We don’t have enough time to see the best of Illinois, which is almost certainly Chicago, and we probably never will. As much as I would love to see the Field Museum of Art, and eat in some of their famous Jewish, Polish, German, and Italian diners, I lack the courage to pull a trailer into The Windy City. But we must go through Joliet via interstate highways, and before that we will see perhaps a hundred miles of semi-rural southern Illinois. Michigan, one of our favorite states, is clearly a worthwhile destination. So, on we go. But in the interest of safety and cowardice, we shall navigate the horrors of Joliet and Gary on a Saturday. Yes, weekends are the best time to cross Atlanta or Houston, and you know that when it comes to traffic, bigger is worser.
I’ll spare you the tension (you already know we lived!) and spill my cookies sans le drama. There was some construction, but not as much as on a Friday (unattended orange cones signify a day off from road work). Here and there a lane or two was torn up and along with everyone else we crawled and cursed through those bottlenecks. We were passed by what seemed like ten thousand motor vehicles, but received none of the one-digit salutes we have become accustomed to out West. We arrived at New Buffalo, MI after my 130 miles was up. Kat wanted to take it to the house, another 100 miles north, all the way to Coopersville, MI on the banks of the Grand River. And that she did. Next time I’m going to ask if she feels like pulling the ‘Stream to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game.
We had a nice drive across the corn-belt of southernmost Illinois. This year’s corn will be a bumper harvest, and I hope what we saw growing was for cattle and pigs, not ethanol. The drive was uneventful, ending at a pricey, no-frill (don’t you think singular indicates worse than plural?) campground in Utica, IL. We didn’t even have shade, but the 30 amps were reliable and plenty to run the A/C and charge our laptops. Once charged, I checked Jane and Michael Stern’s blog Road Food to see if any worthwhile regional food was near us. “Holy Moly!” there is a five fork diner, Worth a Trip From Anywhere, as close to our campground as my high school was to my home town. It was a Friday night, and that means, Fried Catfish as well as Fried Chicken. Kats love fish, and once I mentioned catfish, we were off to Rip’s Tavern and Famous Fried Chicken in Ladd, IL.
The Sterns had warned us this place is busy any time they cook, so we made it a point to arrive at 3:55 for their Friday 4:00 opening. That put us about seventh in line for a table, still good enough to get fed from the first batch of chicken and fish. It is a tavern, so you may drink beer while you wait. If you’re a regular, you might play Pinochle or Go Fish; some who got there shortly after us did just that. Another thing the regulars know is that the fried mushrooms come out first. By chance we had ordered some, which were wonderfully earthy with a perfect crust. Nearly an hour after we got in line our entrees were served. Kat enjoyed the catfish, but she would have preferred boneless filets, which aren’t a menu item. My quarter of white chicken with coleslaw was exalted among the best in memory, which includes Willa Mae’s Scotch House in The Treme of New Orleans. My mother’s Sunday fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy just edged out Rip’s chicken dinner. But Rip’s chicken was better: Mom’s mashed taters with good gravy will always Trump anyone’s coleslaw.