Goodbye, Chicago. Hello, Southern Illinois

Wednesday, Oct 9

We checked out of the hotel and drove about an hour to Sandwich, Illinois where we had IMG_5638an event at the local high school, sponsored by Rep. Tom Demmer. He came by, took a tour and spent more than a few minutes with a constituent who showed up specifically to discuss an issue with him. He gave her his full attention for quite a while.

The chief of police stopped by, as did a canine officer. Dave usually does the tours with peace officers and they all enjoy the experience. The canine officer gave us some restaurant suggestions for when we got to Springfield.

We set up in the parking lot and got to listen to the band practice their half time show.

This wasn’t a large attendance event, but we had a few people come through.

We wrapped it up in the early evening, hugged our photographer, Ty, goodbye since this was his last event with us, and headed for Springfield. We had stayed in Springfield back in July when we moved the trailer from Indiana to Minnesota. We’d planned to visit the Lincoln Museum, but had a problem with the trailer that had to be fixed and didn’t have enough time. I planned to rectify that on this visit.

We drove about three hours from Sandwich to Springfield and stayed in the same Staybridge Suites we’d stayed at before.

Thursday, Oct. 10

Our event today is at a Senior Center in Taylorville, about half an hour from Springfield. We had to be there at 9 am, to get set up for our 10 am start time. The senior center was having a health fair inside, like our event in south Chicago earlier in the week. The people were as interested and engaged. One woman shared that her granddaughter’s mother is an addict and has lost custody of her children.

Several people called other friends to come down to the center to see the trailer and take the tour. Taylorville is a small town, obviously impacted by the economic downturn of the last decade. A few of the woman commented that drug abuse has increased as the community has gotten more depressed.

We were supposed to stay until noon, but the seniors were eating lunch at 11:30 and the health fair inside packed up around 11:40, so we followed suit since no one else was going to come for a tour.

We told Heidi goodbye, as she was headed home to Missouri for her daughters’ volleyball games that afternoon. She’s a great colleague and did a fabulous job coordinating our events and helping us with the set up and tear down.

We got permission to leave the trailer in the senior center parking lot, so we unhooked, and headed back to Springfield. We stopped at a Steak ‘n Shake for a quick lunch (a horseshoe, the Springfield specialty of Texas toast/hamburger/fries/cheese sauce that we shared the last time we were there, though this one was much smaller and we finished it), and then I put Lincoln Museum into Google maps.

It started raining on the way and by the time we found the museum, and found parking several blocks away, it was pouring. But we had umbrellas, and shoes, and we don’t melt, so we headed out. We followed signs and passed the old Springfield Courthouse, and stopped to read some historical signs and markers.

Inside the museum, we stowed our dripping umbrellas in the provided plastic bags, paid our entrance fee, got a map/brochure and headed in. Almost. Dave got called back by security. His umbrella was too long and “dangerous,” so he had to check it. Mine was small and compact and safe, so I was deemed not a threat. Finally, we made it inside. We asked a docent for her recommendations of what to see first. She explained the layout. There’s a “log cabin,” you enter and that has displays about Lincoln’s boyhood and life until he was elected to the White House. Then there’s a “White House,” with exhibits about the Civil War, his presidency, assassination, and family. There are also two movies that play every half hour. The movies use very 21st century theatrics and technology and are worth the price of admission. I won’t say any more because I don’t want to give anything away. But … be prepared to go to the Civil War and be transported.

The whole museum is fantastic! I can’t overstate it. It’s high tech without being cold. It’s low tech without being hokey. It makes clear that much of what we know about President Lincoln is colored by his martyrdom at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. That President Lincoln has become a saint to many, instead of a real man with foibles and faults.

In the exhibit that duplicates Lincoln’s body lying in state in Springfield, I didn’t take a picture of the whole display, but a text arrayed around the top began with, “Washington Our Father” (of our Country) and ended with “Lincoln Our Savior” (also of our Country). It’s very moving. There’s a clock with the hands stopped at 7:22, when he died, the morning after he was shot.

We spent several hours in the museum and feel like we saw most everything. Including a man with a long, pointy umbrella. We’re not sure why he got to bring his in … Anyway,  we then dashed across the street to the Lincoln Library. It’s mostly for researchers and academicians, but there is some artwork on the walls and portraits of recipients of the Lincoln Medal.

We walked back to the truck and plugged in Westwoods Lodge Pub & Grill, one of the recommendations of the Sandwich canine officer. He said they had elk and ‘gator and other game meats on the menu and lots of taxidermied animals as decor. Of course, that has “Dave” written all over it, so there was never any question where we were going for dinner.

It was everything we expected and more. Dave took a menu (styled as a newspaper) for a souvenir. We shared an appetizer of fish cakes, made from a non-native invasive Asian carp (their motto: If you can’t beat it, eat it). I had a normal salad, and Dave had deep fried clams and green beans and coleslaw. Everything was very good. He took lots of pictures, talked to the wait staff as well as other diners nearby. The horseshoe there is called the Yeti and is served in a tackle box.

We finally had to leave. Our next event was in Troy, Illinois, a little over an hour away, but we had to stop and get the trailer in Taylorville, making the whole trip closer to two hours. The rain was continuing and once we left Taylorville, it wasn’t too bad. We were on county roads for the first half hour or so, but after we got on the interstate, the rain poured and the winds started howling. It was not a fun hour into Troy. We were both exhausted by the time we got there, about 9 PM. We unloaded quickly and ran inside, but were still more wet than not. But we were there and safe. Which is really all that mattered.

Friday Oct. 11

Our hotel was in Troy but our event was in Collinsville, at a church and we didn’t have to leave Troy until 2, so after we ate breakfast, Dave went to the front desk to ask for a late check-out. I could hear the exchange. He barely got the words out, and the clerk said, “No, that’s not possible.” “Ummm … we’re … Platinum Members. That’s supposed to be one of our perks.” “Subject to availability. We don’t have the availability.” Case closed, end of discussion.

All right then. We went back to our room and took advantage of every minute until the noon check-out time. At noon, we moved to front lobby. I set up my computer and worked for another hour and a half. Dave read, wandered around, loaded our bags into the truck. People came and checked in. Early. Apparently there was availability for early check-ins but not late check-outs.

Finally at 2:00, we left the hotel and made our way to the church where our new Midwest contact, Tony, was waiting. We set up quickly and got ready. It was bitterly cold. I had on layers and a fake down vest under my warmest jacket and still froze. Tony is from Sioux Falls, SD and had left literal freezing temperatures, so he said he hadn’t even brought his cold weather coat. Show off.

We didn’t have a lot of people come through, but as usual, those who did were very impressed. Our last tour of the day was two couples. One of the women is a local mover and shaker who is interested in having us come back for a larger event in the future.

At the appointed time (not even a minute early, I think, although my brain and fingers were frozen, so I might be mistaken), we packed up and hit the road for Sparta, Illinois. It was about an hour away, maybe a bit more, mostly on county highways.

But what a difference from Troy! The desk clerk in Sparta was … effusive is not over the top. She was welcoming but not cloying. There are a few IHG hotels that stick in our heads. Sparta is one. I don’t remember the name of the gal who worked the front desk, but she was great.

We needed dinner, so I looked online for something walkable. A Chinese restaurant, Rice Fries, popped up. We asked the woman at the front desk about it. She pointed out the door and across the parking lot to a strip mall, checked online quickly (because she wasn’t sure if they’d still be open), and assured us we’d get an adequate meal there.

Well. Again. It was. Amazing. Chinese is not my favorite cuisine. And I like buffets even less. As we walked in, I saw the sign: Take all you can eat, but please, eat all you take. So I knew it was a buffet. I pointed out the sign to David, but we were already inside and more or less committed. So we allowed ourselves to be seated, then agreed to take a look at the buffet. If we didn’t like the looks, we’d leave.

It looked okay, so we stayed. Well. Again. And Again. I posted on Facebook that I’m not a Chinese food fan. I mean, I like it fine, but my preferred go-tos are Mexican or Italian. What can I say? I like cheese and fat. And those are available in abundance in both California-style Mexican and Italian. Not so much in Chinese. But the buffet looked fresh, and we were tired (a resounding recommendation, I know) so we stayed.

Good thing. As I said above. Ah. May. Zing. The best Chinese buffet I’ve ever had. And the best Chinese food I’ve had in a very, very long time. Maybe since we moved away from Pasadena and the original Panda Inn (birthplace of Panda Express). So Illinois blog readers!! Listen up! If you’re ever near Sparta, Illinois, please, please go eat at Rice Fries and support this restaurant and its chef. I don’t know who s/he is, but they are very good and deserve any love you can give them.

Saturday, Oct. 12

Our event is in the morning, at a Housing Authority Office. Like all the best local contacts, Tony has been there early, talking to people and figuring out where we need to be. He texts me about where to pull in. He talked to the CEO of the Housing Authority. It just so happens that her son is Chief of Police. So we have permission to park in the street (blocking the street). Yay!

We arrive in plenty of time, get set up, and are ready. A few Housing Authority people come through. Then a few nursing CEU students. Then some neighborhood kids arrive for the free water bottles Tony is giving out.

Overall, it’s a good day! The Housing Authority staff are very enthusiastic about having us. The local legislator arrived and spends some time. It’s warmer than yesterday in Collinsville, so that’s a plus. We can setup on the street, although people are having to walk over damp grass and track the grass into the trailer. I make a mental note to be sure and sweep really, really well before the next event. There’s going to be dried grass all through the trailer. 

Tony and I have a few minutes to chat. Because this is a family event, we talk about family. He says he has 100 first cousins. Yes. Not a typo. One hundred. First Cousins. He says his parents were 1 of 11 or 12 siblings. I ask the first thing that comes to my mind. “Were they Mormon? Or Catholic?” He chuckles. “Catholic. Irish Catholic.”

We chat some more. He received a Traeger smoker for Father’s Day in June. I asked about favorite things he’s smoked so far. (Meatballs!) Hmmm … [I haven’t talked about the PINK PIG yet, have I?? Or did I? In posts about the Iowa State Fair? Note to self: Look up Iowa State Fair posts and blog about the pink pig ASAP]

After we finished up at the Housing Authority, we headed to lunch at a restaurant Dave had looked up/researched earlier. He also asked a police officer who stopped by, about it. A BBQ place, of course. Not too far out of our way, for heading out of Illinois.

Yes. Southside Ribs. It lived up to its reputation. Down home. Good food. I knew

something was different right away. It didn’t take me long to notice one difference right away. There were monitors along the walls, but most of them were set to a rerun of Barnaby Jones, PI, a series from the 1980s. We shared the entree the restaurant is known for: it’s pork steak. We think it’s a cut from the shoulder. Regardless, it was tender and juicy and thoroughly delicious and we enjoyed every bite.

As we headed out of town, I turned on CoPilot and it promptly took us to a new opportunity to scrap off something (like an AC unit) from the top of the trailer. CoPilot: Strike 3. 

On the way, we passed the World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle. It took me a few minutes of navigating to get around the low bridge, but we did make it out of town and scurrying along county highways. We were done in Illinois, but not quite sure what was next …

Stay tuned for … the rest of the story …

 

 

 

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