Driving Through the Heartland of America

MendotaI’m reminded of all the wagon trains that went westward through the prairie lands, which are now divided into parcels of plowed fields full of growing corn and soybean plants! I’m reminded of Laura Ingles Wilder growing up here on the plains, living in a small house with a large barn with a milk cow, some work horses, maybe some goats or pigs, as well.

How differently we live now in cities and towns with homogenized stores and restaurants and hotels. This has its perks and its detriments. You could literally pick up a family and plop them down in a new town and all their usual favorites would be there. Life isn’t disrupted in this way with the exception of friendships! The same grocery chains, the same restaurant chains, and the same mall stores, even the same outlet malls, dot the landscape from East Coast through the Heartland of America. Almost all of these places have a Home Depot or Lowe’s or both!

Okay, so there are a few exceptions. One of my favorite chain restaurants from living in the south where they seem more plentiful is Schlotzky’s Deli. Their most famed offering is a sandwich made with sourdough bread, ham and three different cheeses. “The secret is in the black olives,” one store owner told me a long time ago. “The olives are chopped and marinated in garlic.” It is served hot with tomato, lettuce, and red onion slices. If that makes your mouth water, I understand. It’s really the combination of all the ingredients that make the sandwich so yummy!

Sadly, there are none of these in New England. It was a surprise that when we landed in Maumee, Ohio (near Toledo), our hotel (also a chain) was right across the street from a Schlotzky’s Deli. A sign on our table said that they delivered and catered. I was wondering if I should put in a standing order for once or twice a month to have one of these delivered all the way back to Franklin, Massachusetts? I didn’t ask the manager, because I already knew that more than 730 miles was probably out of his delivery area! But I was tempted! Their sandwiches are that good! It had been four years since we had a Schlotzky’s sandwich! That one was in Kansas City!

There was another perk in the restaurant choices: Arby’s. We’ve yet to make it to one at mealtime, but there’s one across the street from our hotel in Coralville, Iowa, where we will stay for the next five nights. I’m sure we’ll find a time to hit that one. There are Arby’s in Massachusetts, but there are so few and most of them seem to be in malls. None of them are in Franklin, Massachusetts!

As you can probably tell, food was high on our list of exciting things to do on a drive through the Heartlands. When there are corn and soybean fields non-stop, you already have your head into food. Also, sitting or driving in a car will definitely leave your mind to roaming into food choices. Each stop along I-80 or I-90, just about every food chain in America were represented. The only one I haven’t seen is Olive Garden. Not to worry, that one is bound to show up soon!

Last night we stayed in Mendota, Illinois. It’s okay if you’ve never heard of it. Most places off I-80 through Indiana and Illinois were not much more than wide spots. We had to drive a few miles off of I-80 to find our Comfort Inn in Mendota. Across the street was a gas station with a restaurant, named Cindy’s. It was recommended by the hotel clerk. It was excellent homemade food! I also think the entire town was at the restaurant! I was surprised to see that many people. However, a Del Monte canning plant along with acres of planted farmland were no longer just dots but obviously plants we could see up close and personal. It was in Mendota, where we had a view out our second floor room of a field of soybean plants neatly growing in uniform rows. There was nothing but a farm house in the distance. Welcome to the Heartlands where growing food is the major industry and appears to be run by small farms running end to end throughout.

Now, our attention will fall to one young child not quite seven years of age. Her name is Destiny and now I transform from Connie Dunn, the author and book coach, into Grandma Honey! How precious is that? She is the reason that her two grandmas have now driven over 1200 miles through seven states!

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