Last Wednesday, I rode an early morning Amtrak train to Mendota, Illinois, to work with some friends on a magazine that they publish. Mendota, about 85 miles west of Chicago, is a small farm community. Sprouting seasonally from the ground are seas of corn and soybeans. Sprouting year round from the ground is a sea of wind-power generators.
I planned to return on an afternoon train called the Southwest Chief that comes from Los Angeles. As it turned out, the Chief was running six hours late because it was delayed by a freight train derailment Monday night in California. Ok, I figured, I'll hang around, we'll go out to dinner in Mendota, and I'll get on the train when it gets here. No, said my friends, we will drive you to Chicago, we'll all go out to dinner and then we'll drop you off at home. Thanks for the offer, said I, but why would you drive a 170 mile round trip just to have dinner? They said I'd understand if I had to eat out in Mendota. Based on my experience, they had a point. The fare there is dull.
My friends mentioned that it's nearly impossible to get lamb to eat where they live, so I suggested we go to one of my favorites, Cedars of Lebanon at 53rd & Woodlawn. Did I suggest right, or what? My friends thought the babaganooj, pita and olive oil was manna from heaven, and they raved about the lamb dishes they ordered.
During dinner they mentioned that the produce sold around Mendota is not very good, nor is there much variety, and in general, grocery shopping there leaves much to be desired. I wanted to take them to Hyde Park Produce, but it was already closed, so we headed for Treasure Island. They took full advantage of the store's offerings and bought enough to load up the car. As for me, I had not previously been in TI at 9PM and was pleased to see it was rather bustling at that hour.
Second, flexibility seems like a good idea when booking a ticket for the final 85 miles of a train's run if the train first has to cover 2000 miles. The train ultimately was seven hours late into Chicago. (Amtrak did refund my return $8.50 fare).
PS: Re urban variety, a really nice French Market opened last Thursday at Clinton & Washington Streets, at street level under the Metra station. There is a global variety of cheese, bread, pastry, meat, fish, produce, prepared food, you name it, plus an area with tables and chairs. The target market is residents of West Loop condos and apartments, as well as commuters. And with trains rumbling overhead, what ambiance! Gare Metra.