Once committed to the Hana drive we realized a hiccup in the plan. Surrounded by the wonders of nature in one of the most gorgeous spots on earth, I, being the driver, was unable to fully drink it in for fear of, well, death. The road is incredibly serpentine, and even at a top speed of about 30 mph, one slightly overlong “ooh” at a postcard-perfect ribbon waterfall, or ill-timed “aah” at a multihued sumpin-sumpin bird could easily end up with our trusty Avis subcompact relinquishing its tenuous grip on the road and plunging into the Pacific, or smashing head-on into another intrepid Hana Highwayman coming the other way, confident that he had dibs on the one full lane to be had.
Susan, in the passenger seat, was, rather than fearing death, very near wishing for it. As one who gets a tad green around the gills just watching a movie shot with a handheld camera, the Tilt-a-Whirl nature of the Hana experience had her focused on keeping down her buffet breakfast.
Our pre-planning had informed us that there were a couple of notable stopping points along our route. The first was a nature preserve where we walked along verdant vine-strung pathways, me coaxing color back into my white knuckles, Susan coaxing color back into her pallid cheeks. After that pleasant respite, it was back into the car headed for the main attraction--Mama Rosa’s.
Mama Rosa was written up in all the tour guides, due possibly to the dearth of other places to mention along the road. They said that Mama had been there for years making the most incredible burgers and homemade ice cream out of a truck parked off the side of the road near where the paved section of the Hana Highway comes to an end. Beyond that point the road deteriorates into two bumpy parallel ruts that the rental car contracts all stated were off limits.
Ever vigilant in the search for the perfect burger, Mama Rosa’s called to me in a primal way—a well-deserved reward for reaching the terminus of our perilous trek. I smelled her wares before turning the last of an endless series of curves and spying her mid-fifties vintage, gray & rusting panel truck parked in a field about thirty feet from the road. I pulled into the field, parked in what may or may not have been a legitimate parking place, and walked up to the open window in the side of the truck to place my order.
The truck was empty, however. The only person around was a rotund woman of about fifty who was sitting at a picnic table in the shade a short distance from the truck. After greeting us and introducing herself as the fabled Mama R, she continued to sit and play with the three goats, two dogs, and a cat that surrounded her at the table. I can understand a woman tipping the scales at somewhere around 350 not wanting to jump back into the swelter of her griddlemobile. While we made small talk it was hard not to notice the off-putting skin condition poor Mama suffered from—blotchy, scabby expanses on her elephantine legs, on her face, on her burger-buildin’ hands. A mental debate raged: lizard-brained Tom single-mindedly chanting “Burger! Burger!” versus prissy Tom countering with a hard-to-refute “Ick!”
By the time Mama had hoisted her substantial self back into the truck and stuck her head out the window to take my order, lizard-brain had won out and I ordered one burger, Susan declining to partake. Mama asked me a question I’m sure she asks everyone who orders: “Do you want that McDonald’s style or Mama style”? Only an idiot would get that answer wrong, and my “Mama style, of course!” earned me a big toothy grin.
Mama liked to talk as she worked. We learned that she lived on a ranch perched on the small mountain across the road and that her husband raised cattle there and butchered all the meat himself. We also learned that “Mama style” entails mixing an overabundance of "special Mamasauce" in with the meat. Apparently a mayo/ketchup combo of some sort, the sauce rendered the previously prime beef somewhat colloidal and impossible to corral within the confines of a bun.
While sitting at Mama’s earlier perch at the shaded picnic table wrestling with my sandwich a van full of tourists pulled into the field. It was obvious that the driver for Hana Highway Tours made this a regular stop and his charges had been primed for Mama Rosa’s goodies. The first woman to reach the truck window excitedly asked Mama for some of her homemade ice cream only to be told that today’s batch was all gone, sorry. “Jeez-o-man” the disappointed woman replied as she left the window and headed towards our table.
"I bet you’re from northeast Ohio”, I said to her.
Surprised, she said, “Why yes, I’m from Cleveland, how did you know?”
“Jeez-o-man. I’m from Youngstown and I recognize that expression very well. I’ve heard it used to express disappointment, enthusiasm, disgust, excitement… any number of things, depending on the tone & context.”
The woman seemed duly impressed with my command of geographical linguistic quirks. I know this because she said, “Jeez-o-man, that’s fascinating.”
About this time, I lost all patience with the mama-style beef stampeding out of the bun and, out of Mama’s line of sight, surreptitiously shit-canned the remaining half a sandwich.
Susan & I jumped back in our rental car and made the rebellious decision to forge ahead on the verboten unpaved non-road for the few miles until civilization started up again instead of retracing the harrowing way we’d come. Both we and the car came through it unscathed, though I’m still searching for the perfect burger.