Roach Coaches and Gastronomic Delights

Ruminations from the Ramp Roach Coaches and Gastronomic Delights By Tony Vasko April 2001 In 47 years of working at airports, there have been few great dining experiences. When you get a thirty-minute lunch break, there is not much time for...


Supreme among staff cafeterias was the one in Montreal. Not having been there in years, I do not know if it still stands up. It is the only staff cafeteria I have ever seen that had real French Onion Soup in a crock with the melted cheese forming a roof over it. It was delicious and made field trips up there in the winter worth it. I recently ate in Zurich's staff cafeteria, and it is not bad either.

On day shift some facilities get visited by what we always called "Roach Coaches." These are usually not like their name describes. Shiny and fitted with sides that lift up, they dispense hot and cold sandwiches and can be quite good. You would be working inside the shop, and there would be a blare of horns outside. Someone would get on the PA system and announce, "the Roach Coach is here." This precipitated a general rush outside.

I spent a lot of time in Toronto in the 1960s and fondly remember the coach pulling up in front of Genaire Limited's hangar. I am still searching for the meat pie that would match the ones off that truck.

One "Coach" more fitted to the title used to roam the ramps at Newark. A mother-daughter team owned and worked it. It was unusual in that it had a hot grill inside. One side lifted up exposing a counter. They made things to order and had been there for years. When the present generation of terminals was first built, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in all its might ruled them off the ramp. Somehow, they beat them and were grandfathered in and continued to roam the ramp. It was one of the few times the Port Authority got pushed aside. They bided their time and waited.

Security not being what it is now, they parked on the ramp and employees came out from the terminal and fingers to line up. The interior of the van was not clean, and the grill was dirty, but their portions were large and a steak and onions on a roll tasted great. They finally lost their franchise when a little bout of food poisoning gave the Port Authority their chance. Alas, one of the last vestiges of free enterprise left Newark.

Back at Idlewild/Kennedy. If things were slow we could grab the carryall and go off-airport to the Airport Diner over on Rockaway Blvd. This was a true diner being all bright metal and neon lit. It was open twenty-four and seven. On midnights it was stocked with waitresses who could put the Pope in his place. They had to be able to handle the sometimes loud airport people not to mention the inevitable drunks wandering from the Owl Tavern who needed a cup of coffee to "sober" them up.

Some people are stubborn and my friend Ted was one. The waitress came to take our orders. "Western omelet and fries and a coke." "Burger but hold the onion." "Give me potato salad and a coffee." "Tuna fish and jelly on rye with fries and just water." Huh! Ted had meant peanut butter and jelly, a sandwich he favored.

"Jelly doesn't go on tuna fish," said the waitress. "Are you nuts or something?"

Up went Ted's back. "I want a tuna fish and jelly," he barked.

"Okay," said the waitress. Her eyes squinted and off she went.

Have you ever seen a tuna fish sandwich with a full half an inch of grape jelly on it? I did. Ted ate it and pretended that was what he wanted. We all smirked, of course. He brought in a brown bag for some months until he lived it down.

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