I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.
As we came near to Effingham we could see a tall neon sign in the distance. As we got closer, we could see that it was grand.
Sadly, the building behind this sign had burned about a month earlier, on the night of June 5. It had stood since 1938, first as a bar, then as a fine dining establishment, and most recently as a roadhouse of sorts. For many years, it was the only place on US 40 for several states that was open Sunday nights, when it drew crowds from a hundred miles away.
The owner pledged to rebuild, but it never happened. In 2014, the site was sold to someone who maintains it as an investment. I looked the site up on Google Maps (it’s here). The last time a Google Street View car drove by, which was in 2019, someone was selling yard sheds on this lot.
Sunday might have been the last warm (upper 70s) day of the year. So Margaret and I went out in the evening for dinner and drinks, to places where we could sit outside. Forgive my regrettable selfie skills, but here we are wrapping up our night with a delicious lowland scotch at a Scottish restaurant on the downtown avenue where all the hip kids go.
I’m sure we’ll have a few nights in October where we can do the same, as long as we dress for chilly weather.
We need to make a point of being out in the world, and of seeing people we care about, as much as we safely can before cold weather prevents it. In Indiana, except for wintertime activities like sledding or snowball fights, we stay inside from sometime in November through sometime in March. That’s four to five months of isolation.
With that in mind, I bought a propane fire pit for our deck. It was advertised as putting out 50,000 BTUs. That sure sounded impressive! I hoped it would make our deck hospitable until it gets truly cold here. We’ve used it a couple of evenings now, inviting extended family to talk and laugh with us.
Unfortunately, the fire pit is warm within only a few feet, and only across your face and torso. After the sun set the other night, temperatures fell into the upper 50s — and we all went in for jackets and blankets. If we keep bundling up and we have a mild autumn, the fire pit could let us use the deck through about the end of October. I guess that’s better than nothing.
Margaret and I have made it clear to the kids who still live with us: no spending time inside with friends, and no going into places where people don’t wear masks (e.g., restaurants). We’ve talked about how we might be able to see our friends and family during the cold months, but so far none of us has come up with any bright ideas.
This is going to be a long winter. We’ll need to show each other extra grace and kindness.
That I haven’t written one of my coronavirus missives in more than two weeks says two things: first, that I’ve been consumed with other things; and second, my family has largely adapted.
That doesn’t mean things are necessarily easy. Margaret and I needed to run a bunch of errands on Sunday. At the end of them we realized we were hungry and, more urgently, needed to pee.
We were a half hour from home. The nearby Starbucks wasn’t allowing the public to use their restrooms, as a protection against COVID-19. The surrounding gas stations looked sketchy and dirty.
I knew of a restaurant Downtown that had plenty of outdoor seating, and since we would be customers they’d let us use their restroom. It was ten minutes away, so that’s where we went. We had terrific cheeseburgers and glasses of beer and it felt so good and normal.
But using the restroom provoked some anxiety. It was big enough for just one person, a tight fit. Was someone just in here? Were they sick? Was whatever they breathed out still hanging in the air? Would my mask protect me at all? I wasn’t going to be able to hold my breath through the entire visit. I didn’t even try. I just hoped for the best.
Our table was a good ten feet away from the nearest tables, which we liked. We had our masks, but it just wasn’t practical to swallow fast and put them on every time our server walked up to check on us. She was masked, so she was reasonably protecting us. But we weren’t protecting her, and she had no way of knowing whether we were carrying the virus. Heck, neither did we. Everyone in our house but me has to report to their workplace. Who knows whether the people they work with are carrying the virus? Were we putting our server at risk? Was everybody around us putting their servers at risk?
Our lives can’t stop entirely because of the virus. We need to bring in our paychecks so that we can afford to live. When we support businesses that were hit hard when everything shut down in March, we help others pay their bills, too.
But all of us have a responsibility to protect each other. At the moment, the best way anybody knows to do that is to wear a mask when you’re around people you don’t live with. Sometimes, that’s just impractical. Most of the time it’s not.
I encounter entirely too many people who aren’t wearing masks when I do the things I have to do outside my home. I haven’t counted, but I’d say it’s one third to one half of everyone I see. I’m losing my patience with it.
I get it, this is America, rugged individualism, Don’t Tread On Me, and all that. But this is also a nation that bands together in times of trouble. I’ve seen it. Why are we not doing it this time?
Brock’s Restaurant Canon PowerShot S80 2010
As I put together this series I was struck by how many neon signs I photographed lit during the day. I’ve always figured places turned their signs on at dusk.
Brock’s is in Brownstown, a small southeastern Indiana town on US 50. I love to visit little towns like this in my travels and find gems like this sign in them.
The Saratoga was already a local institution when I lived in Terre Haute in the 1980s and 1990s. It is still going strong today. I like to stop for a meal whenever I’m in town. I’m usually greeted by Shelly, a longtime waitress and someone I knew when I lived in Terre Haute.
I sort of miss Terre Haute. I liked living there. Unfortunately, there was only one company in town that needed people who did what I do, and when that company folded I had little choice but to move on.
Route 66 begins — or ends, depending on your perspective — in Chicago, in the Loop. Two key landmark sites remain on old Route 66 in downtown Chicago. Both are restaurants with glorious neon signs: The Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s.
First, some history about where old 66 ran in Chicago. When it was new in 1926, it began/ended at Jackson St. at Michigan Ave. In 1937, that terminus moved east two blocks to Lake Shore Drive. In 1955, Jackson St. was made one way eastbound at Michigan Ave. Westbound Route 66 moved north on Michigan Ave. for one block, and then onto one-way-west Adams St. So it remained until Illinois decommissioned its portion of Route 66 in about 1977. (Signs came down on the rest of the route state by state through 1985.)
The Berghoff’s roots trace to about 1870 when German immigrant Herman Berghoff came to America and began brewing beer in Indiana. He moved to Chicago in 1893 and opened his beer hall’s doors in 1898. With Prohibition he converted the place to a restaurant. After Prohibition, the Berghoff won Chicago’s first ever liquor license and beer was back. The Berghoff has been at 17 W. Adams St. for all these years.
My first experience with The Berghoff was in 1983, as a junior in high school. All of us who learned the German language — ich spreche immer noch genug Deutsch mich verstanden zu machen — made a field trip to Chicago. We capped the day with dinner at the Berghoff. It was the nicest restaurant I’d ever visited — and this blue-collar kid was not prepared for Chicago restaurant prices. The least-expensive meal on the menu was beef tips in gravy with potatoes. That and an insultingly thin tip tapped me out.
I visited it for a second time on a business trip in 2018 with a few of the engineers who worked for me. We stopped in here for dinner and a beer after our business was done. We lived a little higher on the hog than I did in 1983, especially since we could all expense our meals.
My wife and I had our Chicago getaway weekend in January. A bartender at the Palmer House Hilton, where we stayed, recommended a place called Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast the next morning. It’s on Jackson St., about a mile and a quarter west of Route 66’s beginning. You cross the Chicago River on the way.
Compared to The Berghoff, Lou Mitchell’s is a Johnny-come-lately to the scene, opening in 1923. That predates Route 66 by three years. But the restaurant plays up its Route 66 heritage, even posting a replica of an original Route 66 sign on a lamp post outside.
Our breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s was a wild ride. We were greeted with a donut hole as we entered — which neither of us took, as both of us must follow gluten-free diets. There was a small box of Milk Duds for my wife, too.
Our chatty, entertaining waitress at one point sat down next to me in our booth and talked with us for several minutes. She revealed that she’d worked at Lou Mitchell’s since the early 1990s! She also marveled in mock frustration at the rest of our dietary restrictions — my wife is allergic to egg whites, making breakfast a challenge. I have to avoid onions, garlic, and beans, which thankfully isn’t challenging at breakfast time.
I ordered the gluten-free pancakes and two scrambled eggs. While we waited, our waitress brought each of us a plate with a prune and an orange slice. What the heck; down they went.
I regretted it when breakfast came. The two pancakes looked to be a foot in diamater. The mass of eggs was as big as of both of my fists together. I couldn’t eat it all — and let me tell you, I can put away vast quantities of food. Our waitress told us that Lou Mitchell’s serves nothing but double-yolk eggs. I can’t imagine how they manage that! Then she revealed that when you order two eggs Lou Mitchell’s serves you four or five.
It’s a point of personal pride that I eat all of the food served me, but I just couldn’t manage it at Lou Mitchell’s. I left about half a fist’s worth of eggs and half of the pancakes behind.
May the Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s prosper for many years to come. Being able to enjoy landmark places like these on Route 66 in Chicago or beyond is what makes following the Mother Road rewarding.