Thank You, Mr. Pookrum
Morty Breier, Joe Tomlinson and I left the Bronx in the summer of 1960 and barreled south towards Mexico. Morty's mom bade us farewell with a bag full of pot roast sandwiches. "This gedempte flaish should hold you until you get to Mexico," were her naïve parting words. We promptly devoured the sandwiches on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, never realizing how prophetic her words would be.
From southern New Jersey to Texarkana, Arkansas, where the car started making strange noises, every eating establishment we stopped in was closed. They were closed for an hour, closed for the day, lights turned off suddenly, or door opened slightly and then slammed. The best "unwelcome" was a voice within one shabby restaurant calling out, "This here's a private club. You all have a membership card?"
Perhaps it was from lack of food, but it took three college educated New Yorkers seven states to realize we were in the still segregated south - a real epiphany.
Morty and Joe caused the locals to be incapable of speech just by walking in a door and breathing. Lest the locals' lack of speech be replaced by action, we decided that I, the non-threatening girl, should ask for help with the troubled car. I found a sheriff in the local diner where we still couldn't eat. The sheriff directed us out of town to Mr. Pookrum's motel. The sheriff's parting words were, "You all want the colored motel." We didn't know we wanted the colored motel. What we wanted was some food and a place to rest our know-it-all-northern-college-educated-let's drive-down-to-Mexico selves.
We found the motel and met Mr. Pookrum, a real take charge man. He sent for a mechanic, showed us to our rooms, and disappeared into the kitchen. That evening we learned the meaning of southern hospitality as he served a meal of fried chicken, collard greens, sweet potatoes, biscuits, and sweet iced tea. The next morning, with the car repaired, he sent us on our way with a big bag of food and a blessing. Morty's mother's gedempte flaish got us to the South and Mr. Pookrum's classic southern food got us through the South.
We left the comfort of safety of Mr. Pookrum's motel and headed through Texas. Why through the state? The signs on the bathrooms for "White Men," "White Women," and "Coloreds" so traumatized us that we neither took in, nor voided any substance throughout the state of Texas. Hungry, but with heads held high, we crossed the border into Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and finally felt at home in a foreign land.
We left the car with a young, "watch-a-car-o" and entered the first restaurant we found, where we ate chicken soup inspired by the Aztec gods. The white chicken meat and spicy broth with a touch of saffron, a smidgen of cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime, made the perilous 2,000 mile trip through the segregated South almost worth every mile.