Welcome to the New Salem Inn
My buddy Chuck and I had been on the road for three days, crossing the U.S. from the West Coast, over the Mississippi and into Illinois. We had been doing the Big Mac and fries routine and joking with the girls at the fast food outlets for days, but as we neared our destination, we looked at each other and I said, “Let’s eat someplace really nice before we get to Springfield.” Chuck, being a super friendly type agreed, but added, “Don’t say anything weird to the waitress like you did back there at McDonald’s.”
Entering the Land of Lincoln, we spied a really nice, rustic looking restaurant, The New Salem Inn. It wasn’t just the serene setting, old trees, lush green lawns or its All-Americana Midwestern look that seduced us. It was the fact that the parking lot was empty. A wooden sign out front announced it was open and so far as we were concerned, we were welcome.
We parked in the spacious parking lot and walked down the clean, long paved sidewalk, past beautiful, in full bloom shade trees, through the front door and past of stack of menus sitting in a neatly piled stack by the door. There was no one inside, but finally a man came to the dining area and said, “We opened a few minutes ago and haven’t finished setting up yet. Most people don’t get here until just before noon. Here’s the menu. Sit anywhere you’d like and I’ll be right with you.”
We sat down near a red brick fireplace at a nice old wooden table covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth. It was sitting against the wall opposite eight neatly arranged windows that had actual windowpanes like those in homes a hundred years ago. The place was really quiet. Maybe it was because we were the only ones there or maybe because of the deep, forest green carpet covering the floor. Either way, we knew we had made a good decision.
The menu boasted any number of great items; meats, fish and fowl, sugary deserts and all kinds of sodas and drinks. We both decided to have twelve-ounce T-bone steaks, medium-rare, smothered in sautéed mushrooms, baked Idaho potatoes, sour cream with chives and fresh garden salads with a twist of pepper. “Heavy on the Roquefort, please!” we added in stereo.
While we were eating Chuck said, “I still don’t believe what you did last week at Doctor’s Hospital. Don’t you realize that, by wearing that doctor’s uniform, you could have gotten me in trouble! Some people probably thought you were really a doctor.”
“Yea, like the pregnant lady I did the sonogram on.”
“Exactly. Just don’t ever do anything like that again,” he added as he took another bite of his steak.
Despite the enormity of the meal, it didn’t take us long to finish and by 11:45 we asked for our bill. I handed Chuck my share and excused myself to use the restroom. When I reentered the dining area, I saw Chuck still sitting at our table. I heard a noise outside and looked out the window towards the street and noticed a Gray Line Tour bus had parked in front of the restaurant’s sidewalk. The bus driver was coming through the door with a coffee thermos and as he passed me he asked where the restrooms were located. I told him, then I looked out the window again and then over at Chuck. I told him to be ready to go when I got back.
He patiently sat as requested and was still sitting there when I returned with all thirty-six passengers. I looked at him with a Let’s -get-out-of–here-NOW grin. Going out the door he stated, “Well, Stanley. Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me in. What did you do this time?”
I told him, “Nothing, just got on the bus and instructed all the people to get off, come into the restaurant, make themselves at home, and the tour guide would be right with them. I gave them all menus as they entered and to please have their orders ready. A couple of old ladies argued with me, something about this not being part of the tour, but the rest of the people seemed pretty happy.”
I don’t remember much of the conversation after that, but I know we made it to Springfield in record time.
Alan L. Goodin © 3-3-07 (Rev 5.25.10)