely) logical to me. Or at least as logical as most other stuff in Boston.