Friday, April 27, 2012

Very Personal Food Reviews

Haiku My Heart
April 27, 2012

I used the Haiku My Heart meme to post the food reviews from our latest trip to Chicago. The stories about the trip itself can be found in earlier posts Part 1 and Part 2. This post is all about the food, with a touch of Haiku. To see more fabulous Haiku My Heart posts, visit Rebecca's recuerda mi corazon blog.

This is an Italian Beef combo that I served at home, very much like  the kind I had at Portillo's on our recent trip to Chicago

Eating our way through
Hot Dogs Sausage Pizza Pie
Latkes Ruebens, yum
It wouldn’t be the right thing to do to just mention the names of the places where we received our sustenance without telling you about the ambience and the experience. After all, one of the reasons we traveled to Chicago besides seeing a Broadway show and a Major League ball game was to eat.

Diner nirvana
Gastrointestinal glee
It’s all about food

Interior design of the Ontario Street, Chicago Portillo's
Portillo’s is a large chain these days in the Chicagoland area. They might even have a couple of stores in other states. California I think has at least one. But I remember when it all started out of a small 8’ X 10’ cart that sat in the parking lot of a small suburban shopping center way back in the 1960’s. They sold hot dogs and built an empire from that.
A stock photo of Portillo's first hot dog stand in the 1960's
Let me backtrack just a bit. The Italian beef sandwich is to Chicago what the Philly beef is to Philadelphia or the Bratwurst is to Green Bay, Wisconsin. So is the Chicago style hot dog. Like Sabrett's in New York City. In Chicago, they call it a garden on a bun and has the following ingredients:
A 100% pure beef Vienna brand hot dog
A steamed white bread poppyseed laden bun
Neon green pickle relish
Yellow mustard
Tomato slices
Chopped onion
A Dill pickle spear
Celery Salt
If you care for a little heat, Sport Peppers
If any of these ingredients are missing, it is NOT a Chicago dog.
The rules say you must be under 12 to put ketchup on a Chicago style hot dog. There are many places that serve the Italian beef and hot dogs. Many will argue which none is the best. The latest poll says Al’s Italian beef is the best. There are a lot of votes for Gene and Jude’s out in the burbs.
But Portillo’s is steady, consistent and damn good in the Italian beef and Chicago Dog department. Each restaurant has a different theme and the decorating is like that of a hollywood movie production. I should know, I worked in motion picture production for many years. The photo above shows the interior of one Portillo's location that mimics a Chicago apartment building street scene.
On our visit to the Portillo’s store on West Ontario Street in Chicago, I had one Combo with sweet peppers. The combo is a char-broiled Italian sausage smothered with Italian beef and the flavorful au jus, topped with roasted mild green peppers. The beef is very thinly sliced and slow cooked in its own juice, seasoned with garlic, pepper and salt.
The bread is a Chicago style French bun that I can’t seem to find anywhere but Chicago. ( The water again?). My favorite brand in Chicagoland is made by Gonnella. The juice of this sandwich makes the bun swell and fall apart after a short while.
I mentioned the ingredients of the Chicago Dog earlier. Mrs. Spadoman had one of those. We both added a tamale to our order. The Chicago tamale is steamed and a little different than a home made Mexican tamale, but is basically a corn meal outer with a very finely ground spicy meat filling. Barb had some French fries with her meal and we both drank water to wash it all down.
Photo of a Portillo's tamale

Due’s Pizzeria
Pizzeria Due is housed in an old house that sits on the corner of Wabash and Ontario. You walk down a few steps to the semi-basement where you’ll find the bar and a few booths and tables strewn about. In Summer, the outside patio is flush with people eating the delicious Chicago style deep dish pan pizza and drinking beer.
A good beer seems to make this pizza even more delicious than it already is. I chose a Sam Adams, Barb stuck with water.
We ordered a small pan pizza with mushrooms, onions and Italian sausage. The mozzarella cheese is put directly onto the crust and the chunky tomato sauce is put on top of the cheese. This allows the crust to remain crunchy and firm, especially around the edges where the deep pan that it is baked in does it’s finest work.
These days, Due’s is part of the large Uno’s Chicago Grill with franchises all over the country. The original pizza pie shop was started by a guy named Ike Sewell. He opened the original place on Wabash and Ohio Street. It was the second store that he called Due’s on Wabash and Ontario, one block away.
But the story goes, and some maintain, that a fellow named Rudy Malnati actually invented the deep dish pizza and his son, another Chicago restauranteur, Loe Malnati, is still serving deep dish pizza in Chicago. No matter to me, either the original Pizzeria Uno or Pizzeria Due is the best deep dish pie around.
Since it is a bar, or lounge if you care, they are open late. It was the perfect finish to a great evening after the theater to sit in a corner alone and away from the crowd of the streets of the city late at night. The long wait for the pizza allowed for a long satisfying conversation, something we don’t get at home with all the Grandkids around. Returning to places where we dated at one time so many years ago is a wonderful experience. We don’t remember the pizza tasting any different than it did 40 years ago.

Sorry, no photos of the pizza. It was too dark and too personal.

Glenn’s Diner

I was looking for a place to get some breakfast or an early lunch on Saturday as we were going to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play baseball and the game was to start earlier than usual at 12:05 PM. I did a search of restaurants in an area code or on a street name and this place Glenn’s Diner came up. They had an easily negotiated web site and I checked out the menu. It was close to the ball park and happened to be right around the corner from where Barb’s Paternal Grandma and Grandpa lived. She hadn’t been around this old neighborhood in many many years, but remembered the streets. It wasn’t too far away from where she lived as a child and Glenn’s Diner even shared the same numbers in the street address as she had way back when.
Glenn’s has a regular breakfast menu weekdays and a few added creations for weekend breakfast. The highlight was the all you can eat cereal. As the photo below will attest, the “Wall of Cereal” boasts over 30 different kinds. The first one costs, the second and third bowls are free with a small charge for extra milk. Some days, I just need a bowl or two or three of cereal. Cap’n Crunch anyone?
The wall of cereal. Glenn's boasts 33 different kinds on hand

I didn’t do the cereal this day, although I was tempted. I opted for the New Orleans Scramble. Louisiana Gulf Tiger Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, well done sautéed onions and green peppers served scrambled with some fine and fluffy scrambled eggs. A potato latke, (potato pancake), was served along with this platter. I chose two perfect sized pancakes instead of toast.
My New Orleans Scramble from Glenn's Diner

Mrs. Spadoman had a large platter of French Toast called Glenn’s Dad’s French Toast. She had them made with French bread. She claims it was very flavorful and full of maple and cinnamon. I didn’t have any room to even take a bite from her offering.
Mrs. Spadoman's French Toast

The coffee was superb for an eatery. It came from a roaster in Saugatuck, MI called Uncommon Grounds. Well worth it for a diner to have great coffee. This stuff did not disappoint.
Next time through Chicago, a stop at Glenn’s Diner for another breakfast will be in the mix as well as making a reservation for dinner which features many variations of different types of seafood along with pasta dishes and salads.
Here’s where you can get more information about Glenn’s Diner.

Eleven City Diner
Yours truly at the Eleven City Diner in Chicago
As we sat in the hotel room relaxing a bit between meals, Barb was looking through a hard covered book that was set out on the coffee table. A book full of colorful objects that we couldn’t think anyone would ever be in the market to buy filled most of the glossy pages. But one photo caught her eye. It was a Rueben sandwich and advertised a Diner Deli on the South end of Downtown.
I went to their website and read the menu out loud. We originally thought of making it to the Chicago Chop House or Ruth’s Chris Steak House for an aged steak and salad, but this Rueben called to her and off we went in search of Jewish nirvana.
She ordered the Rueben and it looked just like the one in the photo. She also ordered a cup of Matzoh ball soup. The waiter quickly interrupted her and said, “Soup only comes in bowls, no cups.” The Matzoh in this bowl of soup was as light as a feather. The chicken broth was perfect. Not to salty, but not bland either.
Along with the soup and sandwich, she ordered a chocolate malt that came in the old fashioned soda fountain glassware complete with whipped cream, cherry, sugar wafer and the tin it was made in.
My order was a pastrami sandwich on rye with an order of potato latkes that were served with sour cream and applesauce. The sandwich came with a garlic dill pickle spear and very good cole slaw. I added a chocolate malt to my order when I saw hers. She did offer to share, but I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with a ‘sip’.
The place was busy, but not crowded. Great jazz was playing on the other side of a small half wall that separated the deli seats from the restaurant proper. There was a deli counter with corned beef, roast beef and pastrami along with other salads and delectables for sale as take out. They also had a separate counter where they sold T-shirts and coffee mugs with their logo. Since the two Spado daughter’s have collections from years and years of my travels and visits to diners, we bought them each a mug.
This place will also be on the list of places to head to for lunch or a late night snack again. Good straight forward Jewish deli food. Very good.

Sorry, no photos here either, too busy stuffing our faces.
For more info, the menu and some great jazz, check this site out.

Lastly, Lou Mitchell’s
Lou Mitchell’s has been a mainstay for a long time. The place where it sits, on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago, is within a couple of blocks of the beginning, (or the end depending on which way you travel), of the famous and now defunct Route 66. The first time I went into this place I must have been 15 years old and skipping school on a fine Spring day when staying in school would have been torture.
If I get to Chicago and I have a chance where I’ll need breakfast or lunch, this is the place I go. When we walked through the door carrying our travel luggage, a well dressed woman at the door told us to put our bags down and she’d watch them while a well dressed man was seating the people that walked in before us.
She handed us each a Halloween size box of Milk Duds and held out a wicker basket that was filled with freshly baked doughnut holes. We each grabbed one and headed to our booth. The seating is in booths or tables. The two tops, as tables that seat two people are called in the restaurant vernacular, were lined up edge to edge with chairs on either side, making a forty foot long table. You might be sitting across from the person you came with as well as be sitting next to a stranger. The conversation is lively.
A glass of icy Chicago water is placed at each of our places and a waitress came along and asked what we would like to drink. We ordered coffee and china cups on china saucers were placed before us and filled with black gold. Not as good as that gourmet coffee at Glenn’s, but freshly brewed and flavorful nonetheless. Brown bubbles still foamed at the top of the carafe that was emptied quickly while making it around that long aforementioned table. The half and half was in a shiny stainless steel carafe that sat neatly on the table.
Yet another of the waitstaff took our order and soon after, a small dish was placed before each of us that contained a chilled stewed prune and a large orange wedge. Soon after, our breakfast appeared.
Barb went with a typical bacon and egg dish served with home fried fresh potato slices and rye toast. I had the eggs with potatoes and ordered a marinated skirt steak done medium. I also had the rye toast.
My skirt steak and egg platter at Lou's

They offer two eggs done any style on the menu. Usually, they serve you three. My platter had four this day. A bonus in the egg department.
The skirt steak isn’t found everywhere. They are plentiful at the Greek run restaurants of Chicagoland. It is a cheap, and not usually tender, cut of beef, but being marinated, my skirt steak was tender and juicy.
The coffee cups and the water glasses were kept full. The bill arrived in a very timely fashion, as was the clearing of the plates, but not before we were finished eating. A small dish of vanilla ice cream cleansed our pallets after the meal.
Let’s see, Milk Duds, doughnut holes, stewed prune, orange slice, main course with coffee and water and a small ramekin of ice cream. I’d say that’s some value. This place is right across the street from Chicago’s Union Station. If you ever take the train and you have some time to kill, eat at Lou Mitchell’s.
Here’s the website for Lou Mitchell's

There you have it. I know this post is long, but I'm leaving town for another Road Trip and don't know when I'll be posting again. In the meantime, always feel free to e-mail if you have a question. I'll report now and then while on the road to Northern California
Peace to all

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Road Trip Announcement

This Saturday, April 28th, I'll be loading up the car and putting the motorcycle on the trailer and heading off to Northern California. I'll be hiding behind the Redwood Curtain for a couple of weeks before I return, playing music, visiting great friends and riding bikes in the King's Range along the Lost Coast.

I will have a lap top with me, but not sure how frequent I'll be getting on to check things out and post photos and stories. Might have to save all that for a time when I'm home.

The plan is to post for Haiku My Heart tomorrow morning before I leave. It will be a post about the restaurants we visited on our recent trip to Chicago. I call them "very personal food reviews", So, stay tuned.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicago in Spring Part 2

Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers

Late Saturday afternoon, we relaxed a bit in our hotel before heading out to find someplace to have dinner. We considered the high end steak houses, which are numerous in Chicago, and thought about what ethnicity we might look for. Italian, Greek, Mexican or Asian choices were mentioned.
Mrs. Spadoman was perusing the Chicago magazine that was placed on the coffee table of our room and saw a photo of one of her favorite foods, a Rueben Sandwich. It was indeed a beautiful photograph and I immediately said, “I wouldn’t mind a good Jewish deli for dinner.”
The name of this place was Eleven City Diner and it was on the South end of downtown. We checked the hours and such and decided to go there and have dinner. I’m sure it saved us a ton of money over the aged ribeye I had in mind, and it filled us up.
We were finished with dinner rather early and thought of checking out Buddy Guy’s Legends Blues Club. I remembered seeing that Big Bill Morganfield, Muddy Water’s son, was going to be playing. But we looked at each other and after the day we had after the late night before, we decided to head back to the hotel and call it a night.
Barb walked a couple of blocks away to a large downtown grocery store that housed a Starbucks and captured herself a large cup of coffee. She also picked up some water.
We did buy bottled water, although the tap water in Chicago is, in my humble opinion, some of the best for a municipal water supply anywhere I’ve ever been, and that would include a lot of places over the years. I’ve had many a discussion about how and why commercial bread and food taste distinctively better in Chicago compared to, say, Minneapolis. It’s because of the Lake Michigan water.
Many people have tried to imitate the famous Chicago style Vienna hot dog in other cities. A steamed beef frank and poppyseed bun. Even though it uses the same ingredients from the same distributer, the taste is not the same in other places. It is our statement that it is indeed the water that makes the difference.
The hotel had a refrigerator full of booze, water and soft drinks as well as a cart on top of a credenza that featured a variety of snacks and candies. The prices were ridiculous and there was no way we’d pay eight bucks for a pint of water, although the bottle was pretty damn fancy.
Over eight bucks for this bottle of water, and it wasn't even chilled!

Barb walked to and from the nearby Dominick’s grocery store that housed the Starbucks. It was located on the corner of Grand Avenue and Columbus Drive. We recalled when we lived in Chicagoland in the 1970’s, there was Jewel Grocery Stores owned by Jewel Tea Company. Dominick’s was around, but not as big as Jewel at the time. I worked at Jewel during, and right after, high school.
Dominick’s first store opened in 1918 by a guy named Dominick De Matteo. My mother babysat his son, Dominick DeMatteo Jr. It wasn’t until 1950 or so that Dominick opened a full out supermarket. They sold out to Fisher Foods and eventually were bought out by Safeway with a brief period of time running the stores themselves.
This is Dominick's on Grand and Columbus, in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago

I’ve realized while writing this, the theme that has run through this trip is mostly Italian. Since I am of full-blooded Italian descent, you might think I planned it this way. I did not! This happened quite by accident. References to Dominick’s Grocery and the founder, Dominick DeMatteo, a Sicilian born immigrant, who arrived in America about the same time as my Grandparents, came from Italy.
Then, there was mention and eating at Pizzeria Due. The name is the Italian word for the number two and Pizza is Italian. The Jersey Boys were Italian kids from, where else, New Jersey, but they were all Italian. We also ate at Portillo’s and had Italian beef sandwiches. I posted a photo of Cincinnati Reds first baseman, Joey Votto, an Italian, in Part 1, and mentioned that Italian food was considered for our Saturday night dinner. Whew, that was a mouthful!
Meanwhile, as Mrs. Spadoman was at Dominick’s, I sat on a park bench across the street from the hotel and smoked a cigar. I watched the hustle and bustle of the taxi line as they were summoned to the hotel entrance by the doorman with his whistle, one by one. When Barb returned, we went to our room and sat out the rest of Saturday night. We watched hockey on TV and caught up with all the days baseball scores. I did stay up way past my usual ‘at home’ bedtime, but no night life for us.
We knew we had to catch the bus at 10:45 AM, but we had plenty of time. The bus stop was across the street from Union Station. Down one block from there was an established cafe called Lou Mitchell’s. I have been eating at Mitchell’s for years. Mrs. Spadoman and I ate there many years ago together when we had a lay over in Chicago when we were on our way to New Orleans via Amtrak.
Chicago's Union Station, (stock photo)

We had a great breakfast, enough to hold us for the eight hour bus ride to home, and caught the Megabus. Our daughter picked us up in Minneapolis and brought us to her house where our car was sitting. We drove home and were greeted by the dog, the cat and Grandkids.
We had a fabulous time in Chicago. I guess it’s being from there mostly, but to me, it is certainly one of the great big cities. We were planning our next visit as we were there. Next time, we might take the Amtrak, or if we do drive our own car, we’ll park it in the hotel ramp and use the taxi anyway.
I’ll be reviewing the restaurants and diners we frequented very soon. Portillo’s, Due’s Pizzeria, Glenn’s Diner, Eleven City Diner and Lou Mitchell’s. Some good eats. I also have some special words to say about The Jersey Boys. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Springtime in Chicago Part 1

Chicago River from the 19th floor

Mrs. Spadoman and I just returned from spending the weekend in Chicago. As we were both born and raised there, it was a homecoming of sorts because we spent the time downtown and reminisced about the times we spent there when we were younger. The time went by so fast. We promised another visit soon as we were reminded of all sorts of places to go and things to do and we wanted to do everything.
I had mentioned in an earlier post that we were going to use the Megabus to travel. Right around 25 bucks a person each way. Downtown Minneapolis to downtown Chicago. I believe what I saved on buying gasoline, paying for parking, driving through traffic and the aggravation of trying to find parking spaces for the activities we attended more than made up for the taxi fares and tips we paid to the cabbies. Would you believe I got at least half of the cab rides as a senior and saved a dollar?
We arrived at 3:00 PM on Friday and went straight to our Hotel, the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, located on the Chicago River near were it meets Lake Michigan. (View of the Chicago River from our hotel room in the top photo). We used Hotwire for the hotel and got a bargain there. We did not upgrade to get a room facing the Great Lake, but we had a wonderful view of the river and downtown landscape despite the dirty windows. I don’t think they clean them every week up on the 19th floor.
Since we both lived in Chicago at one time in our lives, and since I even used to drive trucks in Chicago, we knew the general direction of things we wanted to get to. Our first order of business was a quick meal before we got ready to get to the theater to see the Broadway musical, Jersey Boys. We walked the half mile or so to Portillo’s and had the mainstay of existence for any Chicagoan, Italian beef and Chicago style hot dogs. (I’ll do a food post later and describe the fabulous meals and the diners we found to enjoy them in)
We grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, relaxed a bit and got dressed for the theater. It is called the Bank of America Theater these days, but it was the LaSalle Theater in the days of old. A beautifully ornate interior. Bank of America bought out LaSalle Bank and changed the name very soon after the theater was restored. It is quite the beautiful place.

The view of the theater from the stage

We saw The Jersey Boys. A play about the 1960’s singing group and their story of origin along with the many hit songs that topped the charts in that era. The show was fabulous and like the food, I’ll report on the show as a stand alone feature very soon.
After the play, we headed out for a late night snack and ended up at Pizzeria Due. We had a corner booth to ourselves and shared a small 10” deep dish Chicago style pan pizza. A romantic setting. Just the woman of my dreams and I sitting and talking in the dimly lit bar/lounge atmosphere.
When we lived in Chicago, prior to 1974, there was Pizzeria Uno. The story goes that someone created their own recipe for a deep dish pizza and broke away and started Due’s. Number one and number two. Two, Due’s, was suppose to be better and the last place we had a deep dish pan pizza alone together was Due’s around 1972. We did go to Due’s a couple of years ago on a hot summer afternoon with the complete array of Grandkids in tow. This visit was somewhat, (No, a lot), quieter and romantic. We didn’t get back to the hotel until about 1:00 AM.
Saturday had a full day planned, but with the late night the night before, we didn’t get going until after nine AM. Of course we brought our own ground coffee from home and used the coffee maker in the room for the morning caffeine fix before we ventured out anywhere.
This stock photo shows all that yellow, as in Yellow Cab Company, plying the city streets

We grabbed a taxi to Glenn’s Diner on Montrose, (Another great dining experience that will be covered in its entirety in another post), and had a fabulous breakfast. I had found this place by accident while doing a search for something else. We took a chance and were not one bit disappointed.
Joey Votto, Cincy's 1st baseman and fellow Italian at bat during the game

From the diner, we walked a few blocks, then took another taxi ride to Wrigley Field and were in our seats in time for the 12:05 PM start of the game with the Cincinnati Reds. I might mention that Friday’s weather was cool and very windy with a dark and cloudy sky. Saturday, the wind had died down a bit and the sun was shining brightly. It was still cool, but the sun helped with the attitude of the day tremendously.
The larger than life Macaroni N' Cheese noodle showcases the famous Wrigley Field sign

The Cubs won that game and we enjoyed being back at the ballpark. Mrs. Spadoman grew up only 8 blocks from Wrigley Field, and her Grand parents lived less than one block from where we had breakfast at Glenn’s Diner. We figured from recalling memories that we had been to a ballgame together at Wrigley probably back in 1971 or 72. This was our first return to see the Cubs in 39 or 40 years. The ballpark looked beautiful for as old as it is. We both noted it sounded and smelled the same.
Mrs. Spadoman with the scoreboard in the background

The crowded streets after the game made it hard to find a taxi. We did ponder using the city bus, but the line to get on the bus was crazy. We used a bicycle powered rickshaw to get us a mile or so away from the ball park. We only waited moments for an empty taxi to drive by and take us back to the hotel so we could plan and get ready for the next activity.
Our rickshaw ride was in a cart that looked exactly like this one

So far, we’ve eaten at three restaurants, took a ride in a bicycle powered rickshaw, seen a broadway play in one of Chicago’s premier theaters and went to a Major League ball game where the home team wins, and we clocked just about 24 hours in the city.
Part Two will be posted soon, maybe tomorrow or the next day. Please come back to hear about the second half of our trip.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Dancing in the Streets

Haiku My Heart
April 20, 2012

Haiku My Heart happens every Friday. You can see more haiku at Rebecca's place where she posts recuerda mi corazon.

Dancing in the streets

Colorful figures are free

Timeless expression

This is a photo of the beautiful Kimo theater in Downtown Albuquerque. It is located on Central Avenue, old Route 66. I like to walk around that upscale neighborhood and look at the Southwestern style artwork. These dancing figures seem to be having a good time, and, they are all dressed up for the occasion.

This weekend, I'll be in Chicago and I'll dress up a little myself as Mrs. Spadoman and I hit the town for theater, sports, good food, good times and each other's company. Certainly a report, complete with photos, will be forthcoming.

In the meantime:

I wish you much Peace

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yesterday's Gone

Okay, so yesterday's post might have sounded like I'm looking for sympathy or that I have the Blues. No biggie. Happens around here. It's part of life sometimes. And it really wasn't that bad at all. I was just sharing my mental block about writing with you. You can't have the great stories without paying for them. Your payment is listening to me whine about it now and then. I really want to thank Skippy Mom and Mel for stopping by and lending a few soothing words. Great folks, these two.

Hoping for a sunny day Saturday in Chicago so we can enjoy a ball game

So, that's over. On to the next installment. Today is Thursday, April 19, 2012. No big deal, just another day. NOAA says rain today, thunderstorms, and not going to get past 49 degrees for a high temp. Tonight, they're predicting some non-accumulating snowfall. Tomorrow, the sun is supposed to shine and be in the mid 50's around here.

But I'm going to Chicago in the morning. And guess what? I'm not driving. Taking the Megabus. Costs less than the gas it would take to drive and no parking fees. Yes, taxi fares, but I found this great little website that calculates the expected cab fare and where we are staying and where we plan on going are only short hops to the theater, out to dinner and Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs.

I'll be gone until Sunday evening when we are due to return. No computer driven communication. If you need me, text or call, and even then, I'm not sure I'll be waiting for the phone to ring. This is a weekend for Mrs. Spadoman and I to enjoy. In fact, the hardest decision we want to have to make is what and where to eat.

We're from Chicago. Both of us born there. I moved to the nearby suburb of Melrose Park as a two year old. Barb was more like 7-8 years old when her folks left the city for the suburb of LaGrange Park, IL. We lived there until 1974 when we picked up the family and moved to Minnesota.

We rented a farm house about 20 miles North of St. Paul and spent the entire month of August that year sitting under a huge oak tree. There were two exciting events every weekday, and one every weekend. The mail would be delivered is one. We didn't get much mail, but when those advertisements were shoved in that mailbox that sat out there on the side of the road, that walk to go see what the man had brought us was sure fire energy.

The other event was the owner of the farm, who lived in the small town of Centerville, MN, a couple of miles away, when he came to milk the nine head he had in the milk barn. Coupled with this twice a day milking was when the Dairy truck came out of Lindstrom and picked up the 100 pound cans of raw milk that were kept in the water filled trough to keep them cool.

Earl, the farm owner, had planted a few rows of sweet corn. He told us we could have all we wanted and that he didn't want us to waste it. We had fresh picked sweet corn pretty near every day and put some by in the freezer for winter. I guess there are a few stories I can tell about living on that farm. I'll have to get to that someday. Maybe that's what I should have done yesterday rather than bitch and complain. Another Mea Culpa.

So, while I get ready to go to Chicago, I will leave you with a very short 18 second YouTube video of me on my Triumph Motorcycle last Summer.  Sounds cool, don't it?


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Post

Sandhill country in Nebraska. It's not all corn you know.

It's Wednesday. Nothing to say, really. Just thought I'd change the post. I sure don't want to get into that rut of bantering about what I did today and what I'll be doing tomorrow. Oh yeah, I guess I already do enough of that. Maybe I'll get into the garden thing and post a beautiful close-up of a colorful flower. No, there are those that do a marvelous job of that. I'm no match for a real photographic artist. There's poetry. No, I'm no poet.

What if I've told all my stories? What if I've shared all I can share with you, the readers? Maybe it's all I have. Maybe I need to go on living a bit more so I'll have something more to say, more stories to tell. You're the gal I've been dating and you've heard everything. You know everything about me and what you see is what you get. If you stick around, maybe you'll be amused now and then at a humorous quip I broadcast. After all, the good friend that visited me last weekend told me that I am loud and that people were intimidated by my booming voice. Well, I'm a toothless lion these days.

I'll just leave it at this for now. Just changing the post because it's the middle of the week and the other one has been up since last Friday. Cool and wet today. It might get sunny later. I have wanted to ride the motorcycle, but it has just not been the weather for it. Maybe later today. In the meantime, I'll look for some papers that I need to find and fill out some other forms that are due to be mailed. No, not taxes. I did that already. I do have to get packed for the big trip to Chicago this coming weekend. Maybe I can work on that a little.

In the meantime, you folks be kind to each other and enjoy your days.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Ole Sol

Haiku My Heart
April 13, 2012 

Haiku My Heart is a fine weekly gathering of creative souls that share Haiku, photographs, artwork and stories. It is the creation of my friend Rebecca. You can visit her blog and see more examples and share your thoughts, or find out how to participate yourself at recuerda mi corazon.

This sun split in three
The sky is shared by the clouds
Blistering sunset
There is a sunrise and sunset every day. Some days, we see this spectacular event as it happens. Many times, we photograph these events. I never get tired of looking at old photos of sunrises and sunsets, or even pictures of the sky!
I try to remember where I was, what I was doing, when I took the photo. I place myself back and recall the circumstances. Maybe I was traveling. Might have been at a ceremony, camping out. And many times it was just the view from my kitchen window.
This one posted today was from April of 2010 near Memphis, TN. I was picking up my friend Larry at his place, and we traveled East to Atlanta together to attend a reunion of the military unit we served with in Vietnam. Larry and I, along with a few others that I served with in 1969, will reunite again this year in September in Colorado Springs, CO for another reunion.
The idea of recalling memories on Haiku My Heart Fridays has become the norm. My children, Grandchildren, a job I held or a trip I was on will be relived. Today’s post is no exception. And yesterday, I passed an anniversary date. April 12th is the day I was drafted and reported to the induction station to join the United States Army. That was in 1968, 44 years ago.
My oh my, how quickly the time goes by. Glad I have these photos to remind me that the sun rose that day, as it does today, and brightened my life.

Peace to all

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mid Week News From Spadoville

It’s Wednesday. Hump day, some call it, as it gets you over-the-hump for the typical work week. Although I haven’t been employed for a while, I still can see how there is no typical work week for most folks any longer. The days of the eight to four thirty are finished in most places.
I have a friend that is in the trucking industry. He works on the docks of a major national freight hauler, Yellow Transit, which is now Yellow Freight Systems. You’d think that after being with a corporation for 30 years, and being in the Teamster’s Union, that he’d have seniority and work a good shift as he nears retirement. Not the case. He was laid off for a while through the economic plunge the past few years, and still works nights and weekends. So much for all the talk about Unions and the benefits.
Anyway, getting back to the phrase “Hump Day”, Wednesday is mid week. Many of the appointments I have at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis are scheduled on Mondays and Tuesdays. I occasionally get an appointment on other days of the week.

Mrs. Spadoman’s work schedule has her working three days one week and four days the next. Every other week, Wednesday is her Friday. The Grandkids still go to school Monday through Friday, but little else is on the “weekday” schedule.
When I worked at a large grocery chain in Chicago many years ago, the store opened at 8:00 AM and closed at 9:00 PM Monday through Friday. Saturday, they closed at 6:00 PM and they were closed all day Sunday.
Now, you’ll be hard pressed to find a grocery store that is not open 24/7. Many are even open on holidays for limited hours. Convenience stores, or gas stations, are open throughout the holidays, 24/7 365. A few bars have this schedule as well. 
Bar hours vary some, here and there, but most in Wisconsin open at eight in the morning and serve alcohol until 2:00 AM. In Chicago, it’s as early as they want to open, usually 6 AM, and they close for a couple of hours to clean at 4 AM if they have the late hours licensing issued by the city authorities.
This post is absolutely useless and is filled with random thoughts and has no redeeming value whatsoever. I just thought I should write something and started blabbering on the keyboard. 
In other news; 
Mrs. Spadoman has been in Florida since last Friday. I will get her at the airport this afternoon.
A good friend that I haven’t seen for a few years is in nearby Minnesota and will visit us this weekend. He’ll stay at our place as our guest and we’ll have a BBQ on Saturday.
Next weekend, Mrs. Spadoman and I are off to Chicago. We’ll be taking the Megabus instead of driving, and we’ll stay Downtown at the Sheraton. Megabus has express through service from Minneapolis to Chicago for about 25 bucks a person, one way. We’ll use taxis to get around Downtown Chicago and won’t have to deal with parking and driving in traffic.

We’ll see Jersey Boys with the Broadway traveling troupe on Friday night and go to Wrigley Field and watch the Cubs play Cincinnati Saturday afternoon.
On April 28th, I leave, with my motorcycle in tow, for Northern California. I’ll be away from home about two weeks and will return with my friend Hal and his motorcycle so we can continue riding the Northern reaches of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
That ought to keep me busy for a while.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Diner Job, Number 37

Monday Mystery Tour
April 9, 2012

I originally posted this fictional story in August of 2009. Some of you that have been visiting Round Circle since then may remember it. If not, sit a spell and have a look. The original post has pictures.

She was tall. Now someone’s height is definitely relative to your own and of course whether or not you are sitting or standing when you make first contact. It’s also relative to whether you are sitting on a hard chair of a soft cushy one. In this case, the old vinyl clad booths at the diner in Glenwood Springs had been there a while and were worn to the point where the stuffin’ was almost gone from the seat part.
When you sat down, your rear end went down to something hard, and for my particular anatomy, the wooden board that made up the front edge of the seat fit neatly into the crook of the back of my knee joint.
I had been traveling from Reno, Nevada by rail. I had accompanied a good friend out west from Chicago and after a week or so of camaraderie and visiting old pals, I was headed back to the midwest and home.
The California Zephyr train route was established long ago though the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The train made the same stops it did in the 1930’s. The old depots along the way were still used in most cases and that is how it was in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
I asked the conductor  how I could manage getting off this train and onto the next one when the California Zephyr came through Glenwood Springs the next day. He allowed me to pay a small fee, and punched my ticket stub so supposedly, I could get off, and re-board 24 hours later and continue my journey.
The station house in Glenwood Springs was one of those nice refurbished old buildings with a wide overhang all around itself. If you’ve ever seen a travel show or National Geographic pictures of say, Japan or Thailand, you might see buildings of a certain type of architecture that would depict that particular country. I like to think people in those countries are shown pictures of our old train stations and know it’s a train depot in America when they see them as well.
I got off and looked around. I had spotted this hamlet on the trip headed west some ten days before. It looked quaint and I really wanted to visit the hot spring pools and the cemetery where Doc Holliday was buried. At curbside across the street, there was a magnificent older building that was the Glenwood Springs Hotel. Convenient, looked OK, and not a chain drive dive like Super 8.
I carried my soft luggage bag across my shoulder and bypassed the taxi that waited in the event a fare would come his way. I walked across the street and went inside. A nondescript place for an old hotel, but looked like it might be fun as long as I didn’t have to go down the hall from my room for a toilet and a shower. I checked in and found a small room on the third floor. I felt like I was a real travelin’ man and my mind was making up a story about how I might have been a traveling salesman back in the olden days.
Maybe I was a salesman in a former life and had been there before. Maybe I would be planning my visits to the merchants of the local area and attempt to sell them goods, like freshly roasted coffee my employer made, so they would sell it and serve it in their stores and restaurants. Maybe I needed a cup of Joe right now. And a sandwich, too. For I was hungry as the train really didn’t have much to offer.
I put my pack in my room, freshened up, and after a quick look around, I headed outside into the sunshine on a quest for sustenance. It was about 12:30PM on a Wednesday in May.
I hadn’t wandered far from the hotel when I spotted an old building that housed the 19th Street Diner. Now the term ‘Diner’, like the tallness factor, is relative, and comes under scrutiny by folks everywhere I go. The purists out east tell me. “It ain’t a diner unless it’s out in Massachusetts or New Jersey and is housed in an actual railroad dining car that was transformed from use on rails to use on the street.” Others may call the small cafe on main street in their particular town a diner.
We’ll use my definition because it’s my story. A diner is both the descriptions above and more. It’s a place to eat, privately owned, with calendars on the walls. The calendars given to the establishment by the customers who sit around the big table in the morning and congregate over coffee, spewing forth their take on all subjects. Religion, politics, local issues, the business climate of their town, high school sporting events and, of course, the weather. The insurance man, the banker, the auto dealer, the farmer, the barber and seed company rep reign supreme. 
The more calendars that were on the walls, the better a place is because that meant folks came there and ate there and left the free calendars there about the new year. It can also mean it’s a really small town and there was just no-where else to go out for coffee and conversation. I first heard of this calendar phenomenon while reading William Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways” back in the 80’s.
The tall one approached the booth where I had sunken down and reached a new level. The broken down upholstery was comfy and I had completely settled in. She moved her mouth into a quick smile then quickly asked me in a straight-to-the-point forceful voice, “Coffee?”
I said “Sure”, and grabbed the menu from the stack at the window end of the table that were sandwiched between the salt and pepper shakers and the wooden holder that held the ketchup, mustard, jelly and sugar packets. This set-up is what made a booth a booth. She returned in an instant with a steaming cup in a thick tan mug. I nodded and muttered my thanks as she smiled again and asked, “So, What are we having today?”
I had a momentary lapse in judgement and before I even realized I was letting out my pat response for people who speak in the third person, “What do you mean, ‘We’? You got a mouse in your pocket or are you planning on joining me?”
She was unamused as she stood there, tall and sleek. She had chestnut brown hair, lots of it, wore a pair of jeans and a loose navy blue t-shirt. I saw no sign of breasts on her but knew she was a beautiful woman. She thrust out her pelvis as she stood and had her hands placed on her hips in a position I had not often seen from a waitress. I could see the palms of her hands. Her fingers were slender and I did detect some movement beneath her shirt as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, changing the pelvic thrust to a more leering stance. Did I mention she was tall?
The name tag said “Gretchen”. I asked her if that was her name. Her body language shifted again and made an exclamation point as she responded, “Now why would I wear this name tag if that wasn’t my name?”
I responded, “I was wondering if maybe you grabbed that one from a pile in the back room because you left yours on the edge of the bathroom sink this morning. You don’t see that name often these days.”  
Like Trudy or Delores. Gretchen, I liked it, I liked her. I wanted to get to know her and learn everything about her. I wanted to know her well enough to know what she liked to eat, what she liked to drink and what she enjoyed doing for leisure. I wanted her to know me and like me.
I already had two big strikes against me, I was on the wire, I couldn’t stand to make another blunder. It would be the difference between a good experience and a bad one. This is paramount when traveling alone and eating in a diner. Forget the food, the food means nothing if the waitress ignores you and the most telling sign is when the dreaded coffee carafe is set on the table. You know then that dining will be a lonely affair with the next and last visit to the table is when you get the check. No more chance to talk to her. If she puts the check down when she delivers the food, it will be a lonely affair to be sure.
There was no carafe and I went for it, “You been working here a long time?” I asked.
She smiled and said, “About six years.”
I ran with it, “So, you from Glenwood Springs here then?
“Yep, been here all my life. You have an accent”, she was still smiling.
Before I could say another word, a bell rang, like the kind at the front desk of a hotel, and Gretchen turned quickly and was gone. She moved her sleek frame across the floor with fluid grace and in one motion grabbed four plates of steaming hot food, lined them up her arm, balanced perfectly, and without a hint of hesitation brought them to a table of patrons waiting to eat.
She was a real waitress in a diner. Experienced. She wasn’t going to take any crap from anyone and had all the bases covered. You needn’t ask for the condiments, they were there before you needed to ask. If you ordered eggs, the tabasco was on the table. The steak sauce or the small ceramic pitcher of milk for the oatmeal was already served before the food arrived. She had this place down pat. She wasted no steps. A true to life Hash House Queen. I loved her immediately and wanted to talk to her some more.
She wore little makeup and I’d guess she was 39 or maybe a young 44. That would make her closer to my age, the latter one, and the idea that maybe we’d share some things in common. More than I’d have if the waitstaff were teenagers.
The 19th Street Diner had a couple of calendars on the wall. Insurance and bank. Not much dust accumulated on the blades of the slow moving fan at the ceiling. Not much black around the legs of the tables. Not too many crumbs on the floor. Not too busy this Wednesday. They served breakfast all day.
I ordered steak and eggs with the homestyle potatoes. Gretchen told me she didn’t make ‘em, but that they made ‘em fresh everyday. The biscuits were made from scratch and you could get toast made from homemade bread or the regular wheat, white or rye from the store bought bags.
She paused a couple of times when I was watching her work the room. I spoke to her when I thought she’d stop. Once she did, once she didn’t, or couldn’t I like to think.
The coffee was good. Not sour or tart, not colored hot water, but not freshly roasted top quality French roast Columbian either. I gave it a 7 on a scale of 10 for diner coffee. Anything between a 5 and a 10 is adequate and will not detract from a diner’s overall performance. The food was good. A small steak fried neatly on the flat top grill, eggs flipped in a pan. I opted for the homemade bread toast with jam served in a small glass crock with a little spoon knife that stuck out of a small hole on the lid.
I lingered over coffee and did get quite a few refills. The cup was thick ceramic so the volume wasn’t much. If Gretchen didn’t know I was nursing the coffee cause I didn’t want to leave, then she’s as dumb as a tack. She knew what was going on.
It was time to go for this round, and although I wanted to explore the town and experience another place for another meal at some time during my short stay, I knew I’d return for breakfast the next day.  
I asked, “You work everyday?”
She answered this question the way I answered the first one she asked me, “Why? You writin’ a book or sumthin’?”
I told her that, “Maybe I am, and how do you know I’m not a famous writer anyway?
She put her hands on her hips in that unique pose with her palms facing out and said, “You’re not a writer, I can tell.”
A memorable smile came on her face and she told me she worked every weekday from six to two.
I wandered in the next morning at around 9:00AM. She smiled when she saw me and asked if I had to leave today. I reiterated the fact that I had to be on the train before noon if it stayed true to schedule and on time, and that I was planning on sitting there sipping on coffee, if she didn’t mind, until then.
She said, “Sure, sit as long as you want, you’re a paying customer.” I know I saw her wink, maybe. I got a few more smiles out of her and left with coffee sloshing in my belly and that was after I emptied the bladder a couple of times besides. I was hoping for one last flash of her. Maybe she would smile at me once more. Maybe she would speak to me and not the customer.
One could only hope. I put all my eggs in one basket. This was my last chance. The question I had been saving for this extreme moment. The words that would change our meeting from a chance encounter to a lifetime memory of fantasy.
“So, why is this place called the 19th Street Diner when it’s on Second Avenue?”
She struck her patented pose, and this time tilted her head to the side and smiled a big smile as she told me, “Because it used to be on 19th Street”
She inflected her voice as if to say “Everyone knows that, silly boy”
I had a memory to last the rest of the trip as I tried to get comfy in my coach seat on the California Zephyr. I closed my eyes and fell asleep thinking of Gretchen the waitress in the 19th Street Diner in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

I wrote this many years ago. It was one of my earliest attempts at writing fiction fashioned from personal experience. There is a 19th Street Diner in Glenwood Springs, or at least there used to be. There is a Gretchen as well. She worked at the 19th Street Diner before she moved to Grand Junction and worked at the 7th Street Cafe where I was the cook in 1993. We were good friends and I admired her for her skills behind the apron in the small diner world. 
This was job number 37 on the chart from This Earlier Post. I have started to write a story about every job I have ever held and hope it will finally be, “The Book”, everyone is telling me to write. I will attempt to use the Monday Mystery Tour feature to chronicle these work and living experiences, the parade of unique individuals one might meet in a lifetime, and the stories within the stories.