What my Beautiful Wife and I learned on our 1,800-mile trip to Village des Pins, a resort in Florida:
We learned that my grandma was right when she repeatedly averred that "All fools aren't dead." We figured that out on our seemingly endless journey through the Land of Lincoln, the great and boring state of Illinois. We've always known that downstate Illinois is a crashing bore of corn and soybean stubble, punctuated by no towns, only an occasional sharecropper's shack and barns that haven't seen a milk cow in generations.
Don't get me wrong! We never imagined that big landowners (read: Chicago banks) were the kind of fools grandma talked about. We've known for years that these industrial "farmers" were laughing all the way to the bank.
So who are the fools? The folks who have created yet another, as if we needed one, WINERY. Out there, on that endlessly flat, boring, stubbly field.
And what did they call their new purveyor of wine made of grapes that would be better used for jelly? They called it: "The HILLS OF TUSCANY Winery."
Finally after nine hours, we ended up in Salem, a nondescript town where William Jennings Bryan was born and got out as soon as he could (maybe that's why he was so happy to get to the metropolis of Dayton, Tennessee, to perform at the Scopes "Monkey Trial.")
We were hungry, having survived since leaving River Falls on garlicky "nuts and bolts" left over from Christmas. So what to our wondering eyes did appear?
Cracker Barrel, Applebee's, KFC, Bob Evans, Shoney's, Steak and Shake, McDonald's, and Chick-Fil- A.
The BW and I try never to eat at a chain restaurant because as former restaurant employees we figure these enterprises have ruined the quality of the American Dining Experience. Outback Steakhouses are an exception, but more of that later.
But not to worry. Having visited the vast wasteland before, we came prepared—with two frozen dinners from Trader Joe's packed away in a cooler, ready to pop into the microwave in our Quality Inn motel. One Indian curry and one cheese-and-spinach stuffed ravioli.
Another day, and the stop is in Alabama. There's a hill or two in 'Bama (Go Tide!) and once in awhile you can see one if not obscured by the state's plethora of jackpines. We stayed at another Quality Inn, which was fine. But then we glanced at the dining options. You guessed it: Cracker Barrel, Applebee's, KFC, Bob Evans, Shoney's, Steak and Shake, McDonald's, Chick-Fil- A.
So after check-in we drove farther into Bear Bryant country and found (halfbacks will be served!) an Outback. We split a delicious 22-ounce bone-in ribeye and agreed that all our American chain owners should travel Down Under for some tips on how to run a chain restaurant.
The next day we closed in on Sarasota, with a stop in Gainesville at an Extended Stay America (all that was available, on the day before us "snowbirds" descend on southern Florida), where we learned the most important lesson of the whole trip: NEVER STAY at an Extended Stay America for a one-night stand. One-night standers have to find their own vending, ice, shampoo, wastebaskets, and paper cups. Even the second-floor room smelled like it sat atop a swamp. For comfort and convenience, sleep in your car instead.