Today, the world got to enjoy an extra day. Due to an oversight in the Gregorian calendar thousands of years ago, earth is still granted a 29th day in February (or “Leap Day”) once every four years. We don’t know how you’ve spent your Leap Day so far, but we here at Milwaukee Record wanted to make the most of our bonus 24 hours in the year 2024 by doing something foolish that we’d probably never attempt in a non-Leap Year.

If you recall, we spent Leap Day back in 2016 visiting every single George Webb restaurant in the world. After that harrowing and generally upsetting 23.5-hour odyssey that found us driving hundreds of miles and spending hundreds of dollars on food we didn’t want, we decided we’d keep things more localized in 2020 by killing a few hours doing late night/early morning activities between closing Wolski’s and opening The Highbury.

This time around, my Leap Day adventure landed somewhere in the middle of those two odysseys in terms of its difficulty and mileage, but it was far less dependent on time. You see, I started my Leap Day by running the gauntlet at Lake Forest Oasis this morning. Before I elaborate on that, allow me to get you up to speed on what an Oasis actually is.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Chicagoland became home to a handful of “oases.” These structures, which were somewhat revolutionary at the time they were built, are essentially rest stops erected on highway overpasses. Situated in Illinois suburbs that are located near major highways, an oasis gives motorists a place to stop and stretch their legs, use the restroom, figure out their I-Pass situation, gas up at the filling station next door, and grab a quick bite to eat before hitting the road again. At their pinnacle, there were a total of seven oases along the Illinois Tollway. Today, just four remain.

If you’ve ever traveled to Chicago (or if the 9% of our total readers who hail from the Chicago area ever traveled to Wisconsin), there’s a very good chance you’ve stopped at the Lake Forest Oasis for one reason or another. Though it’s a dated, dingy, and seemingly endangered attraction, Lake Forest Oasis serves a purpose as a temporary rest stop that’s nestled somewhere between destinations. However, it’s never the destination itself. Well, since I had a free day to kill, I decided to set course specifically for Lake Forest Oasis in order to achieve an ambitious, indulgent, and idiotic goal. I was going to eat something at every single restaurant in the building before I’d allow myself to return to Wisconsin.

As of February 29, 2024, Lake Forest Oasis has a total of nine restaurants. That’s not nothing! It’s on par with most “food halls” or mall food courts, except these eateries are all above an interstate highway in a building people mostly use to take dumps before or after concerts. It wouldn’t be easy to do, but it seemed possible. I’ve traveled further to do worse.

Before heading out this morning, I set some personal rules I felt I needed to follow in order to accomplish this dumb, self-assigned challenge “the right way.” Those rules are: 1. I needed to get a food item at every restaurant in the oasis. 2. I needed to finish every bite of each item I ordered. 3. I could not bring any food or drinks home with me. With that in mind, I aimed to arrive around 10 a.m. with the hope I could finish with Panda Express sometime after the restaurant’s listed 11 a.m. open time.

After a chance parking lot run-in with my friend’s brother and his family (who were en route to Kentucky for an archery tournament), I entered the oasis a few minutes after 10 today, strolled past a handful of empty kiosks that had food vendors in them during more fruitful times, and started the gauntlet run.

Stop 1 – Dunkin’

Having not eaten since the previous night, I was legitimately hungry when I got to Lake Forest Oasis. So I made quick work of a chocolate donut, polishing it off before 10:15. My small black coffee was still molten, so that’d have to accompany me on my journey. Even so, I had one down and eight to go.

Stop 2 – McDonald’s

Unlike my business partner, I almost never eat McDonald’s. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I just seem to wind up getting something local or, like, Taco Bell whenever a junk food craving strikes. So I enjoyed this work-related and tax-deductible excuse to take an Egg McMuffin to the dome around 11:20 a.m. Yes, the Big Mac and QPC are better, but this was an endurance challenge, so I had to keep things relatively light. Anyway, I wolfed this down in like three minutes and went to Stop 3 immediately.

Stop 3 – Taco Bell

While I have so many Taco Bell favorites (and none of them are in the breakfast sector), I figured something breakfast-y and (relatively) low in calories would be best to round out the first one-third of the gauntlet. Longevity was key. Thus, I got a Potato Cheesy Toasted Breakfast Burrito and finished the piping hot tortilla tube right as the clock struck 10:30. I was making good time and liking everything so far!

Initially, I planned to take little breaks between “breakfast” and “lunch” thirds of the gauntlet, but after strolling around around for a few minutes and finding some familiar pamphlets and garbage can-affixed stickers from home, I decided I was feeling good still and was on a great pace, so I should just keep going. In realizing Panda Express was open earlier than the Oasis website said it would be, I called an audible and decided to bump that up a few spots in the restaurant order.

Stop 4 – Panda Express

I had gotten cocky. Instead of the a la carte order of beef and broccoli I planned to get when I mapped the visit out last night, I foolishly got a small container of orange chicken because, well, I haven’t had Panda Express in like 20 years and it looked good. And hey, it was pretty good…as far as rest stop chicken goes, at least.

Knowing a wall was in the distance, I ate as quickly as I could, finishing it and the accompanying fortune cookie (no morsel left behind!), by 10:40 a.m.

I was nearing the halfway point, which was nice. Yet with a few dreaded spots left to hit up and some decidedly heavy food on the horizon, I was no longer smiling.

Stop 5 – KFC

“Back for more?” the friendly woman working the register at the combination Taco Bell and KFC asked me as I approached her for the second time in approximately 30 minutes. Yeah, I was back for more, except this time I would be ordering from the KFC side of the menu. I thought better of the Chicken Little sandwich I nearly got on foolish impulse, instead changing my order to the five-piece chicken nugget box I initially intended to get at the last moment. The nuggets were among the better things I ate all day. And I actually wound up getting hooked up with six in the box. That would’ve been a nice surprise most times, but at that point, the bonus nug was simply another breaded and deep-fried hurdle I’d need to clear before I was allowed to return to Wisconsin. I heroically did just that before 10:50 a.m. and pondered my next move.

Stop 6 – Sbarro

This is where things went off the rails. When plotting my meals, I was going to get the Caesar Salad at Sbarro, and add the KFC nuggets to it. However, upon seeing the salad in real life, noticing it was small and somewhat lacking. Letting visions of what some fictional nerd would say in the comments section if I were to get a side salad at Sbarro, I decided I had to get something with a little more substance to it than that.

There was no fucking way I was going to get one of the thick, bread-heavy, and cheese-laden slices. Instead, I got a Pepperoni Stromboli. I quickly realized it was pretty much just a piece of that pizza I had avoided, just in a different form. It tasted good, but the toasted log of bread, cheese, and pepperoni that was both oily and abundant set me way off course. With three places to go, I was finally starting to feel bad. I took a lap around the interior of the oasis (which was closing in on me more with each bite) to plot my next move. I tried to win a Mater stuffed doll, but the claw machine was broken and took my dollar. This was starting to suck, so I was just going to buckle down and get this done.

Stop 7 – Taste Of The Middle East

I usually LOVE Middle Eastern food. However, this was not one of those times. Now feeling bogged down and fully dreading my drive back to Milwaukee, I bypassed favorites like shawarma and falafel at Taste Of The Middle East in favor of grape leaves. Bad move. They were ice cold, slimy outside, dry inside, visibly old, and just plain gross. Let the record show that I like grape leaves, but I very much disliked these grape leaves. What was supposed to be a momentary break near the end of this stupid gauntlet became the greatest challenge yet. I somehow finished this quartet by 11:05 and rushed to the next place on my list.

Stop 8 – Auntie Anne’s

I knew everything at Auntie Anne’s would be difficult by this point in the gauntlet. Hoping for the best, I meekly ordered a small cinnamon sugar pretzel, which turned out to be a cup filled with pieces of soft pretzel absolutely caked in butter, sugar, and cinnamon. They were dense, doughy, and punishingly sweet.

I looked out the window at vehicles heading north to Wisconsin as I mindlessly ate sugar-encrusted pieces of pretzel dough. I wanted to be them, passing this place and inching closer to Milwaukee. Once the last piece was masticated, I was finally able to finish my Dunkin’ coffee in a futile effort to wash away the sweetness. I went to the bathroom to wash the sugar and butter off my fingers, only to hear a guy in the stall next to me unabashedly and almost aggressively farting between labored grunts. I needed to get the fuck out of the Oasis.

Stop 9 – Subway

Instead of eating fresh, I was just planning to eat anything…as long as it was small. The honor of the last food item ordered in this gauntlet attempt goes to a double chocolate chip cookie. To keep the annoying reply guys I invented in my head at bay, I also made myself drink a medium fountain soda, which I filled with a mix of lemonade and sweetened iced tea. When isolated from everything else, that pairing was decent, but it was the nail in my coffin. I took the picture above, then shoveled the cookie into my mouth and chugged the full octane Arnold Palmer before my brain could tell me to do otherwise.

I threw my empty cup and cookie wrapper away at 11:31 a.m. and left immediately, saving the massage chair lounging and jewelry browsing for another time.

So there you have it! It’s another Leap Day miracle from your friends at Milwaukee Record. I successfully ran the gauntlet at Lake Forest Oasis and learned nothing worthwhile in the process. Yep! Nothing special happened and the only personal growth that may have occurred today will soon be visible on my waistline. But who cares that I wasted my time on another dumb eating adventure today? February 29 usually isn’t even a real day anyway. I’ll get back to real, gauntlet-free existence tomorrow.

About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.