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.