Eating the Midwest
September 14, 2018
It’s Thursday and we’ve somehow lost two hours of our lives up there.
We hit the terminal running in Minneapolis, determined not to surrender any more of our precious senior years to the Central Time Zone.
Into a rental minivan, onto the 35 West.
Google Maps is set to Glueks downtown.
We hit scan on the FM and it skips along the unfamiliar stations.
Christian Rock gives way to Classic Oldies. NPR, Banda.
Stop at a station dropping the hip hop hits of the 90’s.
We’re down, apparently, with OPP.
We haven’t snacked since a surprisingly decent breakfast pizza at LAX.
Some raw almonds and ginger ale aboard Southwest flight 728, saving ourselves.
For this is a Midwest swing, and we are fully prepared for our dietary pyramid to be reduced to a mere rhombus containing only the two vital food groups: Meat and Cheese.
A gorgeous Indian Summer day is finally giving way to the shadows.
We stroll up First Avenue now, torsos packed with sausage and pretzel.
We pull up to Mortimers and find a nice crowd for a Thursday. Our pals Alisha and Norm kick off the night with their new act UFO TOFU, the kids belting it out like the hardcore Sonny and Cher.
We play and it’s a great set, confusion and noise, feedback screaming out of the unfamiliar borrowed gear between songs. Just how we like it.
The guitar cables are soaked in beer as we roll them up at the end of the night.
We load out into the cool Minneapolis night humming the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, considering the musical greats borne from this city of lake and snow.
The crew at Mortimers reminds us to take our meals that they have graciously kept warm in the kitchen, and we retire to the AirBnB with the luxury of meatballs and braised meats upon sturdy breads.
Halfway to Chicago, but the schedule just cannot justify the 45 minute detour to descend from Waukesha to hit our beloved Mars Cheese Castle.
Not to worry, as there are many palais de fromage along the 94.
We stop at Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet to test our lactose tolerance.
They, along with several of the cheese huts we pass, believe the common deer mouse is the prime mascot for their silky wares.
It is an odd campaign, when you think about it:
Our product is sure to attract thieving vermin–IT’S JUST THAT GOOD!
It’s just a vat of tailgate spread and some water crackers, thanks, for just across the street is a Culvers, home of the motherfuckin’ Butterburger!
We continue down the highway toward Chicago and its gift of Friday afternoon traffic.
We are insane: We dip fried cheese curds into the Cheddar spread.
We inspect each morsel for the telltale pellet of mouse endorsement, but sadly find none.
Naps at our fave dive, Heart O Chicago (no blood tic tac toe on the mirror this time-boo.)
Then it’s up and toward Liar’s Club and whatever hijinks Herb has in store for the night.
The White Castle on the corner of Ridge sits there like, well, like a castle.
We’re stopped next to it at the light, make jokes about the hideous food, memories of late nights we fell onto the sacks of wee burgers like tweakers upon air conditioning units.
The food is disgusting, we all agree.
We pull through the drive through and order sixteen of them, then avoid looking at each other as we gobble them down.
Shameful, as if eating small sparrows intact.
Oh, Liar’s Club, you goddamn slut of a bar. We love this place.
We walk in to find Herb and the crew have outfitted the stage with bombastic sound gear and lights that make it look like a Ozarks strip club.
Hazardous Youth and our pals Destroy Everything kick it off proper.
It’s loud as fuck in there.
I know the fellas are trying to keep a lid on things, but Herb keeps pushing water glasses of Jameson in their faces, pulling the night further into madness.
We play and it’s a good one, like playing in someone’s basement after sitting in the hot sun drinking beer at a Cubs game.
Pics: Patrick Houdek
Yo, Rod Stewart! Oh no, what the fuck up with your hair?
The girl behind the counter reaches out toward Kimm’s head.
What? Lemmee touch it. It’s stiff right? I bet it’s stiff.
She tousles his hair and then turns her attention to Anthony standing beside Kimm.
Alright, alright then. So what you want, you fuckin’ Keanu looking motherfucker?
Our dear mate Roy suggested a trip up to the famed Weiner’s Circle for a late night snack and some verbal abuse.
Anthony immediately falls in love with the place, going back in for yet another char dog and to trade more insults with the crew.
Soon he starts insulting the other customers as well:
“Hey, don’t wait on this ginger motherfucker,” he tells Rhonda behind the counter.
“You shut the fuck up and sit down, I got this,” she says.
Shoreline Drive and it’s Saturday.
We decide to dive into the touristy center of town.
We show Nick the sultry Chicago River, then the parking structure Bob Newhart used to sleep it off after a long lunch with Jerry the pervy dentist.
We hit Harry Caray’s and take pictures with the holy cow.
We act like caffeinated tourists without a trace of shame, the sly benefit of growing older and simply not caring.
If there was a giant foam finger nearby we would put it on.
It’s nap time in the Dodge Caravan as we set cruise control to 78 and hit the 90 East.
Now the sky darkens, clouds pregnant with mysterious moisture.
When the rain comes, it falls in angry sheets.
The Bridgestone Dueler S/Ts plow into the pooled water on the highway, then release hold on the asphalt and hydroplane the length of a shuttered shopping mall.
We drift across two lanes and it is thrilling.
I check the rear view as we regain traction. The lads snore peacefully still, unaware of the miracle of life.
I dip a water cracker into our trusty glovebox cheese spread to celebrate.
Now That’s Class , our home in Cleveland.
Paul stocks a full line of the finest fortified wines;
there are pallets of Olde English 800 in the basement.
A sign behind the bar: Women in their third trimester drink for free!
We pull into the back and smoke from a BBQ envelops us.
We walk headlong into the beefy perfume, then shed gravity and float along like Bugs Bunny enthralled.
Upstairs now to Paul’s living quarters.
He has food for us–sausages, yes.
Also some chimichurried ribeyes, then some local Walleye recently murdered on the banks of Lake Erie.
We eat and head downstairs toward the noise.
Nick has his concerns with the backline, hasn’t played behind the fortress of cinderblock since his teens.
We tell him it’s gonna be fine, it’s Cleveland.
And it is.
We play again, another set, another rendition of these songs let loose into the ether.
We cannot find anything to eat after the show.
We pull into one drive thru after the next, vacant except for the one cursed soul who is sentenced, apparently, to sit there all night and repeat: We’re closed.
Not a worry, as our action man Beenie puts on his CH3 onesie and pulls out his Seen on TV cooking gadgetry.
We eat, we sleep.
Sunday and it’s a bitch downtown.
The Browns have the home opener, on the thrilling verge of their 18th loss.
But we are just across the plaza at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame , of all places.
Our pal SuLee gets into the building gratis, and we wander the halls both disgusted and humbled.
There is a tote board where you can put in your own votes who should be inducted next.
Reggae pioneers 311 have 20,000 votes, plus.
We cannot find New York Dolls or Starz anywhere on the list.
But I stand before Elvis’ shiny gold suit, marvel at how dainty Prince’s lace gloves sit still.
I’m staring at Joe Strummer’s weathered Telecaster, thinking of the sound and sweat.
I drop a CH3 guitar pick to the ground in front of it.
An offering? Perhaps just proof to myself: we were here.
Closest we’ll ever come.
Later at Cleveland Hopkins International, the crowds gather around the bar TVs.
The Browns have chased the Steelers into overtime, and now an interception gives them the chance to win it.
The chance to break the shameful streak that this city has accepted, like all its curses, with humor and booze.
It is this close.
These people can allow themselves, finally, the unspeakable image of victory.
But as we board, a unified groan spreads throughout the terminal.
A blown kick, the game ends in a tie.
They didn’t win, but they have not lost.