Napoleon said, “An army marches on its stomach.” By this he meant you move the troops forward by feeding them tasty vittles. He never spent any time in Toledo, where labor’s campaign foot soldiers move despite the grub and sometimes, unfortunately, because of it.
Whereas the diminutive corporal of Corsica devoted exquisite attention to the logistical details of the mess, when you’re knocking on doors in Toledo, gastronomically speaking you’re pretty much on your own.
Which is not to say you’re going to starve. The campaign stocks the Teamsters hall with bottled water, soft drinks, coffee, Cheetos, Doritos, bags of union-made Hostess Donettes, Kroger cupcakes, and the occasional home-baked goodie. The same clear plastic box of store-bought cookies has languished undisturbed on a bookshelf in the campaign coordinator’s office since I first arrived two weeks ago, and it’s uncertain if the little green circles pocking their surface are embedded M&M’s or something more worrisome.
But I digress.
For those of you who planning to trek to Ohio in the campaign’s final days, or for those planning an after-election escape to Toledo with your sweetie for a spontaneous weekend getaway, the following tips come out of purely random experience and are now yours for planning your dining excursion to Ohio’s little hunk of Heaven also known as (all true, look it up) Corn City, Frog City and The Glass Capital of the World:
Breakfast. The free hotel buffet wins, hands-down. One of the first rules of the road is, don’t spend money on breakfast. Whether it’s reconstituted scrambled eggs, luke-warm soggy pig parts, off-brand English muffins, watery coffee, heavily diluted ‘juice’ or individualized boxes of Mini-wheats, the important thing about the free breakfast is, it’s free. If you’re running late, you can make do with union hall coffee and what’s left over, most likely still unwrapped, from last night’s phone bank.
Lunch. This is the most problematic meal of the day. It’s the one you’re most likely to skip because you want to stay on the doors until you turf’s done. Also, the routes you’re walking tend to be strictly residential, so there’s no telling if you’re going to come upon an eating establishment. When the stars aligned — or, as the legendary leader of the Seafarers Paul Hall might have said, when the sun finally shined on this dog’s ass — these are places are where I grabbed a midday bite:
The Big Apple Deli on Woodville Road in the industrial suburb of Oregon, Ohio. New Yorkers would be surprised to see that this place bills itself as a “New York Style Deli.” I ordered and finished the “voted #1” Reuben Sandwich (warm corned beef, thousand island dressing, melted provolone, sauerkraut on grilled rye bread) for $7.95. The physical memory of it stayed with me through forty-two doors and a bunch of telephone calls.
Ralphies in Perrysburg, another Toledo suburb. At noontime this sports bar serves as much alcohol as food. In a nod to healthy eating, I ordered the grilled chicken pita for $7.95, which turned out to be a sort of open-faced pizza, chunks of apparently bleached chicken meat, ‘sauteed’ green peppers, mushroom and onions inundated in tepid mozzarella, all held together like The Dude’s rug by an over-sized shingle of grilled pita. You’ve probably already figured this out on your own, but avoid it is the most helpful thing I can tell you.
Netty’s Chili Dogs on Dorr kitty corner from the University of Toledo. They also serve ice cream, shakes and sodas, but when you can grab a four-dog bag of chili dogs for six dollars, why would you get anything else? Nutritious, satisfying, portable — but make sure you’ve got a pack of Tic Tacs if you’re hitting the doors afterwards.
Dinner. This meal offers a lot more variety and leeway. While some prefer to eat early before working the phones, others like to work straight through and catch a late dinner, in order to take the consumption of alcohol out of the phone bank equation (having heard too many stories, apocryphal or not, of the occasional “oops” moments). Some of your many choices:
Your hotel dining room. Plusses are 1) you don’t have to drive 2) bingo, alcohol consumption is back in the equation, 3) if there’s a mishap, they know you and know where to put you. As for the minuses: 1) it’s hotel food, 2) it’s expensive 3) you feel like you never left work. For a happy compromise, head over to the hotel bar and graze the free happy hour “hot hors d’ouerves” and “crudities” table. Far from tossing you out, the bartender and paying drinkers will most likely welcome you back night after night as “a colorful character.”
Mac and Tong’s in the Ottawa Hills Shopping Center. A cozy and decidedly non-chain establishment where the food is top quality, freshly prepared and plentiful. The prices are not cheap, but the value is good and the ambiance is homey. Especially recommended when you’re there as the guest of a couple of labor legends from Toledo and everyone in the room drifts by your table to say hello.
The Flower Drum on South Byrne. This is where Panda Express gets its inspiration. The outdoor sign is the prettiest thing about it, but the food inside is really, really, tremendously cheap. Think ‘Oriental’ rather than ‘Asian,’ to an era when egg foo yung, chow mein, whar shoo op, chop suey, roast pork fried rice and lobster Cantonese represented the farthest frontier of edgy cuisine.
Mi Hacienda on Glanzman Road. Colorful furnishings, outgoing wait-staff, and Mexican/Southwestern food that’s pretty unobjectionable. Hard to know what you’ll spend because once the Margaritas start appearing your good intentions pretty much go out the window. Welcomes groups the way Hot Shoppes welcomes busses.
Thai Kitchen on Glendale. Dirt cheap.
Hollywood Casino. $50 steaks or a buffet they call “endless” and “succulent.” I never made it there, but my canvassing partner, Dee, did. She didn’t dine, but she did hit $700 on the slots.
Best meal in Toledo: The presidential-debate watching party at the Toledo Federation of Teachers hall on South Byrne, across the street from the local NBC TV affiliate and next door to a strip club. Approximately 80 activists from a variety of unions showed up to share local pizza from JoJo’s, soft drinks, beer, wine, Chex mix and Twix bars, and watch the second debate on a large projection screen.
When I asked two steelworkers sitting at my table what kind of work they did, one pointed to my Bud Lite and replied that he made the aluminum cans. That plant’s been operating three shifts daily, and rumors has it they plan to hire more workers soon.
Once Candy Crowley’s image appeared, the room fell to a hush. Steelworkers, teachers, city and county workers, letter carriers, electrical workers and nurses had made the effort to drop everything and show up this evening, and in a moment we’d know if our candidate, the President of the United States, would follow our lead, and enter the hall determined to fight.