#Illinois2018 – On Small-Town Madness

First, let me say that websites that mock the customers of Walmart always seem mean-spirited to me, and they give lie to the idea that there’s no such thing as a class system in America. Laughing at the “Walmart weirdos” is just middle-class people mocking the working-class and the poor.

That being said, anywhere a lot of people gather should be an opportunity for some first-class people-spotting. Is that hypocritical? I’m pretty sure it’s not. And I’m a fine judge of how reasonable my behavior is at all times.

Second, in a small town after 10pm, shopping in a store that sells mountains of cheap “goods” means you’re going to see some weird shit.

So, we were in Walmart in Litchfield, IL, after dining at the Ariston Cafe – which is a historic place, apparently, if not a great place to eat. Although the “brown gravy” – also known as “gravy” to we aficienados – was about as good as I’ve had in an American restaurant. The quality bar there, though, it must be said, is about as low as it can go. And yes, now I’m remembering I was supposed to be learning how to make gravy…it’s still on the to-do list. Leave me alone. I’ve got other things to do.

In The ‘Mart (as I’m sure no one calls it), the following conversation occurred behind us as we were looking for a fan and some booze cups (because we are #partypeople).

Mother: You can’t have that.

Child: Aww, why?

Mother: Because you said “butthead.”

Child: But, if I don’t have one, I’ll look like a dickhead.


Also, this was on sale:


Being human often means not only knowing your beliefs are stupid but also believing them to be perfectly rational at the same time. This is cognitive dissonance (which is not the same as hypocrisy…I think). And for me, here in the Heartland, my personal story of cognitive dissonance is wrapped up in the tale as old at time: Coke versus Pepsi.

To my mind – and I will brook no argument on this – Coke is a reasonable choice as a thirst quencher on a hot day (although caffeine-free, sugar-free Coke is an abomination worthy only of unclogging drains and poisoning infirm relatives with hefty inheritances to hand out). Pepsi, on the other hand, is a national disgrace and should be outlawed forthwith.

I know this will not be a popular opinion. I know having any kind of opinion on this topic will also show me in a bad light. And I know that these people are correct; Coke versus Pepsi is the “which reality star of the day do you prefer?” debate of the sugar-water world. Only, I know that I am right too, because this matters. In my mind.

And yes, it’s probably all to do with which one of the dyed-sugar-waters we are most exposed to as a child; it’s not a taste, it’s a habit. I know all of this. And, at the same time, I also know that Coke is so obviously better.

Unlike the guy standing in front of me at the line for breakfast. He gave his order, it was a big order, and then finished with “And a large Diet Pepsi”…and my brain just went


Angry, incredulous, and hugely irritated.


 I couldn’t have been more offended if he’d dropped his trousers to expose a rebel-flag thong.

“You didn’t say it, though, did you?” my wife asked me later, slightly anxiously, when I told her about my reaction.

“No,” I said. “But I should have done. I bet he didn’t have a good answer.”

Maybe this is small-town-America-madness. If so, it didn’t take me very long at all to succumb. Or maybe this is what travel is supposed to do: teach you some fundamental truths about yourself. And if your true self is someone who cares very much about things that don’t matter in any way whatsoever, then that’s good to know too, right?

I’ll be watching out for further signs as this week progresses.

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