Well, rain, for starters. It rained and drizzled on and off all day, turning every driver on the road into a nervous Nellie and creating gridlock down every street I turned. Second, construction, of course. Is there a street or highway in the tri-state area that ISN'T under massive construction right now? If so, I did not find it.
Then, of course, there's my ridiculous compulsion to turn every driving trip into a diner, drive-in, or dive visit. Can't cross a state line without seeking out some out-of-the-way hole-in-the-wall that's rumored to have the best whatever it is. Nope. Not me.
And so it was that what would've already been a pretty long trip (hour and a half each way, plus stops) turned into an epic, 8+ hour, butt stiffening, wiper-blade groaning death
The first error that I made was thinking that, since I was already in Evanston, so close to the lake, I could just shoot up Sheridan Road and avoid all the 94 construction insanity. Wrong. "Shoot up" Sheridan? What was I thinking? It's like a 25 mph limit, curvy as hell, and there was a landscaping truck parked every eleven feet. And don't you dare speed through Winnetka or Lake Forest driving that shitbox F-150, buddy, unless you really want to return for a court date in a few months.
Then, since I was already going to be in the general neighborhood, I figured I'd make a quick stop at the jewel that I've been known to refer to as My New Favorite Restaurant, Captain Porky's in Zion.
Slowed me down quite a bit, but worth it. Dino (the owner) was there and his staff was spread out all over the place with stainless bowls, all of 'em peeling a huge load of gulf shrimp that must've just come in. Score! I'll take one order of those please!
Even better was Dino's fresh goat cheese, which he battered and deep-fried for me. He offered to let me stay and watch how he makes the cheese. This is how the guy is...every visit has the potential of turning into a kind of apprenticeship, depending on when you happen to walk in and what mad-man food science experiment he's into right at that moment.
I ordered an order of the fried goat cheese ($3.75 for five big planks--a total steal) and it was a revelation; texturally, it was like a mozzarella stick...soft and melting with stringy cheese, but this cheese had oomph that you don't get from frozen mozzarella sticks. It was a bit salty, briny almost, like feta, super-creamy, and had a late tang, which is the goat. Amazing. I'm not kidding. I'm not even exaggerating. At all. Dino makes his own cheese from the milk of goats and sheep he raises on his farm in western Illinois. He also told me he just bought a couple Jersey cows with which he will expand his cheesemaking operations. He rocks.
It cost me an hour or so, but I'm glad I went. As I was eating off the flatbed of the pickup truck, this guy approached me and started going on and on about Dino, Captain Porky's food, the gulf coast, "white trash" food, what kind of wood he uses when he smokes pork butts in his backyard, and on and on....I always seem to attract these type of people. How do they find me, I wonder?
Anyway, I forced the last Dino cheese plank on him because I could just tell that if I finished it, I'd be toast for the day, fired up the truck and careened out of the parking lot. The guy was still rambling on as I pulled away. Later, dude!
I got a bit lost going from Zion to Delavan, but managed to make it to the popcorn machine guy's house ok. The guy's wife met me in their garage, we tested out the machine, which was super-clean and seemed to be in fine working order, and made the exchange.
I left the restaurant in Evanston at a little before 11:00. It was about three when I finished loading up the popcorn machine. Not that bad, right?
It gets worse. The trip back is when all the many forces of nature, construction, detours, traffic, and poor radio reception conspired to beat me to a frustrated, traffic-cursing pulp. I held out until around Barrington, when I started melting down. It didn't help that the truck's tires seem to be bald and I kept shimmying around on the newly-laid, perfectly flat roads, all wet with fresh summer rain.
I toyed with the idea of just heading straight home and leaving the popper in the truck overnight, but I had stuff at the restaurant that I wanted to get, so I tacked my way back there, using side streets and even alleys at times to avoid the traffic snarls that met me at every turn.
When I got back to the restaurant, it was 7:00. I dumped the popper on a counter, packed everything up and got home in time to put Nora to bed at around eight. A full day in which I accomplished one thing--buying a popcorn machine.
Actually, that's not true, since I was pretty active on the phone, setting up a number of appointments for next week. But, all in all, a fairly frustrating day. Tomorrow, I'm not doing any driving except to and from the restaurant.