Featured Post


If you're a student looking for syllabi, click the "Academic Home Page" link on your right, and start there.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Back from the Prairie

Yes, once again it's been a while. I really should stop making promises regarding when I'm going to blog, and how much, and about what, since I so rarely keep any of them. Perhaps it's a sign of constant hopefulness on my part. Or maybe I just, on some level, like feeling guilty.

Among other distractions, the last couple of weeks included a trip to Macomb, Illinois, and my first visit to the campus of Western Illinois University. We drove there to look for a place to live, primarily, but also to check our the surroundings. All we did, really, was head pretty much straight north along the Mississippi River, so while some of the natural environment changed as left the Delta and entered the Upper Mississippi--more hills, fewer floodplains--the most visible differences were man-made: huge fields of corn rather than cotton, groves of trees instead of rice fields. Once you're north of the Ohio River Valley and St. Louis, you really do enter America's prairie land--though, being on the east side of the Mississippi, Macomb is more "on the edge of the prairie," to borrow Garrison Keillor's Minnesotan phrase. I wish I could say that Macomb reminded us of Lake Wobegone, but that wasn't the case; Melissa said afterwards that she was hoping to discover a quaint little compact Midwestern farming town, but there probably aren't any such left (that is, assuming such things ever existed in the first place). Instead, we found pretty much what our years in Arkansas have taught us to expect from small towns today: a fairly random collection of neighborhoods, more or less bounded by a few big box stores--Wal-Mart and its kin--along the nearest couple of state highways. In truth, Macomb actually has much more of a old-fashioned "downtown" than most such towns; we visited the farmer's market, which was small but well-stocked, and had to acknowledge that there was actually a surprising amount of space available for pedestrian traffic and commerce. Also, thanks to WIU, Macomb also has something of a bus system, which is a huge step up from Jonesboro (where a few dedicated folks have been trying in vain to make some sort of public transportation option available for years). So Macomb has a decent amount of civic appeal, don't get me wrong; I think we'll enjoy living there, especially given the nice neighborhood we rented a house in. But we'll hardly be escaping the usual fate of small, rural cities in America, those that aren't nearly large enough to pull in metropolitan amenities, but are large enough to warrant the appearance of the lowest common denominator type of retail giants. We've dealt with it before, and we'll deal with it again. (And hopefully we'll have more options for fresh produce and foodstuffs there than we've had around here.)

On the other hand, one thing we will definitely miss about Jonesboro is the absence of taverns and bars. Craighead is a dry county, and for all the complaining that prompts (such as regards its impact on restaurant availability, a complaint Melissa and I are hardly innocent of), I'm convinced there's an important good achieved through such a policy. Besides removing a major source of urban blight, it also means for a university town that a good chunk of the student population doesn't collectively relocate to a bunch of ugly, beer-drenched dives from about Thursday night through early Sunday morning--a result apparently not unknown to Macomb, though WIU clearly isn't that much of a party school. Ah well. Before we move, I'll have to write a tribute to the benefits of living in a Baptist town.

We'll be leaving town again next week, and we'll be gone through July 4th, after which I'll be back to teach my last class at ASU, the politics and the movies one I've been talking about. Actually, I think I may end up writing about some of our class discussions here (oops, there's another promise to be broken). In the meantime, there's a lot of news and ideas I've been meaning to blog about, so I hereby declare this catch-up week. Let's see how I do.

No comments: