Friday, October 27, 2006

Night of the Turkey Club
The flights out of LaGuardia to Chicago have been backed up for hours, but I finally arrive in the Windy City at about 10 p.m. Central Time after leaving the New York office at 3:45 p.m. Do the math. That means for approximately five of my seven hours of travel, I was going absolutely nowhere.

When I finally stumble off the flight at O’Hare with my carry-on wheeler and my zip lock bag of toiletries, I am half starved. I’ve survived on Fritos, Rold Gold and Cranberry Juice Cocktail for what seems like forever.

My colleague Splint McCullough, whom I haven’t seen in more than eight weeks, steps out of the crowd in baggage claim and says, “This way, Mr. Bond.” This greeting is a relief. He usually impersonates Kato from the Inspector Clousseau movies. Splint has weathered similar atrocities during his trip in, including flight delays and lost luggage that was later discovered soaking wet on the wrong baggage carousel. But, he’s resolved his issues and is waiting with a white Ford Bronco rental to take us to our accommodations in Naperville.

I eye the vehicle skeptically. “Are you on the lam?” I ask. Fortunately, there are no law enforcement or media choppers on our tail, and we cruise out of the airport with little difficulty and ease onto the expressway.

“I can do this route in my sleep,” Splint promises, and promptly misses the exit to Naperville. I look at him askance. I haven’t seen Splint in more than eight weeks, and I haven’t missed an exit in that time either. But we seem to share a certain directionally challenged karma.

After a quick course correction, we are on our way to Naperville. “The bad news is that most of the restaurants closed at 10 p.m.,” says Splint. “But, the good news is, I saw bright lights near the highway. We’ll find you some food.” Splint, by the way, has already eaten.

Following a quick trip along Route 88, we pull into a well-lit parking area in Lisle, Illinois. There’s a distinct chill in the air. The red neon sign screams “Mullen’s Bar & Grill” and there are cars in the parking lot. “I think they’re open,” Splint declares optimistically as we enter the establishment, whose threshold is adorned with a selection of Halloween scarecrows.

Inside, the first patron we encounter is a man in full clown makeup and costume, who has bellied up to the bar and is watching the World Series.

“I hate clowns!” Splint says with passing glance and a shudder. He quickly accosts a waitress who informs us that the kitchen closed five minutes ago. “Is there a diner in the neighborhood?” he pleads as I am about to expire at his side. She volunteers to check and disappears into the kitchen. Moments later, the manager returns and graciously offers to retain the kitchen staff long enough to whip me up a turkey club with fries. He escorts us to a table, where Diet Pepsi and Sierra Mist are delivered and both he and the waiter settle in with us to chat about nothing in particularly. It seems that no matter where Splint goes, he attracts an entourage and it is clear that Mullen’s caters to weary travelers and thirsty circus performers.

My turkey club arrives and it is enormous, worthy of Dagwood Bumpstead. I can barely fit the tall stacks of turkey, crisp bacon and golden toast into my mouth, but I attack the food voraciously as the restaurant manager recounts his day in detail, which began by dropping his mother-in-law at the airport at the crack of dawn.

Within minutes, there is nothing but a few crumbs and an errant French fry on my plate, and I am grateful for Mullen’s hospitality and Splint’s incomparable instincts for locating fine cuisine. Frankly, I’m thinking of spending the weekend. Mullen’s is hosting a “Seven Deadly Sins Halloween Party” this Saturday night and I’d like to see if I can add a few more to my repertoire beyond my usual gluttony.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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