Seducing truckers with 'nanner pudding
Your mid-week dose of Southern food news
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This is the third in a new set of columns. Interviews are central to all of The Food Section’s reporting, but certain conversations deserve to be heard in full, which is why the newsletter every few weeks runs a Q&A with someone who has a Southern food story to tell.
In 2020, Paul Marhoefer hosted Over the Road, an eight-part podcast series produced by PRX’s Radiotopia in collaboration with Overdrive magazine. The show explored rig customization, trucker protests led by immigrant drivers, and the meaning of “’nanner, ‘nanner pudding” at three truck stops in eastern Kentucky. I asked “Long Haul Paul” to share the latter topic with The Food Section.
Hanna Raskin: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk. Would you mind introducing yourself?
Paul Marhoefer: Well, my name is Paul Marhoefer, and I live with my beautiful wife of 41 years in a little farm shanty in Losantville, Indiana. And I have three main income streams: I am a freelance writer, I'm a musician, and I am an over-the-road truck driver.
HR: How long have you been a truck driver?
PM: If you go back to parking my dad's trucks after fueling and washing them, I was 14. My dad and his dad, they were of German descent, and they had a large meat packing plant [and] their own private fleet of about 100 vehicles.
Then in 1978, every meat packing plant in the state of Indiana went into some form of receivership because that's when the prime rate shot up to 30 percent, and the price of hogs went up to record highs.
I was sort of conscripted into delivering my dad's empty trucks to people while the company was being liquidated in bankruptcy. And I just sort of acquired a love for it...I was sort of a restless kid. I would try to do something that would comport more with a straight life, but I just kept going back to trucks.
HR: I'm sure you've thought about this a lot, but what was the attraction?
PM: Well, John Steinbeck on page one of Travels with Charley, in about two sentences, he explained my entire life to me. He said ever since he was a boy he had this disease, and it was called ‘anywhere but here.’ I just love being somewhere other than home.
HR: It's interesting because as you talk about the little restaurants you’ve encountered along your way, it sounds like there's some appeal for you in these places where people have stuck around for a while.
PM: Yeah, that's a good point. Yeah, you kind of nailed me on that one. You love the people where you're stopping to be sticking around. So there probably is a certain element of narcissism in that formula.
HR: OK. So, before we get to these restaurants serving banana pudding, will you tell me more about your eating habits on the road?
PM: Well, Hanna, my wife tries to send me out with a lot of good food, and then I try to stop at the store. But when it's all said and done, it just depends on how well I plan. Because if you don't plan very well, you're just going to be reduced to roller food.
I know people that make all their food ahead of time, put it in Tupperware and microwave it. And that's probably the best way. But there are still some really good [restaurant operators] out there, and you want to support them.
HR: Do they all serve banana pudding?
PM: ‘Nanner pudding has really sort of etched itself into the subcultural lexicon of trucking through the medium of the CB radio. These establishments are little mom-and-pop chains that are just trying to hold on, and they need some sort of edge, some sort of gimmick.
And so, what they do is they get what they call base stations. You have CB radios that go in trucks, but you also have these things called base stations, which are large radios with a lot of wattage that get out really far.
They'll get on there, and it's the art of seduction: ‘Yum, yum, come get you some ‘nanner, ‘nanner pudding.’
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