Dorothy Parker famously said, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

Well, I would not consider myself a whore in many or any senses of the word, but forcing oneself to think about things seems to be harder and harder these days. (Media saturation does it all for us.) And thinking about ‘culture’ and simply being a part of it are two different things (although not necessarily mutually exclusive). Much of the challenge of this blog for me had been trying to figure out what the context of certain places found locally are and relate them back not only into travel writing in general, but also how these places help shape, manifest, and define the area of Champaign-Urbana; to not simply be a passive entity existing within shops, stores, or other public places of the people, but by participating with them by coming on this blog and trying to come up with something to describe for others.

Much of what I have written is based simply on my initial perceptions of places that I had never been to before. This is often what much of what travel writing seems to focus on: taking a place that is somewhat foreign to the writer and then having that writer relate whatever they choose to focus on for the sake of a certain piece that is meant to have a beginning, middle, and end. But I don’t really feel that this blog represents that approach to travel writing. How do I even begin to fathom a beginning, and especially an end to these two towns? I haven’t even made it to half the places I had originally intended for the sake of this project. All I have here is a middle. And that’s really what travel for everyone is on a day to day basis. All my blog poses to do is to investigate these representations of middle America, and since I live in Champaign-Urbana for the time being, this is my only test subject. But that’s OK, because this place has culture, for whores, college students, and families alike. To bring not only this rambling speech to a conclusion, but also this project, I’d like to focus on one of my favorite, what I’d deem classic, spaces of Champaign-Urbana: Downtown Champaign.

No, the downtown area is not a new place for me. I’ve been frequenting the general facilities down there since I was a freshman. Pekara Bakery and Jim Gould’s were two restaurants that I would make my mom take me to when she’d pay me a much needed visit, or as I would then think of it, rescue mission from the gastronomically illusive dining hall foods back in those infamous dormy days of mine. After my sophomore year I had a summer job at the locally quasi-famous Jane Addams Bookstore. I’d walk there from my apartment in Urbana, eat lunch at Aroma cafe (good quesadillas!) and then head on in to the used (what was once feminist) bookstore to spend four hours organizing, shelving, and straightening one quadrillion books in a space that from the outside looks like it can only possibly house several hundred. Used retro clothing store Dandelion’s, is right around the corner. Want funky sunglasses? How about some cowboy boots? Oh, you want a ’70s era disco gown? Dandelion’s is notorious in these parts for being the go-to for such eclectic and thrifty merchandise. Right next door is a jewelry shop that always has a real live cat lounging in the window.

In a word, Downtown Champaign is charming. It is all in a very confined amount of space, so here is list off the top of my head of the local establishments that are what seem to me to be some of the favorite local hot spots for people in and around the campus community:

The Blind Pig (bar)
Mike and Molly’s (bar)
Jane Addams (previously mentioned bookstore)
Pekara Bakery (previously mentioned bakery, cafe, and eatery)
Jupiter’s (bar and pizza joint)
Boardman’s (independent movie theater, home of the annual festivals such as Ebertfest, the French movie festival, the Korean movie festival, and other such multicultural/independent cinema events)
Aroma Cafe (previously mentioned cafe)
The Furniture Lounge (used, original, snazzy/artistic furniture, jewelry, home decorations, and clothes)
Cafe Kopi (cafe and eatery)

This is all within a couple of blocks radius, but it’s really not all there is to find. There’s actually much more, but the places I listed are simply the ones that I hear about or actually attend to the most in my life. It’s a hot spot for what I would deem culture in the locality of Champaign-Urbana, and it’s a fun place to be. People can study, party, or hang out all in one day, in one general spot. Each store or restaurant has its own independent feel and agenda for its consumers. The workers are almost always friendly and vibrant in my experiences with them, and their stores contain equally dynamic personalities in and of themselves. From cluttered to chic, or relaxing to rockin’, this small space shouts loudly and proudly of what I think ‘culture’ should try to do: enhancing diversity. And Downtown does.

As I was riding the train back from my hometown of Carbondale to Champaign this past Thanksgiving weekend, I knew that I would arrive at the terminal, be picked up by my friend Melissa, and that we would head over together to Cafe Kopi to drink some much needed coffee and chatting that for whatever reason seems harder and harder to get into the schedule of a soon-to-be graduate of the University of Illinois. As I was getting off the train one of my earrings popped out  and skidded into a fenced-off snow dune. It was irretrievable, but this is not a completely sad story, since the consumer possibilities for jewelry in the downtown area are so vast and great I figured within a matter of 20 minutes time browsing the downtown shops I’d have a replacement in no time. Which is exactly what happened after we finished our coffee.

To avoid making this post seem more about a glorified earring adventure mission, I should say that my point in reiterating it is the fact that the stores, as far as their differences and various attitudes towards fashion, foods, literature, or music goes, fosters a collective community of culture that all mixes together to give one temporal representation of local consumerism in an area that is close and diverse within that closeness. It’s true that the stores almost seem to blend in to one another (and in fact, they do, in that Cafe Kopi conjoins with a clothing/apparel shop located next door) but this does not detract from each place’s originality. The area of Downtown is not like a mall, where chain stores are all linked together in one convenient spot; it is a unique place that is as intricate as a tide pool. Local culture and life are thriving. 

For this project, that is all. But for the future, this is still just the middle part of my journeys, and I hope to keep writing for the sake of exploration and the thoughtful experiences I feel I gain by keeping a blog. Overall, here’s to thinking, ‘hors’ and students of all subjects alike!

Thanks,

Jenny

I have to say that one of my new favorite places on Earth within a 3-5 mile radius of my apartment is the new Champaign Public Library. 

2173508010_d1d04e5620

The immediate attraction of this community strong-hold is its architectural charm. Located on the western side of Green Street, its locale is in a prime place to flaunt and seduce passer-bys from all walks of life. Modern, two-stories, almost a block long, open, strategically lighted at night, and walls alternating white cement and giant glass windows give the structure both power and warmth. From the street, gazing in wonder at this simultaneously grandiose and friendly fortress, reading almost seems cool.

Upon entering the large glass automatic sliding doors one finds themselves in the library’s giant foyer, the ceiling looming two stories above and sunlight flooding in through the glass walls that reach all the way to the roof. To the left is the library (separated from the foyer by, again, another glass wall with names of faithful donors printed in white on the face of the glass) and to the right bathrooms, a cafe (Latte Da!), and large and airy room with several tables and chairs.

entrance-thumb-400x277

The library’s obvious investment in all this glass might seem a little strange or newfangled, but as a college student (and one that is particularly picky about her study lighting, where it’s seriously a matter of sheer joy to be studying or perceptible signs of depression based entirely on the quality of the light in the room ) lighting might just be everything. Today I learned that the library’s glass structure (in the form of giant windows and skylights) is based on environmentally-friendly sustainable energy techniques to save money and resources, taking the spotlight off that media-whore, gas, and  transforming it into the heavenly glow of…wait for it…the sun!  Want more factoids? The library is made of bamboo (yes, that’s right local pandas, bamboo) to reduce stress on the rain forests, and strategically placed columns to block unwanted heat from the sun during the summer.

The ‘people atmosphere’ is also enjoyable. Everytime I walk in the place is bustling like a hive of busy bees: children are playing/learning/running around (though never in that slap-worthy ‘out-of-hands’ kind of way) and students are quietly studying, old guys are reading the newspapers, and women are reading books or researching intensely.  Somehow these two dichotomous (kids vs. adults) environs do not impede on one another, and, to be honest, shit seems to be getting done, in an intellectualizing, productive, and overall good-for-your-health sort of wealth kind of way…

…the concept of ‘good’ is highly subjective and controversial in so  many instances these days…but I have serious reason to believe that the Champaign Public Library might possibly be the designated spot for Jesus’ Second Coming and the first step in a direction towards that much anticipated Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. It’s just so wholesome, so providing, so giving…I can’t help but think of the place as some sort of messianic breath of fresh air…

Maybe I digress. But continue to ‘check it out’ (heh, get it?…):

As far as facilities go, the library boasts a plentiful selection of both DVD’s, VHS’s, and CD’s on it’s first floor (a dirt cheap alternative for poor college students, ‘cuz it’s faa-ree!). Also dominating the first floor is the ‘Children’s Section’, which is, as I realized touring its premises, designed to make children feel as worthy and seriously taken as the rest of the library’s adult sections. The computers are the same recent model hp’s as in the other areas in the library, filled with intellectually stimulating, colorful games and search engines. There is a fierce selection of picture books of all genres, cassettes featuring foreign language teaching tools, and children-sized tables, chairs, and sofa chairs that model those in adult sections. There is even a children’s help desk, pint-sized for their convenience. Additional children’s sections include a baby play area (bean bags and magnetic building toys abounding!), and a YA room, filled with neon flashy designs, hang-out nooks and crannies, and a significant selection of YA literature.

Upstairs contains all the traditional ‘adult’ books, magazines, newspapers, and archives that one could hope to find. Ranging from Science Fiction to Literary Theory/Criticism, adults are hooked up satisfactorily. Dozens of computers, a helpful service desk, and a large array of free pamphlets on community advancements, library volunteer opportunities, the library’s monthly event calendar, and the library’s ‘Bookmobile Schedule’ (yes, that’s right, if you can’t make it to the library, the library can come to YOU) are just some of the notable community-binding circulations that you can find.

Even checking out books is a neat and fun activity. Just insert your card into a slot at the check-out desk, place your items on the digital weight sensory thingy, and have the computer read off your items of interest. Got late fee’s? That’s OK, just use your credit card at your convenience to pay them off. It’s all self-done, fast, easy, and fun. (Who else wanted to be a librarian when they were little just because those classy middle-aged women got to swipe your books and movies over that little magnetizer thing? OK, so maybe it is different, but it’s still stimulating!)

And that’s just it. This library is so based around the desires and satisfaction of its recipients that it just seems…good. Contend with me on that term if you will, but all the same, the doors to the public library are always open and waiting for you. A building that’s a friend? I never thought it would happen, but just go and study to see how smoothly it goes. Light never felt so right.

So I guess one thing that I’ve learned this weekend is the difference between a pet store and a puppy store. I suppose that I should add further that I’ve been acquainted with the further difference between a puppy store and a puppy bakery.

This weekend I made one of the far and few inbetween dreaded perennial trips to the mall. Malls are just some of the worst areas on affluent Earth. I could rampage on a diatribe concerning the overweight, overly perfumed, exuberantly overdressed, and overall god-awful crapiness describing generally the   hostile crowds that frequent this damned invention of capitalistic greedy human ingenuity, but I won’t. Because I’m plugging puppies! Yaaaaay!  

A classmate of mine recommended that I check out “the puppy store,” as he so delicately termed it. “Gotta check it out,” he said. “It’s just ALL PUPPIES. And you go and you pet the puppies…and it’s just ALL PUPPIES, that’s all it is. Nothing else. My friends love it. They were like, ‘Gotta’ go to the PUPPY STORE’! You just go and pet the puppies! It’s ridiculous!” How could I resist? He made it sound like a plantation of puppies. *Dies of heart attack due to soft, cuddly daydreams and an overload of cuteness to the imagination.*

Upon finding the store after searching the mall for what seemed like ages (because let’s be honest, how many puppy stores can their be on the planet?) Dima and I realized that we had walked past it many times, but had not noticed its hole-in-the-wall appearance, heightened by the fact that when there are ONE MILLION people all walking in the same exact path as you, good luck finding anything moderately sized. But there it was, its outside store-front painted a blithe pink tinge with, you guessed it, a puppy in the front window.

Walking inside, as is what happened at Dallas & Co., I was once again astonished at how crowded the store was. But this shop is little!, there’s no room for all these people, whereas at Dallas & Co., there’s plenty of room for throngs and throngs. Here…with the puppies, it only takes a handful before you have a mob. 

Walking into the store, I immediately became the mall-frequenting bastard that I hate and put my hand over the bars guarding the puppy to pet it. Afterall, from what my class friend had told me, all people do here is pet puppies. Then Dima chastised me and pointed to the very large sign taped to the outside of the bars: 

“Please do not pet or feed the puppies! Thanks for your cooperation!”

Goddammit. After retrieving my arm I turned around, only to be accosted by the puppy bakery. Yes, after re-reading the store-sign once we emerged I was able to note that the smaller print stated: “Puppy Bakery” (I am genuinely sorry that I cannot name the store properly by not remembering the full name…Puppy *Something*, no doubt.) In the encasements next to the front counter there were Puppy Ice Cream Cones, Puppy Cannolis, Puppy Cookies, Puppy Cakes, Puppy Fudge, and the insanity goes on like a trippy Willy Wonka puppy chow room. My mouth began to water at the puppy bounty.

Located at the back of the store are where the rest of the real live puppies are…all five of them. This is where the real crowd begins.There are two rooms to the side of the puppy cages, best termed here as ‘petting rooms’, for I can think of no other better description. Inside one room were two college-aged girls with strange nets around their shoes for what I’m guessing serves as a sanitation precaution, petting a (literally) barking mad teeny weeny terrier of some sort. As Dima, myself, and two little kids swarmed around the poor girls’ shining moment with their potential puppy pet, the terrier snarled and quivered and did a whole array of adorable threatening maneuvers, no doubt terrified by its surroundings. 

The worst part was listening to the other customers drool over the little pooches in their transparent glass prisons:

“That one’s mine.”

“No…no. That one’s mine.”

And then:

“I’m that one

“That one’s me!”

WTF? Since when did college-aged students start appropriating the identities of puppies

Turning around and heading out to exit the store, I took glimpses of the puppy merch: Puppy shampoo (which smells like Herbal Essence) and pet carriers; my favorite being a bright pink dog carrier which read in bold black letters on one side “BITCH”. I was a little distressed by its obvious male counterpart, a black carrier which simply read “STUD”. Not quite as funny OR (thought) provoking. Hrm. (Note: stud is what you say when referring to a male horse…I still feel like there is a flaw in the logistical balance of these two carriers put side by side…)

Finally, after making my closing observations, I took a deep breath in, and headed back out to the stream of chubby smelly humans. I bet by now that you can tell that I have hard time identifying with mall-goers. But I now have a new mental trick to get me through the tough times:

1314784574_5237b0ef96

This one’s me

<3,

Jenny

Just a quick note on two events that I experienced within the last week:

1. I paid my first visit to Green Street’s Urban Outfitters. You can call me uncultured if you want, but I don’t really think I’ve ever known what this store was or that it existed as a chain until it showed up on the U of I drinking route’s front lawn. Smack in the middle of Green Street, surrounded by bars and nasty pizza shops, the store is an anomaly and sticks out like a kitschy sore thumb. But it seems like a nice addition, in theory, since having a clothing store for college students within walking distance from campus is a benefit.  

To backtrack a tiny bit, the day of my Urban Outfitter’s excursion was also the day of my boyfriend’s parents Champaign-Urbana visit,  coupled with a completely coincidental day-long visit from my dad and our close family friend from Australia, Mike Westerman. It was a day of first-times all around, since Dima’s family has never, not once, met mine. (More than once I made the joke to Dima before they arrived that his dad and dad’s mate would be meeting my dad and his mate…yes, I actually made sure that Dima heard by multiple repeatings, rife with finger pokes, eye winks, and haha, get it’s?, MATE!) All of the visiting went well, and smoothly (isn’t it always kind of awkward trying to decide what to DO with family, let alone its version in the plural?), but I suggested to my dad that he could take me to buy a sweater at Urban Outfitters (I had earlier mentioned my dearth of sweaters for the upcoming winter). So me, Mike Westerman, and my dad all footed it to Green Street. (Mind you: Mike Westerman and my dad are colleagues as zoologist professors. Mike looks like a Santa Claus type, whereas I’ve always sort of thought that my dad was a balding David Tomlinson, Mr. Banks type, except in jeans and a t-shirt he’s had since college.)

Why should I have NOT expected the immediate blast of thumping pop music, crowds of sorority chicks, and intrusive door dudes? The dichotomy threw me for a total loop and in my embarrassment for having subjected Mike Westerman and my dad to THIS, I looked at a couple of price tags, any price tags, all in a fluster and shouted, “$145!”…I repeated this several times with other items and then ran to the back of the store, stranding the two zoologists in the hubbub of tiny trendy Asian girls. I figured if I could just find the sales rack (which in and of itself is pretty hilarious, with a sign that says “$39.99 and down”, where every single item is $39.99) try something on in the middle of the store over my shirt and get them the hell out. It took me one test-round of this theory of trying on a button-up sweater in the middle of the store to realize it would not work; I would not be able to take care of them if I operated this way. So I found another rack with some crap on it also for $39.99, grabbed something appealing without trying it on at all, and found my dad. We bought that shit and were out of there in about 20 minutes or less.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually do like the store and its products (besides the fact that they are effing expensive and solicit in general only to a certain demographic of people either A.) supplied by their parents for clothing funds or B.) completely OK with spending money on something out of their “price-range” [I might be this B. group, maybe most on campus are].) In any case, I’ll probably go back, completely alone, and do my shopping in peace.

2. The second event that happened to me was that I finally paid my first ever visit to Boltini. My friend Melissa was having a birthday get-together Wednesday night, and instead of doing the heaps of homework that always piles up by a Wednesday night after work, I found a large menu of martini’s and a quaint selection of bathroom mints. My impression of Boltini is a mixed review. The atmosphere, when initially arriving there for the first time ever, was, “This place is weird.” Like so many other businesses that house themselves in the buildings of downtown Champaign, the ceiling is HIGH and decorated with designs in the plaster. But the lights were either turned to extremely dim, or off altogether, and the dining areas were lit primarily by candlelight and funky, cheetah-pattern gourd-shaped lanterns. The places to sit consist of half-circle booths, or lounge couches. I had a hard time making out if and when any of my friends sitting around the couch area our group opted for were making eye contact with me. The other clientele was also somewhat strange. My favorite group was a booth squeezed tight with exclusively fat people making out, some wearing devil ear headbands. The other observation to make is that the women’s bathroom has hanging baskets of mints and tampons (and hair spray, but I’ve seen this at other restaurants). I think I like this, but, then again, when I returned from the bathroom with mints in hand, I distributed them with the best tag-line I could think of: “Here’s some nasty toilet mints for you.” The sanitary issues are somewhat distressing. But no biggie, inebriated people don’t care. In fact, they were angry that I didn’t bring back any toilet sandwiches. “Where’s my salad, Jenny, jeeze?” 

And in closing, I will say that the Zen-tini, which I bought for Melissa’s birthday drink, was quite good. And from what I heard from the others there, so are the warm nuts.

ttfn,

Jenny

To combat the extraordinary length of my previous post I will now counter-balance it with a much skinnier one; the word skinny being of particular importance here. To anyone that cares, I have just returned from my first trip to the newly opened establishment Fat Sandwich. I must say, I feel the effects succinctly.

I can’t help but admit that I am somewhat surprised. To anyone that reads The Buzz regularly, Fat Sandwich recently made the front cover of this weekly campus pop culture newspaper. If you did know this, you may be familiar with the basic intentions of the restaurant. From what I can gather, the establishment is basically an excuse to make easy money off of trashed, late-night cravers of things like doughnuts, eggs, pizza rolls, mac & cheese bites, chicken strips, fried mushrooms, &c. With names like Fat Milf, Fat Mess, Fat WalkofShame, and Fat Blunt, it’s hard to miss the point.

The menu offers up these restaurant-created suggestions, OR lets the adventurous food connoisseur build their own. Here’s a link to their menu, cuz I’m not going to get into making a piecemeal list for you…it wouldn’t do it justice, in addition to prodigiously expanding this post’s word length:

http://fatsandwichcompany.com/Champaign/index.html

I decided to take advantage of the build your own concept and created this gem:

Mac & Cheese Bites, Mini Corn Dogs, Fried Mushrooms, and marinara sauce

Yeah, wtf? But it was too intriguing to NOT be tempted by the long list of forbidden food items all placed with the warm embrace of an amoroso roll. Should I have played it safe, and opted for the Fat Sorostitute (buffalo chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, and ranch)? Either way, the concept is basically to take a handful of store-bought, frozen appetizers, heat them up, and stuff them into a sandwich roll or wrap for convenience sake. As a token of generosity, every sandwich gets topped off with a handful of fries. Thanks.

I have to say that, having just eaten this monster, with the aftereffects still mulling and sloshing around in my stomach, about to work their way further into my gastrointestinal tract, and seep slowly into my bloodstream, that I definitely feel gross and unsatisfied. Nothing about what I ate provided me with the least bit of satiety. Granted, I was not inebriated during consumption (and therefore not really the mini corn dogs’ target audience), but shouldn’t I at least feel satisfied in SOME way? It is too weird to feel the strange and sad paradox of cramming a bunch of shit into one’s stomach, only to feel a little more empty on the inside. In the end, I’ll offer this one bit of advise for curious consumers: you will feel much better about yourself if you have no memory of putting a Fat Sandwich away. Don’t go sober. Or if you do, maybe you should just order what you dream of putting within the boundaries of a sandwich…separately. Separate. But equal.  

Love,

Jenny

Yes, that’s right. DALLAS.

Ok, so not Dallas, TX…not even Dallas, IL (there in fact is a Dallas City, IL, but that is neither here nor there). Rather, Dallas & Co. Costumes and Magic, located on 101 E. University Ave. Champaign, IL:

http://www.dallasandco.com/

This store…is awesome. By just checking out the website alone, if you are not intrigued by their promises of “Escape Illusions” or “the best selection of luau, Hawaiian, and tropical themed party goods, accessories, costumes, and leis in the area,” I just don’t know how you could become intrigued by the mysteries of local gag-goods ever. Ever! ALSO, check this out:

http://www.dallasandco.com/shop/dallas_007.htm

For those of us that currently reside in the Champaign-Urbana locality we have a hard-core, bonafide, accredited magician in our midst! Holy crap!, did anyone know this?

           To explain my initial intrigue for this place I must backtrack to a couple weeks ago when I was watching the local news. A segment was dedicated to reporting on the haunted house that the store is putting on for the Halloween season. The segment bespoke of some of the new features added to this year’s production, like the “Insane Lady.” I was hooked. By the next Saturday I had gathered my boyfriend and my two friends Ryan and Kate to investigate alongside myself. 

To begin, the back parking lot of the store has a life-sized T-Rex emerging from its back wall. Great. Also, there was a hand-written sign on the door notifying all customers of the FREE haunted house. Awesome.  Past these two paradoxically threatening and innocuous/welcoming barriers, the inside of the store is somewhat of an anomaly. I was shocked at how many people were mulling around. It seems that the store, at least during this particular holiday season, is a regular family event; it was CROWDED. And the website is right; there are more leis than I think the good  people of Champaign can keep up with.

The store’s design is rather variegated, in that it is sort of subdivided into various rooms with specific themes in mind. Since the season calls for Halloween decorations, costumes, and the like, the two biggest rooms in the store have been decorated and supplied in this vein. I don’t know if it is like this all year-round, or if Dallas & Co. switch it up as it becomes timely to do so for other holidays, but the store is big and was crammed with Halloween paraphernalia. (In addition to the mountainous amount of themed crap this store has, they also have pretty sweet sunglasses and tricks/pranks sections, respectively.)

As perhaps one might expect at this time of year, Dallas & Co. is filled with lots of creepy, weird, and disturbing items. (Walking into the store, a life-size wax witch is politely offering her guests a tray of finger pizza.) But it’s not like mall chain-stores of Spencer’s Gifts, where on the side walls are suggestive costumes and horrific masks and in the middle a card rack filled with obese naked people, nether parts hidden by their monstrous rolls of fat. No, like I said, this place is a family affair. Kids and teenagers were walking around freely and comfortably with their parents, seemingly hanging out and having a jolly time together.

Although my mission was to visit the haunted house, as you can image, my boyfriend and I were temporarily sidetracked by the aforementioned amazing array of sunglasses. As we tried on polka-dotted cat eye, drag-queen butterfly, and aviary pilot shades Ryan and Kate wandered around the store…in sort of a bored, apathetic way. I could not completely understand this, because the store is so full that from the ceiling hang not simply plastic masks of Jason or decaying monsters, though they are there, but mascot heads of various TV characters or big fuzzy animals. There are house/lawn decorations of ghost-filled mirrors or portraits and giant evil rats with open wounds, which large worms squiggle out of. There is a plethora of “traditional” cheap costumes of rabbis, gladiators, 300 characters, princesses, and priests. There is a wide selection of plastic weapons ranging from scythes to pistols. It’s a place that completely accepts the crazy and crazed desires of the disgusting, disturbing, and fucking weird concepts of Halloween.

And finally: the haunted house. There was a line, but it became very long. The way the house operated was that one small group at a time could walk through. Through stereo speakers were ominous booms, creaking doors, and the voices of squawking skeletons, which hung on either side of a door, through which a short portly lady dressed in black and dark blue garments would hand each group a beaded necklace and allow them to enter into the foyer of the house. 

For our turn, the portly lady opened the door, asked us how many were in our party, and handed each of us our beaded necklaces. She told us to wait in the foyer until a mannequin head located above us came to life and started speaking. The inside of the house was perfectly creepy. In fact, I don’t know how any little kids could walk through with or without an adult. I was already worried if I would even enjoy the experience. But there is an innate fascination, maybe in all of us, that I experience when it comes to disturbing and unsettling themes of “scary” places. Although, I will say that haunted houses such as this one where customers must foot it, is quite different from the experience of, say, Disney World’s Haunted House ride, where all you have to do is sit in a car and be electronically wheeled around. There, you are completely vulnerable, like you are when you’re simply walking, little old you, by yourself, when all of a sudden a giant booming ax-murderer pops out at you when you reach the finish line, just when you finally think you made it after all…which is of course what happened.

As goofy and pathetic as this may sound, I don’t think I would be able to give a very accurate account of the house itself, seeing as how I spent the entire two minutes peeking through half-shut eyes, or just closing them entirely. Like I said, while fascinated with the horrific, I’m too much of a scaredicat to face it head on, real or fake.

 So what makes this a great place for my local travel mission? Several factors are easy to identify, such as hearing about the haunted house through the local news, or the fact that the store is located within a five-minute drive from my apartment. But also, the idea of Dallas & Co.’s namesake being derived directly from the people that own and work there today. In addition, the accepted-ness of the surrounding community members, young and old, and their willingness to participate actively in the playfulness of the store. Whether there was a need for a local costume store before Dallas & Co. showed up is almost beside the point; Champaign-Urbana folks seem to have embraced the concept of the store, and families (and college students) want to be there. Local experiences of this nature are great, because you can escape, in some sense of the word, from work or school-based reality without ever leaving town.

Jenny

 

 

            Travel.

            Although this is an activity that I have an innate respect, passion, and curiosity for, I have of late (and by late, I mean for the past…six or so years) experienced very few of these types of adventures, or potential ones. With family I have traveled from Madison, Wisconsin, the place of my birth, to Washington D.C., to Carbondale, Illinois, to Melbourne, Australia, and back to Carbondale, Illinois. Family trips have consisted of the prescribed Christmas vacations to grandparents’ houses in either Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Canada; and of course, the ever-popular family/honeymooning getaway to the islands of Hawaii for a couple weeks when I was 12, angry, spoiled, and embarrassed by my family’s presence. Yes. Typical.

            It seems that at some point when I started high school, my family hit a period of apathetic and lackadaisical dark ages, and we did…nothing. It’s true that my self-proclaimed excessive (hint: EXPENSIVE) passion for horseback riding might have made traveling on the whole somewhat uneconomical while I was in high school for the whole family; especially for my dad, a rather penurious guy for the majority of my childhood (dude used to take a calculator to the grocery store so that my family would not go over the $60 weekly budget of groceries which he had planned out…for a family of 4. Note: this is only $15 more than the average budget a person on food stamps gets to use per week).  But I think that he is slowly rousing from his penny-pinching slumber, and I hope that I can say that a revolution for himself, my mom, and younger brother is on the horizon.

            As for myself, that horizon is already beginning to light up. This is my senior year of college; I will graduate this year in May; and my one definitive plan for my future:

            GET OUT

…of the United States. Maybe I don’t mean this specifically about the United States (I don’t feel like I am running away from the responsibilities after graduation that would loom over me if I stayed in the U.S.), but maybe I mean mostly Illinois. Illinois has become…illinoying. I’ve been cooped up within these state lines for too long. I feel like by simply existing here for so long with nary a breath of un-illinoid air my asphyxiated lungs need something new, fresh, springy, different. Which is why (of course) I plan on sustaining myself in the benevolent land of South Korea, surviving the wilds of the currently very popular trend of Teaching English as a Second Language. Or as a Foreign Language. Or as a Second Dialect. Or as whatever mnemonic breakdown you subscribe to (there are over nine of them listed on wikipedia). But, as I have found out, you can do this in the United States, especially in places like Native American reservations or large cities where immigration is constantly in flux. But what I also take into consideration is that, since I have a surplus of “American” experiences, and whether they are Illinois-biased or not, and if I am going to quit what I am used to for at least a year, I might as well quit cold turkey. (Plus, South Korean programs tend to pay for one’s rent and round-trip ticket if certain conditions apply to you. It’s an adventure…and an economical one at that. Thanks, Dad!) My mentality at this point is that I have somehow found myself with a dirge of adventures on my hands; I am ready to flex my glob-trotting muscles by traversing as far away as possible. 

But maybe I am speaking too rashly. 

Taken altogether, my foreseen adventures are a long way off, and I know virtually nothing about South Korea proper. And while I plan on reading up on the history and current situation of this place which I have such a paltry knowledge of, it seems that this is a story for another day, many months from now.

First of all, I don’t even know how to properly experience travel with the intent of learning something from it. When I traveled to Hawaii I was much younger and angsty; when in Australia I was either five or nine (when we lived there for a summer), even younger than I was in Hawaii, and a thread of a narrative would be contrived and piecemeal; trips to grandparents’ houses simply seem uneventful and all tend to blend together in their innocuous and homey grasp on my mind.

Second of all, what is really so bad, boring, hackneyed, or insipid about where I am at right now?, right here in the dead-center of Illinois? Could it just be that I have displaced my ennui for a certain life-style on the state as a whole? Have I been rather unfair this whole time in my contempt for Illinois?

Maybe.

In fact, yes, I think I have. Which is why I need to give this place another, maybe even last, chance. So I will travel here and now. I’ll travel my current whereabouts, learn from them, write about them, reflect upon them, and teach myself how to not take a place as a whole for granted. Not only will I learn about central Illinois places and spaces, but hopefully I will also learn about the entire meaning of travel writing and narratives from a personal point of view BEFORE I set off into the wilds of the world. These experiences now have great potential to benefit my whole life as a writer, traveler, and human being by simply, or not so simply, raising my consciousness to a new level of awareness.

So where do I possibly go from here?