The Flight From Winter: The Trip South

I used to laugh at snowbirds who let a little bad weather drive them  out of their homes to the dismal housing tracts that have destroyed Florida, but I can no longer take it.  It is not so much the cold itself as the need to put outerwear, which I refuse to do if the temperatures are not below freezing.  Worse, though, is the ice and snow.  I probably should not be shoveling or even using the snowblower, and with the blown knee, I cannot afford to walk even a block on the iced sidewalks.

We left the frozen wasteland of northern Illinois about 9:30 on Friday, February 12, the birthday of my father and some crooked politician from Illinois.  The politician is now being denounced as a Southern racist, which goes to show that it is not only good deeds that do not go unpunished,  

Despite a thin drizzle the drive down to Bloomington and over to Chanpaign-Urbana was not troublesome, though when we stopped at Steak and Shake for lunch, we discovered that they were only doing take-out.  Since they are one of the few highway food chains that does not entirely disgust us, we got back on the highway and stopped in St. Joseph at a little downtown joint called Scratch, named presumably not for the devil but as an advertisement of their home-made food.    My pork tenderloin sandwich and my wife’s Swiss cheese burger were nothing special—the flavored fries came out of the freezer—but it was quiet and pleasant.  I’d happily go back.

iMaps wanted to send us by way of West Virginia, but some freezing rain was predicted.  To keep our options open to the last minute, I reserved a room, on the road, at the Best Western in Winchester, Kentucky. 

One American Interstate highway experience is much like another.  To pass the time, I read aloud Gibbon’s Autobiography for a half hour and late in the day I realized I could hook up my iPhone to the dashboard console and we played some Ralph Stanley and then some Italian pop music.  After Louisville we tuned into an NPR station but soon got tired of their music—Black History Month infects even their serious music playlist.

It was after 6 when we got to the motel, where the driveway and walkways were frozen.  The lady who checked us in said she’d had enough winter.  “Why, it hardly warmed up over 35!”  (I believe Rockford hit +9.) 

This was no time to be going out to supper, so I fished around in the trunk, where I found an English muffin, Fontina cheese, potato chips, a bottle of Pinot Grigio, and, best of all, a magnum of bourbon.  My wife wanted ice for the whiskey but the ice maker had frozen up in the bad weather.  I don’t know how to use a microwave, but I managed, nonetheless, to make toasted cheese without burning it. 

The next morning we went to the office to select a “grab and go” breakfast to eat in the room.  When the fat lady told me she had a hot egg and sausage biscuit, I said, “Great, I’ll take it,” she replied,  with the practiced cynicism of an experienced diner waitress, “It’s not great but you can have it.”  She was right: the sausage had a queer texture from all the filler and the egg was a rewarmed frozen egg patty.  I did eat two thirds of it and a few miles down the road began to wish I hadn’t.

We decided against going either by way of Charleston, West Virginia or through Knoxville and took a series of state routes and US highways (through Hazard and Letcher counties) and over to Abingdon, Virginia, where we had lunch a “Greeko’s.”  

Although the posters and recorded music were Greek, the “Lebanese"  Moussakas on the menu a suggested an Eastern Mediterranean origin.  Perhaps it was just an eccentricity, but my rule of thumb is that when I see one Greek dish on the menu of an Italian restaurant, it means the owners are Greeks, and one Lebanese dish means they’re Lebanese.  Since as a rule Lebanese restaurant food in America is better than Greek—and Greek than Italian—I don’t get the point.

My wife’s “lamb” gyros was just OK, but my assortment of tzatziki, falafel, and hummus was actually good, as were the pitas.  Best of all was the wine they didn’t serve, since it was my turn to drive.  We made it to Chapel Hill before 6.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

19 Responses

  1. Josh Doggrell says:

    Ralph Stanley and a magnum of bourbon can make almost anything bearable.

  2. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Just finished a bowl of Cheerios and am watching the birds attacking the feeders in our backyard, primarily cardinals and bluebirds. A light snow has started. Getting heavier as I watch.

    My wife and I have not traveled since about 2015. We liked to stop at cracker barrel. A variety of edible food. I also liked the chicken tenders at popeyes. Always crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Fries were ok too. Things may be different now though.

    Tonight my wife will get a take-out crab cake salad from our favorite local restaurant. I will probably have some leftovers.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    AGVS, thanks for the fine parody!

  4. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    The snow is backing off and the birds are having a great time. They especially like the Cole’s nutberry suet that I put out for them. A bright red cardinal swoops in now and then to reestablish the correct pecking order.

  5. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    You are welcome Dr. Fleming.

    All of a sudden the snow is really coming down. Just a couple of birds left at the feeders.

  6. Allen Wilson says:

    I’ve been holed up in the house since this weather hit. Three below zero three nights ago is unusually cold for central AR. I Actually started reading “With Fire and Sword”, but can’t guarantee I’ll be able to finish it since I’ll be back to work soon enough. I didn’t stock up on booze. That was a bad mistake. A week holed up inside, sober, is a trial.

  7. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Two of my Academy classmates and their families are experiencing the rolling blackouts in Texas.

  8. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    The snow stopped and the birds returned. Now there is a squirrel going for some seed that the birds left on the ground.

  9. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I put my hat upon my head
    And walk’d into the Strand,
    And there I met another man
    Who’s hat was in his hand.

  10. Roger McGrath says:

    Tom’s a Superior, Wisconsin, boy. Anything above zero degrees is balmy for him!

  11. Vince Cornell says:

    Isn’t Greeko one of the lost Marx Brothers? The moral of this article is that I need to add a magnum of bourbon and a bottle of wine to my trunk’s emergency kit.

  12. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    No. Just stay home and relax. But do keep your liquor locker well stocked. I just finished a ham and cheese sandwich and am watching the bird show in my backyard while sipping my second cup of coffee. (Too early for bourbon,)

  13. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Here’s hoping you get that (dat) Gold Bug cipher thingie up on the right branch this time, Dr F. With Blackbeard’s treasure, TFF will surely be able to start its own cable news outlet. Then you and Rex can slug it out versus Tucker and Rachel for the undisputed 8 o’clock championship.

    Seriously, please pass along everyone’s best to Jack, Dr Livingston, Mrs Calcutt, and the Whole Low Country crew.

  14. Gregory Fogg says:

    From late 2000 until late 2003 I lived in the country just west of Hillsborough NC. Locals used to say that all the real Americans in Orange County lived south of I-85, but you know the old town versus gown rivalries. Would a CIA-trained (or is it educated ) chef consider Burger’s Smokehouse pork jowls an acceptable substitute for guanciale? I can only find the latter on the web.

  15. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    A lot depends on the recipe. Guanciale is typically unsmoked or lightly smoked with a delicate but still robust ork taste. Burger’s pork jowels are much less smokey than bacon but they do have a kind of salt-pork flavor. I have used them for spaghetti all’ amatriaciana and similar recipes–one from Umbria, for example. Better good jowls than poor or mediocre guanciale which is often what you’ll get.

  16. Gregory Fogg says:

    That was exactly the recipe I had in mind. Thank you very much for the benefit of your experience.

  17. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I don’t like some authentic Italian recipes that use tomato paste. It’s a great dish I try to order once a week in Rome. Sometimes I think I make it above the restaurant average, but it is a very forgiving dish. Pecorino Romano or any pecorino works better than Parmigiano, but use what you have. I was once looking up reviews of a Roman restaurant I liked and a sophisticated young Milanese wrote in to complain about the lack of sophistication. The proprietor wrote a brilliant response, apologizing o behalf of all restaurants in Rome for their primitive local food that could never compete with an international culinary capitol like Milan, with its words of Asian businessmen, Germans, et al. I love Milan, but the man struck just the right note. Really good Roman cuisine is crude and provincial and increasingly hard to find. I have many times been unimpressed with the Roman speciality Spaghetti Caccio e Pepe, but then some Roman friends took me to a place, owned by parents of a friend, where you could see into the kitchen. The spaghetti was a magnificent piece of crude and simple pasta, impossible to duplicate. This is a real insight into Rome,. which is still a quirky provincial town.

  18. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    That’s “hordes of Asians”

  19. Gregory Fogg says:

    Although quite ignorant of the fine points of Italian regional cuisine I seem to recall that spaghetti alla carbonara is a Roman specialty. I’ve made it with bacon and with pancetta but I’ve heard it might be better with guanciale