The sun is setting as I leave my hotel room for a bite to eat. After ten hours in the car today I was determined not to drive any more. I will walk to supper. It is pleasantly chilly—a perfect evening for hoofing it in Peoria, IL, but I’m hungry and tired. I don’t want to walk far. Up and down the street neon lights beckon passersby, hawking too-familiar bites—Panera, McDonald’s, Olive Garden… I needn’t go on. You know them all from every interstate exit, shopping mall, suburban strip, and sadly damn near every downtown in the United States. I am in Nowhere, America, and there is nowhere I care to dine within sight.
At home I eat veggies from the CSA and my own garden. I enjoy meat, eggs and milk from local farms, and honey from a local beekeeper. My sausage and cheese are made with local ingredients by local artisans, and my bread from a local baker. When I want fish, I catch it.
Now I stare down a neon lane wondering where I will find my food.
Behind the hotel is a Kroger. Without a kitchen my options there would be limited, but maybe in the deli, I think. The parking lot is packed with cars and I don’t look forward to the throngs of shoppers stocking up for the weekend. Inside, customers with carts piled high stand four and five deep at every register and down every aisle, more carts and drivers negotiate passage. I turn left and follow the perimeter of the store through the produce, past the bakery, to the deli.
This end of the Kroger is empty. From the deli counter I scan the bakery and fresh produce departments. Beyond the bread, a woman peruses wines. She is the only other customer in sight. While my hard salami and smoked gouda are being cut, weighed and wrapped by a young woman who is very confused by my lack of interest in having either sliced, I sort through a rack of fresh bread for a loaf of rosemary and olive oil loaf. Looking one part apologetic and one part confused, the deli worker hands my cuts across the counter and I head for the mustard aisle.
As soon as I round the corner away from all things fresh, a sea of cart jockeys engulfs me. I look back. The south end of the building is still empty. Moving deeper into the crowd, I am surrounded by carts overflowing with all manner of processed, canned and boxed foods.
I wind my way through the crowd until I find the mustard. Accustomed to mustard that is homemade by a dear friend, today I will settle for Jack Daniels brand. At least it is from Tennessee, I think.
As I reach the front of the store, I overhear an express checker turning back a fully loaded cart. I slip in as she turns away, obviously disappointed. The checker has me rung in a matter of seconds. “Please, no bag,” I say as he reaches behind him.
“Save a plastic tree.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Have a good night.”
“Thanks. You too.”
A soft glow from a sun I guess must be over the Pacific warms the horizon as I walk back to the hotel. Sitting in the bed, I turn on the television—a luxury I only allow on the road. I open my penknife and carve into supper. The sausage and cheese aren’t bad (the mustard makes them a little better) and the bread is passable, but I miss home.