I'm in a good mood today (three day work weeks will do that for you), so I wanted to share a brief vignette that is too weak to be a full-on story.
There's this Italian Beef place in Chicago called Portillo's. Despite having a ton of locations and being as generic as they come in both cuisine and atmosphere, Portillo's one of those "Legendary" places (oh how I dislike that descriptor) that locals tell you must be visited during your trip. When you go, there's an inevitable letdown; five seconds after walking in the door, it's clear that the place is a grease joint one step up from Burger King. Then your food comes out. The taste can be described as a gastronomic rape with extra sodium. But you're sitting across from your Chicago friends (who are now scrutinizing you with increasing concern for signs of orgasmic pleasure that you'll now have to fake). So you eat your soppy, disgusting sandwich of fatty beef particles slapped into a generic, flavorless bread roll and pretend that you're enjoying it, all the while wondering how quietly you can vomit when you get back to their place.
Then, four months later, someone else tells you that they're visiting Chicago and you find yourself enthusiastically raving about how they should definitely go to Portillo's. It is at this moment that you realize you've made the full circle from victim to hypocritical piece of shit.
OK, so now you know about Portillo's, but more importantly, you know about the mind-controlling parasites in their food that cause people to recommend this black hole of tourist cuisine. Now you're ready for the story.
Awhile back, Susan and I went on a "Ghost Tour". A couple of our friends talked us into it.
I'll give it to the people who organize these tours - it's an elegant business model. Low overhead, high profit. Thirty gullible tourists and four dumb locals piled onto a school bus that someone had crudely painted and they drove us around, showing us where a theater had burned down a hundred years ago, where a boat had capsized a hundred years ago, where Dillinger was shot, etc. We were supposed to be frightened. The scariest part was that I'd paid $35 for the experience.
The tour guide was this chubby, bubbly woman who was playing the role of Chicago advice-giver to all the tourists on the bus while we waited for everyone to board the bus. Somehow, we got drawn into it. Naturally, she brought up Portillo's as a place to eat. Susan and I rolled our eyes at each other.
This woman's passion for Portillo's was disturbing. In particular, she kept mentioning their chocolate cake.
"Have you ever tasted anything like it?" she asked us. I fought the urge to say, "Yeah, at the freezer section of Aldi," but thought better of it. Instead, I shrugged noncommittally.
"This cake - amazing!" the guide continued. "Do you know what the secret is?" (at this she leaned in as though this could get her in trouble) "Mayo. They put mayonnaise in the batter - that's why it's so moist!"
I nodded, giving her as little impetus as possible to continue speaking about the mayo cake. Eventually she petered out and got to work.
Ninety minutes later we traipsed off the bus (after giving a few dollars to the guide as a tip) and proceeded to have a lengthy conversation with our friends on the sidewalk. It was the kind of chat that says 'well, this activity sucked, but at least we got to catch up,' so we were there a while. While we talked, others filed off the bus. After everyone left, the driver and tour guide turn off and prepare to go back to their normal lives. It was here that I was presented with the view behind the curtain.
The guide counted out the tip money she collected, gave half of it to the driver, who nodded and waved goodbye to her as he pulled away in a cloud of diesel fumes. The guide left on foot, heading north down the busy sidewalk.
Coincidentally, our conversation ended at the same moment and Susan and I headed off in the same direction as the tour guide.
Susan and I were discussing where we could grab a late dinner. We were just north of downtown, an area full of tourist trap places to eat. Susan said she knew an Italian place in a food court that would still be open. In front of us, we were starting to catch our slightly-waddling guide when she abruptly turned into the same place we were headed. I pointed this out to Susan, who was unimpressed with this news.
The place we were at shared dining space with several other restaurants. As we stood in line for pasta, I spotted the guide standing in line across the room at - you guessed it - Portillo's. I noticed that she still had her half of the tip money clenched in her hand and was staring intently ahead, as though in deep concentration. When she reached the head of the line, she said a few words, then handed over every dollar in her hand to the cashier. There was no change. Next to the register, another employee cut one, two, three, four pieces of chocolate cake and slid them into a single large carryout box. As they're doing this, the guide is nodding in approval. That's right... generous slices... Yeah, that's the stuff...
The employee starts to bag it, but the guide says something and they stop and hand over the cake, along with a single plastic spork. The guide accepts her bounty wordlessly and heads for the door. Midway out she pauses, thumbs open the container lid and takes a single direct bite from the nearest slice. Her face assumes the relaxed facade of a heroin addict who's just shot up. Using one of her chins, she nudged the box closed and proceeded out the door and out of our lives.
Tl;dr - Overweight tour guide hypes Portillo's chocolate cake, gets a craving and spends entire tip on cake moments after tour ends.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.