Friday, September 22, 2006

A Trucker’s Guide to Drinking and Driving

By Alan Burkhart

As someone who constantly travels the USA and drinks a lot of coffee, I consider myself to be a coffee connoisseur. I can’t tell you who uses what specialty coffee beans and what South American nation produces the best coffee. But I can tell you where I find the best “on the road” coffee for my picky little taste buds. With so many Americans traveling these days, “to go” coffee has become a hot item (I know, bad pun). As an all-around nice guy, I will endeavor here to save you from the aggravation of getting a truly revolting cup of coffee while you’re traveling during the upcoming holiday season.

My comparison of “to go” coffees involves national and regional chains and is based upon how I personally like my coffee at home. I daresay that this is how everyone else judges their coffee while traveling, so it’s a valid method of comparison provided that you know how I like my coffee. At home I brew a fairly strong pot of Folgers Classic Roast. Smooth, but bold. Absolutely no bitter aftertaste whatsoever. Best coffee on the planet. I drink it with just a touch of Sugar Free Coffeemate (Hazelnut) and a teaspoon of Splenda. As I write this piece, my Camel Cigarettes coffee mug is sitting right next to the keyboard.

So, who has the best “to go” coffee?

In my opinion, the best is found at “QT” (“QuikTrip”) stores. Their coffee is good no matter how you drink it. I add Splenda or Equal to mine. They generally offer “gourmet” flavored creamers and your choice of either sugar or several artificial sweeteners. But you don’t have to add anything. It’s good black as well, and even the decaf is pleasant. The only drawback to QT is the fact of their having limited locations (only 9 states).

Running a very close second to QT is “Pilot Travel Centers.” Pilot also offers a wide selection of sweeteners and flavored creamers, and they offer a diverse selection of coffees. I prefer their “House” coffee. Not too strong, but bold and quite smooth. And, Pilot Travel Centers are scattered all over the country. Wherever you’re going, there’ll be a Pilot along the way.

My only real objection to Pilot is slow-moving lines at checkout combined with the fact that they often place a hot dog service right next to the coffee. The odor of greasy hot dog franks (on rollers), onions, slaw and mustard is markedly unpleasant at 5:00 AM. If you can deal with the stench, the coffee is worth it.

Third place belongs to Waffle House. If I were rating breakfasts, they’d be the grand prize winner, but we’re doing coffee, not steak -n- eggs. Waffle House doesn’t offer gourmet creamers or vast selections of imported coffees. But they do provide a smooth and tasty cup of coffee. It’s always fresh due to the sheer volume of coffee they sell. Service is fast and friendly, and they don’t charge an arm and a leg for their products. Good stuff!

For fourth place, the nod goes to IHOP for many of the same reasons that Waffle House earned third place. The coffee is about 95% as good as Waffle House, but usually costs just a tad more (maybe a nickel or dime). Unlike Waffle House, many IHOPs also offer flavored creamers as well.

The nod for fifth place goes to Flying J Travel Plazas. Unremarkable, but drinkable. I rarely have complaints about Flying J’s java except for the occasional coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup. They offer flavored creamers and the volume of sales through the day keeps it fresh. My principal objection to Flying J is their slow service at the cash register. It’s like checking out at Wal-Mart on a Friday. Good coffee, but if you’re in a hurry you should look elsewhere.

Holding down last place for good coffee is Denny’s. Decent coffee, but I avoid their food. Get a cup to go or sit and enjoy it if you’re skipping breakfast. Why anyone would actually eat at Denny’s is beyond me.

Okay, so who has the worst coffee (rated worst to “least worst”)?

First off, if you visit a truck stop or convenience store, look at the coffee dispensers. If the establishment proudly proclaims that they sell “Community Coffee” then you should bolt for the door. The stuff tastes more like insecticide than coffee. Farmer’s Brothers commercial coffee isn’t much better. Both of these companies’ offerings are bitter and leave a despicable aftertaste. I’m told that their coffee sold for home use is better, but I’ve not tried it.

Okay, I realize that Starbucks is chiefly responsible for the “Designer Coffee” phenomenon. I tip my hat to them for causing c-store and truck stop coffee to be better now than it was some years ago. I wish them well, but I don’t like their coffee. I’ve tried it several times. The regular coffee was bitter (and expensive), and their specialty drinks (lattes, etc) were like drinking liquid candy. I’ve also tried their “Frappuccino” product sold in many convenience stores. The first one was enjoyable simply because it was different, but I grew tired of it after the second one. What’s the big deal about Starbucks?

TA (Travel Centers of America) has added flavored creamers in some locations, but in my opinion this is mainly to mask the taste of awful coffee. It’s quite bitter and you’ll taste it for a half-hour after you choke down the last sip. Their restaurant coffee is marginally better than the icky goo found in their c-stores.

Petro Stopping Centers has drinkable coffee if you get it from the restaurant or adjoining convenience store. If you’re a trucker, you already know how bad the coffee is out back at the diesel islands. As an industrial cleaner or degreaser, it’s top quality. But as coffee? C’mon guys. What’s that stuff really made of?

Next on the list of All-time Bad Coffee we find Love’s Country Stores. These are great stores and I fuel at Love’s quite often. My objection to their coffee is a lack of consistent quality. No two Love’s coffees will taste the same. Sometimes I get a good cup, other times it’s undrinkable. I have no idea why this happens, and I’m not one to speculate. FYI: When you pour a cup at Love’s, give it a sniff before you add anything. It’ll taste almost exactly like it smells. You be the judge.

McDonald’s, Wendy’s Carl’s Jr., Hardees, Burger King, etc… The fast food folks’ coffee is generally survivable, if unremarkable. Most Love’s and Pilots have fast food restaurants onsite. If I’m at a Pilot and grab a fast food breakfast, I get my coffee from Pilot. If I’m at Love’s, the fast food coffee is better. McDonald’s at one time had amazingly bad coffee, but they’ve improved it over time. As fast food coffee goes, The Clown probably has the best these days.

Okay, that covers the national and regional chains that I frequent. Many independents offer good coffee, but there are too many to rate them all. I will say that the Lehigh Truck Stop in Lexington, VA has great coffee. Favorable nods also go to Simmons’ Truck Stop in Bracey, VA, Sam’s Restaurant in Fairfield, TX, Mom’s Diner in Minden, LA (the restaurant, not the store), Jimmies Truck Stop in Madison, FL and the Davy Crockett Truck Stop near Greenville, TN. Additionally, all of the aforementioned independents have great food - especially Sam's and Lehigh.

Travel safely, enjoy the coffee, and I’ll see you on the road.
Related Reading and Websites:

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Nightmare in the Old West

By Alan Burkhart

UPDATE: My friend Kent Knudson has passed away. Out of respect for his family and friends I will not include details here. He was a good guy and a good friend.

If you’re a regular reader of my column, you may be familiar with the ongoing plight of my good friend, Kent Knudson. There are new developments in the case and I hope you’ll take a moment to read about them. Kent is slowly gaining support in his fight, and that support is coming from both sides of the political fence.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, here’s the short version: When the incident occurred, Kent lived in Snowflake, Arizona. Until she passed away recently, he had cared for his elderly mother, who was an Alzheimer’s patient.

In 2003, Mrs. Knudson suffered a stroke and Kent had to rush her to the hospital. In his haste, he left the gate to his property open. When he returned several days later, approximately 40 head of cattle belonging to rancher Dee Johnson had entered his property. His lawn and garden were destroyed and a sewer line had been broken. After numerous calls to the rancher and unsuccessful attempts at getting the cattle to leave, Kent fired a .22 caliber rifle in the air to frighten them out of his yard.

Whether the bullet ricocheted and hit the cow is unknown, but one of the cows fell over dead in his yard. I personally find it highly unlikely that an animal weighing half a ton could be killed by a random shot from such a small firearm. Nevertheless, the cow was quite dead.

Arizona is a free range state, meaning that cattle may roam freely in and out of their owner’s property. Fences are not required. Hit a cow with your car? You’re liable for the cost of the cow. I’ve come close on a couple of occasions to smashing into a cow on a dark Arizona road. If I should die in such a crash, my estate would be liable for the price of the cow. The ranchers in Arizona have very little responsibility in this regard. And the Powers That Be in Arizona plan to make an example out of Kent Knudson.

Recent Events…
After spending over $40,000 on legal defense, Kent was convicted a few days ago. His sentencing is scheduled for September Twenty-Fifth. For defending his property, Kent could face up to one and half years in a state prison. It’s worth noting here that due to existing fences between his property and that of rancher Dee Johnson, it would be impossible for the cows to reach his gate without a fence being cut or knocked down. And according to Kent, the ballistics test of the bullet in the cow didn’t match his gun. Kent also has bigger guns than the .22. Had he sincerely wished to kill the cow, he had multiple options for weapons.

In court, an obviously biased judged tossed out almost all of the evidence that could have worked in Kent’s favor. No mention of the cut fence on an adjacent property (that allowed the cattle to reach Kent’s property) was permitted. The fact that Kent made repeated attempts to get the owner of the cattle to come and collect them was deemed insignificant.

I’m not an attorney, but my guess is that his only chance of beating this insanity will be during the appeals process. As long as this biased judge holds sway over the proceedings, he has no chance. This is a classic example of how well-connected people with power and wealth can adversely affect the lives of others.

Kent and I disagree on almost everything political, but he is a good and decent human being and is undeserving of the misery being visited upon him. This sort of thing can happen to anyone, including you or me. And it’ll keep happening until people stand up and demand change. Our property rights are fundamental to our freedom as Americans. There are too many instances in which those rights are trampled – either by unscrupulous developers, or as in Kent’s case, by an irresponsible rancher, outdated laws, and a corrupt judge.

Related Reading:

When merited, Kent sends out a mailing regarding his case. His most recent one is included below, with his permission. - Alan

A Nightmare Continues!
I am now a FELON because I attempted to protect my mother, a victim of Alzheimer's, from a herd of wild cattle (including bulls) on our own private FENCED property near Snowflake, AZ. The rancher refused to remove them, so I tried to scare the 30-40 cattle back through our gate with the noise from a .22 rifle and in the process one was killed. It must have been a ricochet since I know that I did not try to hit one.

Only later did I discover that the cattle had gotten to our gate because someone had cut our neighbor’s fence (and removed 40’ of 4 strand barbed wire). Our property is completely surrounded by fenced private property so, no cattle could possibly get to our open gate unless they were delivered through a cut fence! Some ranchers believe their cattle have a right to any grass or water (fenced or not). Did you know that ranchers can kill your pet dog? All they have to say is that it was bothering their cattle! (for other ranching abuses go to

I have spent $40,000 in legal fees and when we attempted to settle, the only response from the prosecution was ........
"we don't want to settle, we want to make an example of you."

Early on in the proceedings, the judge stated “this is a
simple case and it will remain a simple case
” as if he had already tried and convicted me! The judge was enraged at me once when I stated that I was the victim; in AZ, ranchers are always the victim!

The rancher (Dee Johnson), has 60 FELONIES against him for CATTLE RUSTLING. He is a cousin to both Jake Flake and Jeff Flake, in the AZ Legislature and US Congress respectively. Is it possible that politics has something to do with

The first trial, in Dec., was declared a mistrial (the judge attempted to pick the jury without any input from the lawyers ....... BTW, this delay cost me another $8,000 in legal fees). Another trial took place Aug. 23-24. The judge denied all our defenses and my lawyers were powerless to prevent this. It was stated that AZ is an open range state, but that no details about open range law would be allowed into the trial. All the prosecution lies were accepted, no matter how blatant, and very little was done to refute even the obvious ones.

The day that I buried mother, the court was trying to issue her a Subpoena!

** Contact info removed now that Kent has passed away. **

A trial transcript will be posted soon!