Litchfield, IL is…hell, I don’t know. One thing that road trips have taught me is that it’s impossible to really know a place just by being a tourist for a few days. Sure, Hot Springs is awesome and we definitely should retire there, even though we spent only one night there…but that doesn’t mean I’m making an informed decision. Far from it.
The most we saw of Litchfield was when we drove around a little to try to erase the memory of a particularly road-trippy breakfast.
Gluten is the enemy for my wife – one bite can ruin her day, causing pain and misery until her body flushes out the poison. The general rise in interest in eating gluten-free has helped greatly as it’s made more and more restaurants willing to offer GF options – and this advance is worth all of the snide comedy that comes along with the phrase “gluten-free.” When traveling, we tend to play it safe and stick to the chain restaurants – they offer the most predictable, standardized menus. It does mean that going off-piste for something a little more “regional” and “authentic” can be a daring and willfully risky thing to do. Smaller places might not know if there’s gluten in the food – and sometimes that can be generally clueless as to what “gluten-free” even means. We’ve enquired about some menu item, and been assured, oh no, there’s no dairy or egg in the recipe. Once, a waiter explained how the sandwiches were white bread so were wheat-free. This is why we apply Roadtrip Rules and end up in a Chilie’s on the road.
But now that we were in Litchfield, we headed for a small-town America breakfast place and it did not go well. The food wasn’t bad…it was just a lot of calories, a lot of weight, with little pleasure to balance out the bad choices we’d just made. Eating comfort food is always a balance between the comfort I receive versus the physical and mental issues I’m passing along to my future self. And, on this occasion, the balancing act didn’t quite come off.
Feeling less than comforted, we couldn’t face going straight back to the hotel room, so we explored.
From this limited, biased, slightly indigestion-tinged viewpoint, Litchfield looks like a tiny, kind of rundown town with a huge Walmart and Route 66 passing right through. Correct me if I’m wrong.
OK, so it seems like a commission to write quirky American travel books is not in my future. Sure, give all that work to Bill Bryson.
You know imposter syndrome, where everyone feels like an imposter at some point in their work or home life? Well, sometimes it’s not a syndrome at all. Sometimes you are an imposter; like when you’re a liberal English urbanite wandering around an Illinois farmer supply store, looking at the merchandise and feeling as foreign as he’s ever felt.
It was a cross between a hardware store, a garden center, and a gun store…but aimed firmly at the farming demographic. I was the youngest person there, worker or shopper, and that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
I didn’t belong there, and I got out before everyone else saw it too.
The only things that really appealed were the rideable lawnmowers and mini-tractors that lined up outside the store. I’m a recent convert to the zen power of mowing, and nothing improves a new hobby like a really expensive toy. As we passed the mowers and tractors, my wife suddenly decided, “I think next year we should rent a place with a huge amount of lawn to mow. Then we can rent one of these huge things and you can spend as long as you want on your tractor, listening to music. Just you and Tom Waits, mowing down the grass.”
As long as she works out the logistics, I’m in. She is a wise and benevolent saint.
Later, we pick up some more members of the family at St. Louis airport, throw them into the back of the car, and force them to admire our Waze skillz and musical tastes before heading into downtown St. Louis for dinner.
The food is good; the views are amazing; the fact that someone else was paying for it is priceless. If you see what I mean.
Over dinner, we were regaled with tales of small-town life. The real effects of living in a town where everyone is in each other’s business and people get small-minded and bitter very quickly. Although much of the stories were funny – the insurance salesman who shouldn’t be driving and the teacher who didn’t like giving driving tests are personal favorites – underneath it is a larger story about how great it is to get out of a small town.
My dream in reverse.
Back to home base in Litchfield, now with partners-in-crime ensconced in the room next door, and we huddle for a drink and to plan for tomorrow’s adventures. My wife was back at her desk, creating magic for her work team back in Austin, while the rest of us came up with Abraham Lincoln party games (coconuts are heavily involved; that’s all I can say for legal reasons) and searched for eateries with at least one GF option. It wasn’t easy. After a night’s sleep, we headed for Springfield.
Springfield, IL, looks nothing like it does on The Simpsons, and this, I’m sure, is a disappointment for all of us. We all hid our disappointment well and made do with what we were given. Which, as it turns out, was a fascinating – if short – slice of history and pizza.
I knew nothing about Frank Lloyd Wright before going in to see the Dana House in Springfield (except that Simon and Garfunkel bade him a fond farewell). After spending an hour on the guided tour, I know hardly anything more. But this is because I’m old and retain memories like an antique bucket retains rain water. And recoding and taking photos were strictly forbidden. Which is why there’s a picture of the front door below and that’s all you get. I do know that the house was a wonder of stairs and landings and galleries and stained glass. And that I’d like to live in it. Especially as it would probably be significantly cheaper to buy than most of the houses for sale in our Austin neighborhood.
I now can never be content living in a house that doesn’t have its own bowling alley or multiple designated spaces for a small orchestra.
Springfield loves itself some Abraham Lincoln and we got to do a little of the sights there, but a large pizza and a sleepy wife had us heading back to the comfort of home base for a mid-afternoon siesta.
Farewell, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Lincoln’s wife, adjusting his coat in perpetuity.