We were in need of a good adventure, something to get us out of the house and break up these 40 weeks. So on Sunday, we drove 223 miles for a hamburger. I had heard about a general store in Moonshine, Illinois, that served what many called the best burger in America, and Sarah, typically gung ho, piled into the car with me.
We made it 42 miles before she demanded Taco Bell and a bathroom, both of which she got. The rest of the drive was uneventful—apart from a bad omen near Rantoul, when a birthday clown driving a white Dakota passed us doing 95. As he sped past, he glanced over, his face painted into a chilling smile, and you just knew the guy was about to scare the crap out of some unsuspecting kids.
Moonshine doesn’t appear on the map. As we got closer to where we thought it was, there weren’t much in the way of signs. Every turn led to more cornfields. For nearly an hour, we passed corn and cows and llamas and more corn, and eventually I was forced to stick my nose out the window in hopes of picking up the trail of burger. When I ducked back into the car, Sarah looked considerably less gung ho. The fine line between adventure and disaster is even harder to find during pregnancy.
Then it appeared. A dusty old house surrounded for miles by nothing but a dozen trucks jockeying for space in a rickety lot out front. Inside was a deep, ramshackle room, the air thick with grease and history. In back, Helen Tuttle, a salty lady of about 70, grilled burgers exactly as she has for 22 years. We ordered two and took a seat.
On benches and folding chairs everywhere were farmers and families, talking, laughing, and eating hamburgers. They all looked content in a way that I instantly envied. “How far did you come?” a big guy in a baseball hat asked me. Chicago, I replied. “I’m from Kentucky,” he said, and we chatted pleasantly for a moment before I realized: it was a damn good burger. Not the best, but juicy, full-flavored, and pretty wonderful. When we asked Tuttle her secret, she shrugged. “Nothing, really. I just buy good beef.”
So why does everyone go so nuts for them?
She waved around the room, accustomed to answering this question. “I think it’s the atmosphere.”
Anyone who drives out to the middle of nowhere for a burger and finds this unassuming place full of pleasant people talking like it’s 1957 can’t help but feel good about life in general. Those good feelings get transferred to the hamburger, which becomes a juicy symbol of your temporary euphoria.
“Look, they’re harvesting that field,” Sarah said as we were passinng more cornfields on the way home. “I always wondered how they do that.” In the distance, a tractor was plowing rows of corn, and before I knew it, we’d pulled over and Sarah was standing out in the field, examining what was left of the cornstalks on the ground.
From my vantage point (still in the car), I saw the tractor make a weird turn and head for Sarah. “Get back in the car,” I said, my blood pumping. I was certain that the farmer would to do one of two things: tell her to get the hell off his land or offer her a ride. I didn’t want either to happen.
The tractor pulled up next to Sarah, and the guy inside cut the engine and hopped down. Before he could say anything, Sarah walked up with big smile on her face. “Hi! I’ve always wondered how you harvest corn.”
The farmer, a rangy guy about my age, seemed surprised at first, then he broke into a big grin. “Wanna go for a ride? I’ll show you.”
Five minutes later, they were way out in a field together while I stood on the side of the road, watching the tractor get farther and farther away.
I was powerless.
My interior monologue went something like this:
What were you thinking?
“I don’t know. I—”
You don’t know this guy. He could be a rapist.
“Now, come on. Let’s not overreact here.”
What the hell kind of husband are you?
“I don’t know. I think I’m a pretty good one.”
A good husband doesn’t let his six-months pregnant wife harvest corn with a complete stranger out in the middle of nowhere, you moron.
I watched the tractor carefully, reasoning that as long as it went in a straight line the farmer couldn’t possibly be violating my wife. I never saw anything so straight in my life.
Fifteen minutes later, they returned, laughing like old pals. Sarah shook his hand, and climbed down carefully. He waved to me, and I waved back, convinced at last that he wasn’t BTK. Sarah talked about the experience for the next 90 miles. And when we were about 25 miles from Chicago, Sarah she said that learning how corn was harvested as the highlight of her pregnancy. So far, I assume.