|For those outside the Chicago area: yes, there's a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Niles.|
File this one under, "No wonder should go unremarked upon."
Spent the morning in West Englewood, reporting on a story — we'll get to that next week — finishing up about 12:30 p.m. Time for lunch. I considered a couple Harold's Chicken Shacks; when in Rome... But there wasn't anywhere near by to park, and I just kept driving.
Somehow, parking a few blocks away and ambling over to get in line and grab lunch in Englewood seemed a Bad Idea. Maybe I was being timid.
Hurtling down 95th Street — man it gets suburban fast — I passed countless Burger Kings and McDonalds and Wendys and Popeyes. Never considered those for a second. Not hungry enough for fast food, except of course for White Castle, which are special. White Castle has a soul.
But the pair I passed were on the other side of the street, and U turns for Sliders.... I kept going.
Onto 294 North. Love that road. Fast. I had an errand in Niles, so got off at Touhy going east. By now I was getting hungry. Papa Chris Place presented itself. It was well after 1 p.m. A hot dog would do the trick. I went in, ordered a char-dog, mustard, grilled onions, and ketchup. They didn't give me grief over the ketchup, not so much as a haughty glance. But that wasn't the wonder.
Cup of black coffee.
It was a decent dog, good pile of hot crinkly fries. Ate, checked the morning's email. When I finished, I took my tray to the garbage, fished out the green plastic basket I had thoughtlessly tossed in, after my eyes strayed over the "Don't throw your basket out" sign. Returned the ketchup bottle to the condiments, not far from where a Sun-Times sat ready for the next patron hungry for more than food. Went back to the table, retrieved my white styrofoam cup of coffee, and was leaving. The restaurant is set up so that, to exit the seating area, you have to pass by the counter, and as I did a woman behind the counter called to me, "Can I freshen up your coffee for you?"
I hadn't drunk much, maybe an inch worth. Good coffee, but hot, and I was eating. But I set down the cup, lifted off the cover, and she topped it off.
I can't remember that ever happening at a hot dog or burger joint, never, not once in my life. It certainly would never happen at a McDonalds. No minimum wage automaton would ever stop a patron going out the door to give him more coffee. That's probably a fireable offense at McDonald's.
"Thanks," I said. "This is my first time here. And thanks for subscribing to the Sun-Times." That last part probably sounded crazy and she ignored it, but I was glad they had the paper sitting out on the counter.
"Come back again," she said.
A nickel's worth of coffee. But it made me very happy, stepping into the parking lot, to see this sight, the Leaning Tower of Niles. Not the bonus coffee, of course, but the gesture. A small kindness, a generosity of spirit, manifesting itself in subtle ways. I figured, whatever blurt of good publicity this blog could offer would be an apt way to return the kindness. It's the small things that make life rich.