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Excerpts of Illinois Travel Diary
State 31 - ILLINOIS 01 OCT 99 - 08 OCT 99

 

The past and repast

We tour the Old State Capitol today. What a blast! The building is preserved as it would have been in Lincoln's day and costumed actors play the parts of real-life people who would have worked at the Capitol or visited it regularly in the year 1850. These actors are locked in time and are not supposed to know of anything that occurred after the year 1850. According to them, women don't vote; there are no phones; slavery still exists; and local lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, is not yet President. It's fun trying to trip them up and make them say stuff that is current. We meet an 1850's railroad lobbyist, a bonneted woman planning a charity, and a clerk in the Clerk's office. They all talk to us as though it was the year 1850. The clerk even interviews Ken and offers him a job for $300 a year. Being here is like living in a doll house, or being Alice in Wonderland. It's such a treat. And quite an elegant affair. Afterwards, Ken and I cross the street to tour Lincoln's old law office, another building preserved as it would have been when Abe practiced law here. The tour guide here was less than enthused. Really, it seemed like it was quite a chore for him to tell us about each room. And, he seemed irritated whenever someone asked him a question. What a difference between two Lincoln sites. Now it's time for lunch. Ruby is parked next to a restaurant called Coney Island with a blinking neon light that beckons us inside for some meaty junk food. The place is like a flashback to the 1950s . . . neon signs, swivel stools at the counter, formica tables, wooden booths, Tiffany lamps, and diners with cigarettes in one hand, a fork in the other. We grab a table and notice the clerk from the Old Capitol entering the restaurant in full costume. We say hello as he takes a seat behind us. It occurs to me to ask him to join us, but I really hate to intrude on people, so I rein in the idea. I mean, the poor guy must be sick of talking to people all morning; finally he gets a break for lunch , and what? he runs into --tourists! -- the very thing he's trying to escape from. So I refrain. Ken goes up to the counter to place our orders, and alone again, I think to myself, "I really should ask him to join us. He looks like he'd like company." But I quickly dismiss the thought. "Ah! Leave the poor guy alone. He needs a rest from the likes of me." A minute later he comes to the table and asks a chit-chat type of question, so I figure if he wants to ignore us, he wouldn't stop by the table, so I offer him a seat. "Mr. Cheers" is his name. Ken returns to the table and we all have lunch together. It's positively delightful to have company at our table. (We have sooooo many meals with just the two of us.) Mr. Cheers has an undergraduate degree in history. "I've loved history from a very early age," he admits. "I didn't just study history. I lived it through my father. He was born in 1888. You see, he had me very late in life, and told me of history, firsthand, by telling me about his life. He homesteaded. He served in the first World War -- but only for 15 minutes. Was drafted. Boarded a plane. Got off the plane and the war was over. Turned around and came home." Mr. Cheers has been doing this acting stint at the Old Capitol for 20 years. I ask him if it's hard to keep switching back and forth from the 19th to the 20th century, because I know a guy who used to be married to a woman who "lived" in the 17th century every day at Plimoth Plantation and this guy said it was "bizarre" living with her. But Mr. Cheers tells me he has no problem slipping in and out of centuries. I dunno . . .he's a bit to gentlemanly for today's times, so I think he retains some of his old-fashioned manners. Treats me too much like a lady. (And I love every minute of it.) In addition to playing this role at the Old State Capitol, he's also part of the French army for reenactments of the French & Indian War. So this guy is really steeped in the past. His telling of the French perspective in the War and the way the French colonized the area, versus the English, is fascinating. Seems the French had a better relationship with the American Indians because the Indians knew the French weren't planning on staying. Make the trade, make some money and make your way back home. "Merci, mon ami. Au revoir." I make a note to explore this further sometime, maybe find a Stephen Ambrose-type book on this somewhere.

Eggs

At the state museum today they have a wall display of bird's eggs and nests. It's neat to see all the different eggs from turkeys, quail, robins, ostriches, and others. Some were as big as softballs, some were smaller than a pinky-fingernail in nests as small as a button. Made me wonder how come we only eat chicken eggs?

In good company

Well, I have another lazy person to add to my ongoing list of "Lazy People Who Became Successful Anyway." I've been keeping a list along the way to make me feel better about my own laziness. My first comfort was back in Arkansas when I read that book on the Beatles and learned that John Lennon was dubbed, "The Laziest Man in London." (Yet look what he accomplished.) Then there was the book in Texas where I read that Sam Houston would sleep until one o'clock in the afternoon, but you couldn't talk to him until two o'clock because he was incoherent from the heavy drinking the night before. He only worked four hours a day. (And look what he accomplished.) Then, in Virginia City, I read that Mark Twain's fellow reporters said he was the laziest man they ever met. Twain himself admitted he never liked to work, he'd rather "superintend." And now, in Springfield I find the following quote from Abraham Lincoln, "I never did like to work, and I don't deny it. I'd rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh--anything but work." So maybe there's more to lazy people than meets the eye.

Laundry lounging

This campground has a lot of nice things going for it. One of the best is the "fainting couch" in the Ladies Room. This fake-leather couch with a built-in pillow, like the kind in a 1950's psychiatrist's office, is just wonderful. It sits by the adjoining door of the laundry room, which is open 24 hours. Tonight at 10PM I decide to do laundry, hoping I can have the place to myself. I load the wash and head for the fainting couch until I hear the washer shut off. Then I load the dryer and head back to the couch reading a Modern Maturity magazine that someone had left and learn how 51-year old Cheryl Tiegs stays young by marrying her Yoga instructor, and how 55+ Gregory Hines stays fit by drinking 100 ounces of water a day. Then I hear the dryer shut down and I'm finished with the most pleasant laundromat experience I ever had. (Fainting couches. . . I love 'em.)

Shear madness

Six months of cutting my own hair and no major mishaps . . . until today. I rely on that book I bought back in Texas, the six-dollar book with cartoon drawings showing how to cut six different hairstyles. At first I started out carefully and timidly. Six weeks later I got more creative, and each successive Haircut Day thereafter I got more confident and daring. But today . . . Whoa! . . . Today I'm a scissor-clenched madwoman. I realize, now, the problem with a woman cutting her own hair is that sometimes Haircut Day arrives the day before her period. A dangerous situation. Raging hormones hideously distort the reflection in the mirror, as though looking through a warped Fun House mirror. Oh, that face! That hair! Ugh! How can I make repairs . . . can't change the face; must change the hair. Reach for the scissors. Chop. Chop. Chop. No, not enough. Chop. Chop. Chop. Oops! -- Now lopsided. Clip. Snip. Clip. Now too thick on top, like a dome. Get the thinning shears and razor. Slice, slice, slice. Omigod. I'm Liza Minelli. Drop the scissors and stare at the results in the mirror. Better quit now before I become Bill the Cat.

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