Six years ago, I decided to see as much of America as possible. I was 28 and had just gone on my first international trip — it was to the United Kingdom — and I got the travel bug. I made a plan to drive through every state and connect with as many people as I could. I decided to do that through food. I wanted to try specific staples that each place is known for, that have a history. You can learn a lot of history about the state or city just from the different dishes that they’re known for.
I started driving on February 4, 2018. My sedan had 40,000 miles on it. My first destination was California. I’m from Baltimore, Maryland, and had never been to the West Coast.
Before I visit a city or town, I look up a dish it’s known for, and I’ll join a local Facebook group. That way, I’ll get recommendations and invitations to birthday parties, restaurants, events, or even schools to talk to kids about my travels.
Lyft is a great way to meet people and network on the road. It suits me because I like people. My goal is to ask all my passengers where they were born and raised and make a trip to their small towns. I’m taking notes! Where to go, what to eat.
I tried chili and cinnamon rolls in Nebraska. That’s my favorite dish. I’ve been to four reservations and had fry bread and Indian tacos. Those are addictive. Here are my top ten:
1. Chili and Cinnamon Rolls (Lincoln, NE)
2. Polish Boy (Cleveland, OH)
3. Italian Beef (Chicago, IL)
4. Puffy Tacos (San Antonio, TX)
5. Fry Bread and Chislic (Phoenix, AZ, and Sioux Falls, SD)
6. Maple Fries and Cremees (Jericho, VT)
7. Baked Potato Sundae (Boise, ID)
8. Loco Moco and Malasadas (Honolulu, HI)
9. Reindeer Hot Dog (Anchorage, AK)
10. Toasted Ravioli (St. Louis, MO)
Honorable mention: Mormon Muffins (Salt Lake City, UT)
I’ve spent Christmases and Thanksgivings in people’s homes with their families. I went to my first drag show at a dive bar in Anchorage, Alaska.
My favorite place is Jackson, Mississippi. The food, the hospitality, the culture — it’s just memorable. I had a situation where my car broke down in the middle of nowhere. The police officers showed up in like five minutes. I had to walk to a gas station to find someone to fix my car. The older lady behind the counter was like, “I’ll call Billy Bob to see if he can help you out.” That’s what it’s like in small towns there. People go out of their way to make sure you’re OK.
Before I get to a state, I’ll look up its history and identify unique foods. But I try to be spontaneous. That’s my advice to other people: When you go visit a city or town, don’t rush it. Just sit back. Take your time. Let the experience come to you.
I stay in every state for at least a month and every city for at least a week. I want to experience the local life. I also make a point to be part of the community by doing things like visiting homeless shelters, animal shelters, showing my appreciation to the fire department, the police officers, even town mayors. And I try to support small businesses. I’ve visited over 2,000 nationwide.
I post what I’m up to on social media and on my website. I go by “theridesharefoodie.” I’m writing a book about my travels. I’m also working on a mobile app that will help people connect with locals in different cities and get their recommendations. And next year, I’m going to host a foodie tasting event in Austin that will feature different unique foods from all 50 states.
So many people don’t take the time to show an interest in somebody else’s culture or where they’re from, and a lot of people never go very far from where they live. It’s like a fear of the unknown. Everybody wants to stay comfortable, and nobody wants to be uncomfortable. I wanted to take myself out of that. Ultimately, I hope people see what I’m doing and are inspired to try something new themselves.
My car has 360,000 miles on it today, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. There are so many places I still want to see and people I want to connect with.
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