You eat differently in Michiana.
I consumed more crap in a two-week period than in a year in health-conscious California, make that five years, excluding our four annual trips to Michiana. Greasy hamburgers, French fries, milkshakes, ice cream (at Oinks), and pie, in this case a generous slab of pecan pie with a shortbread crust, whipped cream and vanilla ice cream on top, that had paramedics hovering close by in anticipation of an immediate clogging of my arteries.
It would be entirely understandable for my beleaguered stomach to be wondering, “Who’s up there?”, not surprised to discover that my whole dietary operation was now “Under New Management.” I don’t eat like that. Unless there’s nothing else to eat.
It’s not all bad news. There’s a very good crepe restaurant. The house in which it’s located has a giant French flag waving outside it, as if defiantly announcing, “We are absolument not like zem!” Not that French food is that healthy, but compared to the alternatives, it’s like what monks eat in Tibet.
The prototypical Michiana restaurant is Redemaks, an always busy hamburger barn, where, when I once asked, “Can I have a small side salad?,” the waitress replied, “We don’t serve salads; but some of our hamburgers come with lettuce.”
It’s the Midwest. They grow vegetables there. But they don’t seem to eat them. Unless they come battered and deep-fried. Raw vegetables are, apparently, for the livestock. And visitors from somewhere else.
In nearby La Porte, there’s a restaurant we like to eat at called Round The Clock, so named, because it’s open… ‘round the clock. Which is convenient if you wake up at four in the morning with a sudden craving for chicken and dumplings. There’s a place you can go.
We don’t have “trash pick-up” at our cabin; we’re not there long enough to set that up. So when I went searching for the Round the Clock dumpster, Dr. M went inside and got us a table.
When I came in, I was ushered to where Dr M had been seated, a separate dining area off to the side, which I was informed was the “Non-Smoking” section. The rest of the premises, a substantially larger portion of the restaurant, was for smokers. This is considerably different arrangement from California, where, if you want to smoke, you have to go to Nevada.
Walking to our table, I immediately noticed something different about the “Non- Smoking” area. Every chair around every table in the “Non-Smoking” area of the Round The Clock restaurant was on wheels.
These were the same type of wheels I was familiar with from Dr. M’s ninety-nine year old mother’s walker. It’s funny. You would think the “Smoking” area customers would be the ones needing the “Walker Wheels.” Those people can’t breathe. But, no. They gave them to us. Maybe to make up for the fun we were missing because we weren’t smoking.
“Roll around. It’s not smoking, but it’s kind of enjoyable.”
Here’s a typical item from the Round The Clock menu. Dr. M actually ordered this:
Soup and salad. Pot roast with dumplings. A softball-sized dinner roll. And a choice of desserts – tapioca pudding, Jell-o. or ice cream.
The price for this multi-course banquet:
Also noteworthy was that, printed in tiny letters at the bottom of the Round The Clock menu, were the words:
“Vegetable on request.”
“We at Round The Clock do not encourage the eating of vegetables, but if you have to have one, we’ll find something in the back, and we’ll stick it on your plate.”
Dr. M requested the vegetable. What she received, along with her family-sized portion of pot roast and dumplings in rich, brown gravy, was a generous serving of canned peas. I don’t understand it. There was corn growing out the window. And they’re giving her canned peas. You could imagine the commotion in the kitchen.
“She wants a vegetable!”
“Dear Lord! Do we have one?”
“I remember seeing a tin of peas in here a couple of months ago.”
“Well, for heavens sakes, find it!”
“Here it is.”
“Those people. They must be from California.”
“The tin’s a little rusty.”
“That's fine. Give 'em those peas, and they'll never ask for a vegetable again.”
There was, however, one glimmer of hope on the culinary horizon. We found a new restaurant whose menu proudly offered a wedge of lettuce. When I ordered it, I could immediately feel every cell in my body tingling with excitement.
“We’re getting lettuce! We’re getting lettuce!”
A few minutes later, the waitress placed before me an enormous wedge of iceberg lettuce, drowning in blue cheese dressing, on top of which were these giant chunks of blue cheese. The restaurant had not quite gotten the concept of a salad as a diet food. So festooned, it amounted to the caloric equivalent of a chocolate fudge sundae.
There’s this wonderful line from The Mary Tyler Moore Show where, after a terrible person behaves uncharacteristically nicely before reverting to his characteristic terribleness, someone observes,
“When an elephant flies, you don’t complain because it didn’t stay up that long.”
At least they were trying.