Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Joy of Illinois

    I flagged down a farmer driving a tractor today. Which I did not think I could do. In fact, I knew I wouldn't. "I'm not going to be waylaying farmers in fields," I said, back at the office.
     But now I was 200 miles south of the office. And I had just spent a very pleasant hour with a soybean farmer—fourth generation—and was feeling in the zone. This second farmer, on a big green John Deere, had waved to me as I inched past on the narrow, single lane road. I waved back, then continued on. But that immediately struck me as timidity. So at the next intersection, a T, I did a three-point turn and headed back and we talked.
     This is such an unfathomably great job, the newspaper, and I'm going to so miss it when it finally dissolves. With half the New York Daily News being fired Monday, and the softening fuzziness of 13 years, I thought I'd tell the story of when the Daily News fired me. But it was another time, and having driven 250 miles—more or less, I was so happy to get out of the car I didn't check the odometer—that I'll save that for another day. Maybe Saturday.
     My boss told me to head down 55 and do what I spent today doing, then get myself to Granite City tomorrow, which should be interesting. To be honest, I'm a little ... sickened? afraid? intrigued? ... to clap eyes on the living form of the president. All these words and pictures over the past few years, thousands and thousands, it'll almost be a shock to see he's real. I can't say I'm looking forward to it. Being in the White House press bubble sucked enough when Obama was president—a surreal, degrading experience. What will this be like? No need to premeditate it. Just go and find out.
    Then again, I wasn't looking forward to hunting for farmers either, and that turned out fine.
    I'm in Litchfield now, which I explained to the Holiday Inn Express clerk was Samuel Johnson's birthplace in England.
     "The great dictionary writer," I elaborated and, to her and the Holiday Inn chain's, considerable credit, she arranged her face into an expression of happiness, as if, yes, she knew. Heck, maybe she did. Maybe they teach it in schools here. I doubt it; but I don't want to underestimate the place either. The truth is, I don't know. 
    Who knows, maybe Litchfield, Illinois has a Samuel Johnson Festival every Sept. 18, to mark his birth in 1709 in Lichfield, England—whoops, no "t," my mistake, and here I am putting on airs. A shame the clerk didn't reply, "We spell it with a 't'—wouldn't you love to live in that world? I would.
     No, no festival. A Dr. Phillip Johnson, Ob-Gyn. Which is not the same.
    It's still a pretty nice world, at least in Illinois on a July day, with the corn high and the soybeans dark green and the farmers plentiful and chatty. Anyway, I should head over to the Huddle House and grab some dinner. I imagine they close pretty early. Big day tomorrow.


  1. Gotta love cornbelt hotel clerks. We were in Independence, MO. a few weeks ago and checked into a Quality Inn.
    Clerk: You here for the game?
    Me: What game is that?
    Clerk: Kansas City Royals.
    Me: No, we're going to the Harry Truman Museum.
    Clerk: Oh. I've lived here all my life and I've never been there. I should get over there some day.
    Me: Uh....

    Two days later, we're checking out with a different clerk.
    Clerk: What's your next stop?
    Me: Abilene, KS.
    Clerk: You must be going to the Greyhound museum.
    Me: Uh... no, we're going to the Eisenhower museum.
    Clerk: Oh... Isn't there a greyhound museum?
    We did notice a greyhound museum, but I couldn't tell you whether it exists to immortalize dogs or busses.

    1. I googled it. The Greyhound Hall of Fame is in Abilene, the Greyhound Bus Museum is in Hibbing Minnesota, where the company started.

  2. Litchfield has one fun thing about it. The Honda motorcycle dealer down the street from your hotel does a customer appreciation weekend around Mother's Day each year. Was actually a fun thing to look forward to each spring.

  3. Guess those farmers didn't have much to say.

    1. Not at all. In fact, they were quite interesting. But I don't have a column on Thursdays. And it can't run Friday because I'll be writing about Trump's speech in Granite City. So Monday then. Which is good, since that gives me more time to polish it, necessary since it coming so late, pretty well after every other publication has already given the farmers their say, I'll have to gild it in a veneer of art so it doesn't just seem to be showing up after the party's over. That might happen anyway, but it's out of my control. I don't run the place; I just work there, and we have to fit in lots of stuff from lots of other people.

    2. Glad to hear that we'll get the farmers' points of view. I wouldn't be surprised if Neil met some fellow audiobook lovers ensconced in the corn and soy fields.


    3. I'm much more interested to hear what the farmers are thinking. We already know that Trump won't have any cogent thoughts to convey.

    4. Sorry for the attitude, it's just that I was expecting an interesting farmers tale. I try not to complain about slow moving farm vehicles or inconvenient rainy days, as our very lives depend on both. Hotel clerks do have interesting stories to tell. At a Scottsdale Rodeway Inn 30+years ago a man of no distinction checked in and disappeared soon after. The manager, after several days with a lockout device on the door achieving no response, entered the room. Odd electronic and wires and pieces were strewn around so she called the police. They figured someone had been building detonators so the bomb squad came out with all the tools and cleared out the room. Several days later the police stopped by to tell us that the bomb guy had been arrested in San Diego, which explained his absence. The impending Papal visit to Phoenix might have been the explanation for his activities. I'm not sure if they ever determine the Pope was his target.

  4. On the 4th of July I drove to Montgomery Alabama to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, more commonly called the Lynching Memorial. I checked into a motel in Prattville, a town just outside of Montgomery. The desk clerk was chatty, and filled me in on how much she loved living there and how safe it was. "We never lock our doors here" she told me in her beautiful southern accent. " Not even our car doors. Why just last night my husband left his Smith and Wesson layin' on the seat of his pickup truck and nobody took it."

    1. perhaps because everyone in town already had one.

  5. Trump will undoubtedly do that obnoxious thing of confining reporters to a pen and inviting the mouthbreathing knuckle-draggers to jeer at and threaten them. What a guy.

  6. Mr.S. has my sympathy and condolences. Seeing and hearing these monsters in the flesh is even worse than seeing them on the screen. Same garbage spewing from their pie-holes, but you're actually seeing a live human being who's breathing the same air in the same space, and it's an unsettling and disturbing experience.

    I witnessed a 1968 George Wallace tirade at the old International Amphitheater, a few days before he lost to Nixon, and narrowly escaped an ass-kicking in the chaos and near-rioting that ensued. Missed Reagan's visit to Wrigley in '88, for an on-air schmooze with Harry Caray, but one of my scalper buddies managed to get within spitting distance of his limo.

    Question: Is His Orangeness, the wannabe-NFL-owner, even aware that baseball exists?

  7. I have never ventured further south than Peoria in the great state of Illinois. Don't remember why I ended up there, but do recall an interesting office plaque that read "Justice of the peace. Marriages consummated."


  8. MSNBC is better than CNN. Yes, there may be hope but Bernie has to stop yelling, as you said.


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