Angle to Key West: Poutine (7/19)

Ottawa, Ontario – July 19, 2013

“Here, taste these and tell me if there’s anything wrong with them,” the man said.

He leaned out of his food truck to hand me a pile of fries. A couple had just returned their order complaining of something being off, but they spoke in French so I had no idea what they were saying other than the look on their faces. I ate a few fries, still hot in oil, and shrugged.

“Taste fine to me,” I said.

The man tried a few.

“Maybe a bit of an aftertaste,” he said.

“Yea,” I said. “A little vinegary almost.”

The man frowned.

“The potatoes must be a little off,” he said. “I got a guy bringing me some more in a few hours.”

I shrugged and continued eating the sample fries.

“It’s not that bad,” I said.

“You still want this poutine?” he asked. “I could make you a hot dog or something instead.”

The wind-pushed Ottawa rushed a hundred yards away with three-foot waves. It was everything I feared when I looked at the map for the last month and thought of the current, the prevailing wind, the water pushing against each stroke, bleeding speed, yanking me backwards. After five hours of fighting, I felt exhausted. Then I saw the food truck parked next to a beach.

“If you say no, I will kill you,” Wally said, somewhere deep inside me.

“What about the off potatoes?” I said. “What if they kill me?”

“Do you want to take your chances with the potatoes or with me?” Wally said.

I looked at the man and nodded.

“Yea,” I said. “I’ll take it.”

The man shrugged, closed his window, turned, lifted a giant bag of cheese curds, spooned out a ladle of gravy, slid his window open again, and handed me a large bowl of poutine.

I tried to pay him, but he waved me off.

“On the house,” he said.

I sat down next to the river and watched it rage past, feeling giddy, holding my bowl of poutine and wondering how universal healthcare survives in a country where French fries, cheese curds, and gravy are a national dish.

It disappeared fast. The crisp top fries gave way to their gravy soaked counterparts below and then the inevitable, sad scraping of fork against styrofoam.

I sighed, stared down at the empty bowl, and pushed back into the water, ready to fight the Ottawa again.

6 thoughts on “Angle to Key West: Poutine (7/19)

  1. I think a Whole Foods Angel died reading this part of the adventure….but sometimes you just got to fuel up with comfort food, even the ones with funny names. “Poutine” could easily make in the South if it was called “Gravy Fried Stuff with Cheese.”

  2. Poutine also could be a headliner at the Minnesota State Fair! Obviously it’s meant for consumption by voyageurs and loggers — people who burned a lot more calories in an average day than triathletes do now. The man knew he was face-to-face with the voyageur his poutine was meant to feed.

  3. “…the inevitable, sad scraping of fork against styrofoam,” I’m certain,
    is something you experienced long ago on the AT, CDT and PCT. I know it well.

  4. …guess I can’t hazard a guess about your experiences on the AT, CDT, & PCT like Steve above, but that line was surely my favorite in the whole story…”the inevitable, sad scraping of fork against styrofoam…”

  5. My heart is smiling at the thought of you on the mighty Ottawa River and finding poutine close by. As you can imagine, poutine tastes great on a snowy city sidewalk in the middle of January. Of course one has to eat fast before the gravy congeals in the -20celsius winds of the river. I can taste it now!

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