Tuesday, October 23, 2007


On Saturday I decided to do a road trip to Galena, in the northwest corner of the state, about 6 miles east of the Mississippi River. I'd heard many good things about it, and figured it was as good a place as any to explore.

The original plan was to leave by 7am and get there by 10. Of course, since I was the only one going, I ended up leaving by 8:30.Then of course there was the Dunkn' Donuts top for a bagel and coffee, and a stop to put gas in my car....

The drive out was beautiful. It was a high-70s October day, and as I headed west the terrain got hilly. I passed lots of farms and farm stands (one barn had tiles on the roof spelling out TO GOD BE THE GLORY). Traffic was easy, and it was a nice ride. As I got to more hills covered in trees with their changing leaves, I was reminded of New Hampshire. There were horses and cows and rows of dry corn, some being harvested by big red combines.

I had not gotten batteries for my camera, so there are no photos.

Galena is a bit of an in-state tourist destination, known for B&Bs and antique shops, so I wasn't surprised when I hit a line of traffic coming into the town. I parked in the municipal parking lot and stood in line at the sole parking kiosk to by my parking ticket, which you display in the window of your car.

I was about tenth in line; the couple at the ticket machine was having some trouble getting it to take their cash or credit card.

"It must be a woman," the man called out. "It's oversensitive."

To the credit of the people in line, they had the decency to observe an awkward silence at this remark.

Silence not being my strong point, I called out, "that's funny, because the last few guys I've dated have been a bunch of overemotional pussies."

I refrained from calling out that maybe the problem was that, like a man, he wasn't reading the directions. They finally figured it out and the day moved on.

Galena used to be a mining town (the name comes from its main ore), famous for having once been the home of president Ulysses S. Grant. It's been preserved, with its original buildings kept as they were, now home to shops and apartments. The main street is a brick-building thoroughfare of all kinds of touristy shops selling everything from antiques to ice cream. There were a ton of tourists, so the going was slow.

After walking Main Street I headed for the hills and the more residential section, to look around and get off the beaten path. Always on the lookout for a getaway, I'd done a real-estate search on properties in Galena. While they are very affordable by Chicago standards, I couldn't support one as a getaway AND pay rent in Chicago. There had been one miner's cottage that was very cheap, bu the agent explained it was falling down, in a hugely-expensive-to-repair way that would have made its cost greater than a comparable house with no issues.

I'd told that agent I'd stop by her office, and I did. She'd move to Galena from San Francisco in 1978 and loved it; she raved about its close-knit community and how safe it was. After being given some thumbnail sheets on properties and a map so I could wander and look at will, I headed back out and looked at some places, including the falling-down place (which truly was), and a perfectly adorable miner's cottage that had been restored, was gorgeous, and sat on a double lot. I climbed up and down a lot of steep hills, which was refreshing after the flatness of Chicago, although I admit that the prospect of biking Galena did not appeal.

Back in town, I stood in a long line for an ice cream, and realized that while it may be pretty, I couldn't see myself living in Galena, even as a getaway. It would be a fun place to visit with some friends or on a date, but it was too touristy for me to feel any sense of belonging. When I think of a getaway I think quiet, meditative, cozy, not a store full of loud people clamoring for the next sampling of caramel popcorn.

Back on the road, I went through some very cute small towns, but none called to me. I did stop for a coffee at the Kuppa Java in a roadside strip mall, where a high-school girl served me my mocha. I wondered what her life was like, and whether she wanted to get away.

Traffic came to a halt on 90 near O'Hare. This is the big problem with leaving town: coming back, you hit horrible traffic (I've been told that Chicago's traffic issues surpass those of Los Angeles. I can believe it). After sitting in a toll line for an age and vowing to get an ipass, I made it home, and it felt good.

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