Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Illinoisans have two pastimes--building towns right next to each other, even though there's plenty of room to spread out* and experiencing odd things. We'll get to the odd things in a second, but let's dwell on the twin cities phenomenon. Now, anyone who's ever looked at a road atlas can easily discern that the farther east you go in the Midwest, the more accommodating and easy to get along with people are. Ohio? Who doesn't get along with people from Ohio? Indiana? Yes, it's disconcerting that their Amish people drive trucks** and that everyone knows either Axl Rose or John Mellencamp or both, but, over all, okay place. Then you have Illinois, where we get a little grouchier--downstate*** hates Chicago, Chicago hates downstate; everyone who didn't go to the University of Illinois hates the University of Illinois and the University of Illinois hates them; coal miners hate the farmers; people of northern Italian descent egg the houses of people of southern Italian descent; people whose families came over from Germany 250 years ago still refuse to speak English; and so on, but as long as everyone stays in their designated area, there's very little overt hostility. Then there's Iowa, where it seems nice and peaceful, but only because there's no one in the state who's still talking to each other. So, the twin town thing in Illinois is peculiar, but I suspect it's born out of our inherent grouchy tolerance. You can almost imagine how it happened in, say, Bloomington/Normal. The settlers were like "We need a name that will let people know that this is a happening place. Things are busting out--this is a booming town. No, that implies industry. We don't want industry. Let's call it a blooming town. Yes, that's it. Bloomington." "Industry? You jackasses don't want any industry? What kind of freaks don't want any jobs in their town? Fine. You do things your way. We'll be here on our side of this creek in 'Normal people's town.' You can call it Normal for short." And the towns, separated more by ideology than inches, soon grow intertwined until you can't tell where one town starts and the other stops. But, if you're going to basically tolerate the people you don't like who live near you--thus ruling out a great deal of ethnic and religious violence****--you end up with not a whole lot to do. Which is, I suppose, how some lucky towns end up with some strange thing, like the Watseka Wonder or the Mad Gasser of Mattoon. Or they end up implementing really strange community improvement ideas. Take for instance, Aledo, Illinois (home of Suzy Bogguss). Even though the town has, maybe, 3,000 people in it, they decided to rename all of the streets to make it easier for folks to find their way around town. Only two streets were left with actual street names--College Avenue and Main Street. All the other streets were given numbers--with streets being east-west roads and avenues being north-south roads. You're still not seeing the lunacy, I know, but bear with me. Each street or avenue was numbered, starting with 2nd, from either College or Main. So, there was a North 2nd Street and a South 2nd Street and a West 2nd Avenue and an East 2nd Avenue. Which means that, in a town small enough you can walk across it and still meet friends for lunch up at the Garden Family Restaurant, you can stand at the corner of 2nd and 2nd at four different places in town. Really, you almost must see it to believe it. *See Urbana/Champaign, Bloomington/Normal, LaSalle/Peru, Rock Island/Davenport/Moline/East Moline/Bettendorf/Milan (better known as the Quad Cities. Yes, everyone knows there are six cities. Don't be petulant.), etc. **It's a little known fact that most traffic accidents in rural Indiana are caused by Illinois drivers going "What the fuck? Is that an Amish dude driving that truck behind me?" and turning around to take a look and ending up in a culvert. ***"Downstate" constituting anything south of I-80 or west of Aurora, thus leading to the peculiarness of Galena somehow being downstate of Chicago. ****Though it'd surely be something to watch the Lutherans and the Methodists take on those young upstart Assemblies of God.