Monday, January 12, 2009

The Road to Change 1/12: Rust Belt Roaming

We spent the morning chatting and touring St. Louis with Steve Patterson. We had a great time and learned a lot, much more than we would have on our own. We left town at about 12:30 PM, and headed for Springfield, the capital of Illinois. Appropriately enough, we passed by the source of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's ethics on the way. See below.

The drive to Springfield was dull, and the fact that the sky was overcast didn't make things much better. Fortunately, radio signals carry much farther on the open plains, and we were able to pick up stations from St. Louis 80 miles away. We listened in on an interesting debate about whether or not Bush should be tried for war crimes. As we entered Springfield, it began to snow, which worried us a bit until the snow stopped. We walked around Springfield for a bit and chatted with some of the locals, then left.

Afterward, we drove to Champaign-Urbana, home of the University of Illinois, and former home to our great-aunt (as in our grandmother's sister, not just an aunt that was great). CU, as its commonly referred to, is unusual as college towns go. It's not as well manicured as other places, but we were able to find a hip coffee shop whose baristas discussed the nuances of Battlestar Galactica while solo cello music played in the background. A few of the shop's patrons were excited over a trip to Chicago they were about to take. We wished we could go to Chicago too and spend just a few hours in Obama's adopted home to get us fired up for the inauguration. But in a way, CU was like a miniature Chicago; the people were sophisticated but extremely polite, the buildings were old and made of brick, and the weather was cold. There was no lake, there were no El-trains or skyscrapers. But as we sipped our coffee we could easily imagine we were sitting in that broad-shouldered city, that modest Manhattan 150 miles to the north, that had so profoundly shaped the life and character of our president elect. Fortunately, as we walked out the wind picked up, and we became less reluctant to turn southward to warmer climates.

We drove on into the night, breezing through Southern Illinois towns made more anonymous through lack of daylight. We crossed the border into Kentucky at midnight, and decided we had done enough driving for one evening, checking into a nearby motel in the riverside town of Paducah and bracing ourselves to enter the South the next day.

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