Gil Chesterton felt miles out of his element in more ways than one as he stepped out of his rented car and into the heat of a Texas afternoon. Before him loomed a fifty-two-foot tall cowboy that he had learned was affectionately called 'Big Tex'. It was a landmark for the Texas State Fair and an icon of the state's laid-back culture in general. Gil smiled in amusement at the figure that was fully kitted out in jeans, a Texas flag shirt, and cowboy hat. Already he felt a world removed from Seattle and the high-society set her mingled with.
After paying his ticket and wandering into the fairgrounds, Gil felt even more out of place. While he wore his usual pinstriped grey suit, everyone else was dressed down, in t-shirts and shorts or jeans, or (for the ladies, anyway) summer dresses. Not only was his attire eliciting some odd looks, he was also starting to feel as if he was being roasted. His usual apparel hadn't been the ideal getup for weather like this, but Gil's love of being a "sharp dressed man" had overridden common sense. This was going to be one uncomfortable day. Unless…
He saw a row of temporary shops nearby and suddenly came up with an idea. A short time later, he was walking out of a restroom, wearing his new purchases—bluejeans, a t-shirt with a map of Texas on it, and a cowboy hat. He left his other clothes in the car and returned to the fair, feeling cooler and less conspicuous already.
As Seattle's top food critic moved through the crowds, he thought about how he'd gotten to this point in the first place.
Station manager Kenny had been concerned about Gil's ratings. It seemed there was only so much to say about Seattle restaurants and cuisine. Then he had thought of something. What if Gil broke out of the norm and tried local fare in other states? With the popularity of a TV show called Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Kenny thought this just might be the boost Gil's show needed. A week later, Gil had found himself on the first flight out to Dallas, Texas.
"Now, what should I eat here?" Gil mused aloud.
Then he saw a sign on a food stand that declared 'Best fried pickles in Texas'.
Intrigued, Gil hurried over. The idea of frying a condiment and eating it like a meal was quite novel to him.
"One order of fried pickles, please," Gil told the nice young man who was manning the register.
"If you don't mind me saying, sir, you're not from here, are you?" the cashier asked. His words were a bit forward, but his tone was polite.
"No. I'm from Seattle. I'm doing some travel for my radio show. I'm a food critic," Gil answered.
"Well, you picked the right place. We Texans have great food."
"I guess I'll have a lot of material for my show, then. Oh, and could I also have a cold drink? It's so hot! Is it always this hot in September?"
The cashier grinned.
"It's not unusual, but winter will be here in October. Summer's only nine months long," he joked. "Well, if it's a cold drink you want, I recommend the sweet iced tea. It's an institution in the South."
A few minutes later, Gil sat down with his food. He cautiously tried one slice of fried pickle and found that he enjoyed it. It was crispy, greasy, salty and crunchy but it tasted so good. Hmm, this casual food wasn't so bad, after all. As he sipped the tea (which was very refreshing), he watched the rides and the happy families, and he felt oddly at peace in this place so far removed from Seattle's glitzy restaurants and the high-end lifestyle he was used to. In fact, he found himself wanting to join in the fun, not just observe it.
"Hello, you two," he said cheerfully, stopping a twelve-year-old boy and his mother. "I'm new here, and I wanted to know what the most fun ride is!"
"You need to try the 'log flume' sir!" the boy said, excitedly but politely. "It goes so fast, and it's great on a hot day!"
"Why's that?" Gil asked.
The boy's mother grinned.
"You'll see," she said mysteriously before she and her son walked away.
-later that day-
Gil wondered what his colleagues and friends in Seattle would think if they saw him now, hurtling down a track in a log-shaped roller coaster, heading straight for a pool of water. He was shrieking along with his fellow passengers and waving his cowboy hat in excitement. Frasier Crane would, no doubt, wonder if he'd taken leave of his senses.
These thoughts were driven out of his head as the 'log' rushed through the water, which soaked everyone. Gil felt refreshed and cool, and for now at least, he'd abandoned all his pretentions. If only Seattle's elite could see him now, dripping wet and smiling as broadly as if he'd gotten a free reservation to an exclusive new restaurant.
"Wasn't that great, sir?" a familiar voice said. It was the boy who had recommended the ride.
"That was fun!" Gil agreed. "And now I think I should have something to eat while I dry off."
"You should try Tin Roof Barbeque," the boy's mother said. "The best barbeque in Texas, and they always have a tent here for the fair."
"I've heard that Texans love barbeque," Gil mused, and the mother chuckled at his naivete.
"Also, the sky is blue, and the Pope is Catholic," she kidded before excusing herself and her son.
The smell of barbeque wafted from the tent as Gil approached it. He had never smelled anything so good, and he got a platter with a bit of everything—smoked beef brisket, slow-cooked sausage, a smoked turkey leg, pulled pork in barbeque sauce…
At first Gil felt a little self-conscious when he realized her had to eat the sausage and the turkey leg with his hands. Imagine how his social peers would react if they saw him sitting there at the plastic-covered table with his fingers covered in barbeque sauce. And then—Gil realized he didn't care.
In fact, he asked a passerby to take a photo with the camera he carried in his jeans pocket. The grandmotherly woman seemed amused in a nice way.
"Are you visiting?" she asked with a friendly grin.
"I'm from Seattle. It's very…different there," Gil told her.
"Thought you were from another state. You probably don't get good food like this in Seattle," the woman replied.
He paused, thinking of restaurants like Cigar Voilant, fancy, orderly, elegant places with the choicest food. The kinds of places where securing a table felt like an honor. Then—
"No, we don't. I wish we did."
As the light faded and night approached, Gil took a ride on the Ferris wheel, listened to a country music band, and finished off the day with a dessert of Mexican churros—cylindrical, fried donuts dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar. It certainly wasn't like the dainty and perfectly presented desserts served at Seattle's best eateries. It was better.
Gil was reluctant to leave Dallas the next morning, but he had two more states to tour, New Mexico and Arizona. He found their local cuisine to be delicious, also, but he'd never forget the wonderful time he'd had when he'd "loosened up" at last and tried things he once would have turned up his nose at.
Back in Seattle, his miniseries about what he'd experienced on his road trip got rave reviews—more than one listener called in to say it was wonderful that Gil had decided to discover "everyday America".
Gil showed his photographs to everyone at the station when he returned. At the photo of Gil eating barbeque, Frasier had only one comment.
"If you keep going like this, you'll be eating at the Timber Mill."
Frasier's tone made it sound like a death sentence.
"What's that?" Gil asked eagerly.
"It's a restaurant my dad likes. It's so…casual. I wouldn't have been caught dead there if Dad hadn't insisted that Niles and I eat there with him."
"Sounds like my kind of restaurant! I know where I'll be going to eat for my next show!"
"I think that heat in Texas got to your head."
"Not at all," Gil said. "It opened my eyes to how much America has to offer. You should go on a road trip, too. You could do with some 'loosening up'."
Frasier's most offended expression only made Gil laugh.
A/N: I used to live in Texas (now I'm in Florida) for several years. I wanted to go to the State Fair but it was a good distance from where I lived (it IS Texas, after all).
Tin Roof Barbeque is a real place and has the best BBQ in Texas.