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The reason I didn’t post on friday is that my wife and I were having our eighth anniversary celebration between Omaha and Peoria via Chicago.  I am writing this just after our friend’s fun and expeditious Bengali wedding, before the reception.  We started out the vacation in Omaha, NE, visiting a cousin of my wife’s family.  To make the open jaw trip work, we rented a car from Omaha and drove it across Iowa and Illinois for our true anniversary vacation in downtown Chicago, then over to Peoria for our friend’s Sangeet yesterday.

I am impressed by how wide open the farm country of Iowa and illinois is.  Every exit was at least 10 miles apart from the last.   These states are also firmly in the windmill camp, with at least three wind farms built over the planted farms on our drive east.  As long as the birds stick to the insects on the crops on the ground, they’ll do fine.

What struck me about the trip so far has been the restaurants, particularly the culinary high and low points of the trip.  By about 1 pm on Friday, we got hungry and were ready to switch drivers.  My wife had fixated on Dairy Queen for some reason.  Perhaps the desire for ice cream on a hot day.  Just then we saw the exit sign that trumped all else.  “Iowa’s Best Burger”.  I had a twinge of doubt about false advertising, but I have to say, it was the best hamburger I have had in a while.  They have a peach of a location 60 miles west of the world’s largest truckstop, on an exit, with gas pumps.  Damn good burger, and affordable.  I applaud affordable good food much more than expensive great food.

When we finally got to Chicago, through a truly amusing reverse traffic jam, we washed up for half an hour before our dinner reservation in our hotel.  It was a very nice restaurant, I won’t name.  Some of the food was really quite good, but other dishes were only so-so.  I would warn patrons of downtown Chicago restaurants to pass on the upgrade from an 8 oz to 10 oz Filet, if money is an object.  I don’t travel often enough to be reminded of what should become a cardinal rule of mine: tourist restaurants are never that good.

We were in the most visited, famous part of Chicago, chock full of hotel guests  eager for a night out on the town.  And many seemingly high-end restaurants were there to serve that need.  But because they were tourists, most would not be coming back.  Even if they were there for an extended stay, there was too much to see and do to do the same thing twice.  So what do restaurants care if their food is exemplary? It just needs to be prepared competently and priced believably.  This has happened to us in every tourist-heavy area of the world we have visited.  Yet again, we were suckered.

Voice and reputation mean nothing when we have no long term relationship.  When a car drives through a neighborhood, no one living there cares about the driver, and vice versa.  When we shop retail at a store with fixed price tags and minimal staffing, personal interaction would only be a distraction between us and the buy; between the seller and our money.  When we buy meat or veggies at the grocery store in tidy little packages or presentations by the pound., we are the beneficiaries of over a century of technology designed to abstract the process of growing, harvesting and killing food from eaters. 

Food is a lot less trouble than it used to be.  Little surprise that all the highs and the lows have been regulated and marketed right out of it.

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(http://www.lightcurve.com)

Iowa was like this, except when it was tasty.

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