So it had been a long day. I was returning from a catering job in the city (New York City) the year 1999. I had been cooking in Long Island City and headed up the Major Deegan to the George Washington Bridge and back to Jersey… dirty Jersey. At this time I was still using the wooden side trailer that I had started out with in the beginning. I had a beautiful yellow sign on the back and when I would travel the highways it drew lots of attention and people would pass me in the fast lane honking and fist pumping. All the while, there I am driving, brain fried and dreaming of a hot shower and a bed. I have been up since 3:00am, cooking in an industrial area I had to put up with bums begging food, people trying to steal my trailer and the normal stuff like the heat of the day. I had roasted a pig and cooked 300 pieces of chicken on an open grill in a blacktop parking lot. So when people passed me and were fist pumping I really just wanted to shoot them. But today it was different, a lot of people were honking their horns and I just paid no mind. Sue was laughing and waving back at them.
As I headed west on route 80 and then onto route 287 south traffic started to ease up a bit and I was getting thirsty. I knew I had a few Snapples in the cooler that was in the back of the truck. My trusty Ford F-250, I loved that truck. So south of Morristown where the highway has a wide shoulder around the Harter Road exit I pulled over to get my Snapple. When I stopped I seen smoke coming from the pig roaster and this is normal because the coals are still burning when we leave the job. But the smoked smelled like burnt paint and the smoke very quickly gave way to flames as I noticed the floor of the trailer was on fire. Not having any energy and not wanting any energy because that would mean work, I nonchalantly said to my girlfriend Sue “the trailer is on fire.” Truly I was not worried because having been in the city I had two very large CO2 fire extinguishers, one smaller CO2 and I even had a 5lb dry chemical that was in the truck all the time. I had three large sheets of plywood lying flat under the roaster. You see when cooking in NYC the health dept. would not let me cook on the bare ground I had to put wood down.
I guess while traveling back up the Major Deegan and hitting these humongous pot holes the lid of the roaster popped open and a few hot coals fell on to the wood, then 60 mph down route 80 and… well now I have a fire. So I wrangled the big fire extinguisher, pulled the pin and started to put out the fire… and I did. Well I did until the next big rig went by and the gust of wind relit the fire. So I put it out again and then another truck went by. Now my fire extinguisher is empty. But not to worry I have more. And I used them all and still another truck would go by and it would relight. Oh wait a minute I have the dry-chem. It didn’t do the job and the fire relit. Oh… wait a minute I have a Halon extinguisher that will work on anything. Anything except a wood fire being fanned by passing trucks. The fire was under the pig roaster and hard to get too. Although the flames were getting higher I had to get the equipment of the trailer. I jumped into the trailer and started throwing everything to the shoulder of the road, and then I dragged the huge chicken grill out of the trailer and onto the shoulder of the highway. Then came the pig roaster and now the fire was really to the point that I pretty much knew I was losing my trailer.
So I had one last try… it was all or nothing. But then I see flashing lights as a trooper approaches quickly. I grab the cooler and throw all the water and ice and Snapple onto the main part of the fire. Then I scramble and grab all the bottles of Snapple and start opening them and dumping them on the fire as it finally dies. The trooper stands there just looking at me. After a long awkward silence he says “I guess you’re the guy we’re all looking for, we’ve been chasing you since Lodi.” They had received reports of a trailer fire and were looking for a big truck and trailer when in fact it was my truck & trailer. Then he called and cancelled the 5 fire departments that were in route. I told him there really wasn’t as much damage as I originally thought because what burned was mostly the plywood and only a small amount of the trailer floor (about a one foot circle). Then to my surprise he went to his car and removed his gun belt and upper uniform. He came back in a white t shirt and no hat and helped me load all the equipment back to my trailer. It only took the two of us about 15 minutes however as luck would have it the sun came out and was blazing, we were both drenched in sweat. He looks at the empty Snapple bottles and says “that would sure taste good about now.”
So after everything was loaded I was still expecting a citation for something… maybe improper load or creating a traffic hazard, something. He went to his car and returned in uniform and asked my name and where I was coming from and going to, he looked at my plate number on the truck and trailer and asked if everything was ok. I said “sure, but aren’t you going to cite me?” He smiled and said “your day has been bad enough, I hope it gets better.” And with that he walked back to his car and waited while I pulled away.
Of course this day went down in infamy as just another part of the now 20 year history of my crazy little catering business. I never knew the name of the trooper who helped me that day, but I sure was thankful. It was not the first time I had seen a New Jersey State Trooper do something like this, I had seen something very similar a few years earlier when a pile of lumber fell in the highway and the trooper joined in and helped remove the lumber so the traffic could flow again. However that driver did receive a ticket for improper load.
Hey, I have many stories from my 20 years of traveling and catering and meeting people. Thanks for reading and come back again.