Just me and the cats

Dunkel not pictured because he was unconscious across the room.
Dunkel not pictured because he was unconscious across the room.

It’s not that we had any elaborate plans this weekend, but they got changed anyway.  Carla’s dad had to go into the hospital yesterday. I don’t want to say it’s not serious because it’s something that landed him in the hospital, but it’s something that’s manageable and he’s probably getting out tomorrow. Carla drove over there this morning and, with any luck, will be home Monday. Then we’ll head back over there early Friday morning as we’d been planning to do for quite a while. Never a dull moment.

So it’s me and the cats this weekend. Porter and Dunkel are used to being with just me, but it’s not something Mia has much experience with I’m alone with them during the day a lot, but she sleeps most of the day. Tonight is a new thing for her. Either we’re both supposed to be gone at night or we’re both supposed to be here.

Long about 5 or 6 PM she’s gotten into the habit of coming out and begging Carla to be fed. The boys eat dry food that we just leave out all the time, but we’ve had to feed her wet because she had a lot of dental issues.  Those were dealt with Tuesday, but the habit is there now. One that will take a while to break. I wondered what would happen if Carla wasn’t here to see the “Oh, woe is me, I’m being starved” act.  Answer: she’s perfectly happy to put on the show for me. You’d never know she’s maintained a strict 3-foot exclusion zone around herself for the last month. We were the best buds.  I joke about it, but it makes me happy.  We don’t know the whole story of what went on in her previous home, but something made her very afraid of men. Bit by bit she’s getting over it and that makes me very happy.

One thing that’s been a challenge is we’ve had to give her oral antibiotics since her dental work on Tuesday.  If’s been. Interesting. We hit on a solution.  We keep tubes of this malt-based hairball prevention paste around.  Porter and Dunkel love it, which is good because Dunkel sheds enough to build another cat every three days. But it’s Porter who gets the hairballs — from grooming Dunkel. Turns out Mia likes the stuff too AND we can mix in the antibiotic. We know she gets the whole dose because she licks the plate clean. She’ll forgive Carla for shoving a syringe in her mouth.  Me?  Not so much.

Porter and Dunkel will wake us up in the morning, but they actually require environmental cues. Don’t set an alarm or let the lights come up on a timer and they’ll stay sacked out.  Not Mia. She’s literally in Carla’s face first thing in the morning. After getting the begging routine this evening, I’m not bothering to set an alarm for the morning.  Miss Mia will handle my wake up call. The joke’s on her, though.  Malt and antibiotic before food.

So tomorrow will be a quiet day with me and the cats and probably the Big Green Egg. As I said, we didn’t have any solid plans, but these weren’t it. Could be worse. Definitely not complaining.

Breakfast of Champions

Chorizo and Egg tacosI love breakfast tacos. It’s one of the things I miss about Texas. Considering how much I don’t miss about Texas, that’s a pretty big deal. For the record, I also miss the bluebonnets blooming in Spring. I’m having a difficult time coming up with a third one. There are certainly people I miss, but they don’t get on the list that easy. Roads and planes run both directions, after all. I guess I miss good Tex-Mex in general. There are a couple of places around here that make good food, but it’s not the same. That’s why it’s so funny that the best breakfast tacos I can get regularly are in Gibson City, IL.

The thing about Gibson City is that it’s relatively prosperous. There aren’t many closed storefronts on the main drag through town. It’s at the junction of two state highways. One runs from just west of Champaign-Urbana up to the western suburbs of Chicago (and into Wisconsin, eventually). The east-west highway carries traffic from Bloomington-Normal over to the Indiana state line. Keep going and you wind up in Lafayette, IN if you’re into that sort of thing. When you’re in a town like this restaurants never close, they just change owners and names.

So it is with El Rodeo Mexican American Restaurant. When I started going there with Carla and her parents 18 years or so ago it was called the Sunrise. I think it may have been something else briefly after it was the Sunrise, but I’m not sure. When the current owners took over they added the Mexican items onto the menu. We’ve been there for dinner a few times, but breakfast is my favorite meal there. Pictured are my standard breakfast items: chorizo and egg tacos on corn tortillas. It only occurred to me to take this picture after I’d already eaten the first one. You can get a side of rice, beans, guacamole and sour cream if you like, but it gets messy. I’m utterly addicted to their salsa verde.  Both the red and green sauces are made in-house and they’re both fantastic.

The point of all of this is that it confuses me why I can get a good Mexican-American breakfast in at town of 3,500 people, but I’ve yet to find a good one in the metro area of over a million where I actually live. It’s not like we don’t have a population of people here who know how to make such things.  We do. And there are places where you can get amazing tacos (I’m looking at you Taqueria San Miguel). But they don’t do breakfast. Why is that? I’m not talking about places that do hangover food at 11AM.  I’m talking about a place you can go have tacos for breakfast at an hour when people are having breakfast.1

We’re going to Gibson City a lot right now, but that’s not going to last forever. I can’t be driving four hours just to get a good breakfast taco. Somebody get on this, will you?


1If you say “McDonald’s” or “Taco Bell” or “Sonic” to me I will find you and I will hurt you.

Two codas

Sunday is going to be spent driving home again.  The weather is going to be nice and we’re going to take some back roads. It adds a little time, but the extra 20 minutes or so are worth a change of scenery. Things are going extremely well with my father-in-law, but I don’t like to talk too much about it so the man has some privacy. There are a few more trips to make, then we can get back to a more regular schedule. This will be a brief post because, frankly, I’m very tired. Two things happened, though, that are worth mentioning since they have bearing on the last two posts.

In Friday’s post I talked about driving and made an off-handed comment about how many Interstates can trace their history back to animal trails. One of the rituals we’ve developed on our many visits here over the last few months is making the 14 mile trip east over to Paxton, IL to go eat barbecue at The Humble Hog.  It’s really quite good. I’d call it Chicago-style on the pork side and leaning more Kansas City-style on the brisket. The sausage reminds me of what I used to be able to get back in Texas. The sides are really, really good, which is all-too-rare at most barbecue joints. It’s a must-visit for us. Their menu is the one I used as the picture in this post (and a meal there that day inspired the post itself).

This story is not about the restaurant, but something we’ve seen every time we drive back and forth. A month or so ago Carla’s brother Neal, her dad, Carla and I went over to Paxton.  A couple of miles outside of town there’s a big red barn that has the words “Ten Mile Grove” on it. Neal mentioned that he’d always wondered what the grove was ten miles from. Nothing really matched the geography as it stands now. I filed it away and decided it was going to be one of those things that just bothered me. It never occurred to me to Google it. It’s easy to forget stuff like that works out here.

Anyway, the last time we were here (or maybe the trip before) I noticed that there was a historical marker on the side of the road opposite the barn. I figured it would provide a clue.  Turns out it did more than that.  Neal was with us today on another trip to the Humble Hog and we stopped to get this picture:

Click to embiggen
Click to embiggen and read

Turns out Route 9 follows a prehistoric trail. Go figure. At least it’s been paved since then. And Ten Mile Grove is named for being ten miles from someplace that isn’t there anymore.

The other coda for the week is provided by our old friend, short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump. You remember Donald, right? The man who got the vapors when the Pope pointed out that views he’s espoused might not be rightly called “Christian?” He seems to have gotten over his whole “no man should judge another’s faith” thing.

His supporters won’t care, though. They’ve already constructed walls around their humanity.

Driving

Clouds are neat, too.
Clouds are neat, too.
One of the reasons I love to drive long distances is it gives me a reason to stare out a window and think without it appearing to be a waste of time. I’m a big fan of audiobooks and podcasts, but sometimes I just want it quiet. Carla is the same way. Most of the time we’re in sync. We’ve made Yet Another Trip to Gibson City™ to help get my father-in-law settled in his new digs. There’s no part of I-74 from Indiana Highway 1 to the exit at Mahomet, IL we are not intimately familiar with. It’s just over a four hour drive which isn’t bad as such things go. We know where all the good exits are. We know where all the bad exits are. I can make this drive in my sleep and there’s some evidence that I might have done that already.

When I’m out on the highway driving I often think of animals migrating. The Interstates were generally built along routes already used by older roads and many of those probably trace their lineage back to trails used to track animals. So the motorcycles, cars, vans, pickups and semis are this mixed herd of beasts moving from one place to another for any number of reasons. The semis are the elephants strung out trunke to tail. The pickups are cattle. Some are docile. Some rage. The rest of us are of gazelles, sheep and zebras. I suppose there’s still an Impala running around out there somewhere.

Many things along the highway amuse me because I’m easily amused.

  • The Crete Carriers trucking company likes to paint “Our Most Valuable Asset Sits Here” in huge letters on the sides of their trailers with an arrow pointing to the cab. “Your most valuable asset?” I think, “Then what the hell is the big trailer for?”
  • A driver in another car doesn’t think the five or so miles an hour over the speed limit I’m driving is fast enough, so they come ripping around me. “Hope that penis thing works out for you!” I say as they go by.
  • I’m in the left lane overtaking slower traffic in the right lane but I’m not overtaking them fast enough, apparently. The car behind me dives over into the right lane is astonished that he now has to slow down. “Watch a lot of NASCAR, do you?”
  • The number of semi rigs with Bible verses written on them that are traveling on a Sunday. So much for all that Sabbath crap.
  • How every little town is described as “historic” but are utterly silent with respect to anything that might have happened there or people who once lived there. “Look at us! Not off the map yet!”

I like to drive. The car may be moving forward, but by brain is solidly in neutral.

Perspective

Painting from Gibson City Country Kettle
This painting adorns the entire south wall of the main dining room of the Country Kettle in Gibson City, IL. In a town like Gibson City, breakfast is a social meal. Even if all you get is a cup of coffee and maybe some toast, breakfast is where you find out what’s going on in town. The Kettle is literally at the crossroads, sitting in the southeastern corner of the junction of State Routes 47 & 9. There’a a McDonald’s and Casey’s convenience store across the street, as well as one of the town’s two bowling alleys. Maybe a hundred or so yards to the south is the Harvest Moon Drive-In Theater.

The Kettle itself shares a parking lot with one of the banks. Regulars know that if you want to get out onto Route 9 to go to the County Market or Big R without sitting at the light on 47, you can cut through the bank’s drive-in exit. You’re not supposed to come into the parking lot that way, but if you’re my father-in-law that’s more of a suggestion than a rule. There are a few places to get a good breakfast in town, but I never mind it when Dad says he wants to go “down to the corner place.” The French Toast is pretty good there. The biscuits are good, but it’s just a white gravy with a rumor that it’s spent time in the same room with some sausage. I’ve never seen actual evidence it’s true.

I like going to “The Corner” because it means seeing The Painting. I’m no art expert, but it’s my belief that this painting may be one of the largest attempted by someone lacking in any sense of perspective whatsoever.

I don’t remember when I first noticed what an incredible work this really is. Gibson City is a small town in central Illinois and seeing a rural scene on the wall of a restaurant isn’t unexpected. I think my obsession was triggered when we sat at a table under one end it and I noticed the road with no visible means of support

Um … What?
Um … What?

I was hooked.

kettle-wagon-detail
Let’s not eliminate the possibility that these are conjoined horses.

The more you look at this painting, the more you realize that it gets almost nothing correct. It challenges our assumptions. “There’s a wagon, a person and two horses. Of course the horses are pulling the wagon and the person is driving.”  But is that really true? It may be that the horses are merely strolling by. They’re certainly not in front of the wagon. Maybe the person on the wagon is just relaxing and trying to figure out which legs go with which horse.

kettle-cow-detail

Then there’s the barn with the disembodied levitating head. There’s certainly no room for a body in there. Perhaps the body was eaten by the freakishly large chickens that guard the front yard.

kettle-bridge-detail

I think the artist does capture an important characteristic of the town. It’s a friendly place. That’s why it was important to depict the tiny city limits sign made especially for the gnomes who work the local fields. Farm work is already dangerous, but to these wee folk the giant steam-powered tractor from 1870s that roams the fields is a real danger. Luckily the roads are paved with some sort of flexible fabric. The bridge and stream? No idea. I’ve never seen anything even slightly resembling this around here. But I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the gnomes.

kettle-tower-detail

By the time the artist got to the left side of the painting, space was apparently running short. Gibson City actually has a rather prosperous little downtown. There are very few empty storefronts. Rather than going to the trouble of painting several of those buildings, though, the artist took the bold choice of combining architectural elements from several buildings and invented a single building that doesn’t exist and has no obvious purpose. Might be a church. Might be a firehouse. Hard to say  The gazebo-looking thing actually does exist in a park, though to my knowledge there are no trees growing inside it. This is the only water tower M.C. Escher ever designed.

I love this painting. I wouldn’t change a brush stroke. There’s not much danger of the Kettle ever going out of business as long as the town is here, but I’d contribute generously to a fund to preserve the painting if anything did. For all my snark about the composition, the color palette is exactly right. I don’t know why the artist thought there was a brick-arched bridge over an indeterminate-sized stream, but the town is made of brick and those bricks are exactly that color. It may sound like damning with faint praise, but I actually mean it.  I think the way the colors hang together is part of why it took me so long to actually look at the painting. Come for the impressionism. Stay for the surrealism.

It’s easy to make fun of it. No, it’s a lot of fun to make fun of it. But I don’t love this painting for it’s innumerable faults. I love it because in its own weird, innocent, sweet way it does absolutely nothing it sets out to do. It presents a fantastical place where stereoscopic vision and Euclidean geometry are equally irrelevant.

You can call it bad. You can call it brilliant. You can order another cup of coffee.

It’s really just a matter of perspective.

POSTSCRIPT: I had a chance to talk to some longtime Gibson City residents about the painting. The artist was a woman, but they could ‘t remember her name. She was well-known in town for her paintings. I took that to mean in a good way. It turns out that building next to the water tower is a City Hall that burned down. The current city hall is a really neat art deco building, but it also features a tower. The water tower is gone, but it’s been replaced by a communication tower. Alas, it hews to things like geometry and gravity. Finally, the 1870s steam tractor depicted is actually on display in a small park within site of the Kettle. The consensus at the table was that it was unlikely that the artist is still alive, but if she is she should sign the piece. I’d go one step further and say that if she isn’t, there should be a plaque. This was clearly painted with love.