As Godsmack once so eloquently said, “Never did I want to be here again and I don’t remember why I came.” It was Summer 2019.
I’m a sucker for strolling down Memory Lane and Decatur, Illinois is a treasure map.
I resisted the urge to turn down Foresyth Blacktop and test my memory of getting to Latham from the backroads – I doubt I could navigate it anymore. Was it Beardstown Road? Bearstown Road? Instead, I turned down the road I knew like the back of my hand.
I can’t come to Decatur without driving past the house.
I turned into the upper middle class neighborhood – by Decaturian standards – and stopped in front of it. It hadn’t changed an iota in all these years. This was his house, he who’s name I’ve successfully forgotten. So many things happened here: I met a best friend, first sip of alcohol and hangover, learned to shoot pool, an invalid pregnancy test. The basement had a false wall in it too, with a secret passage. But like me, he’s long gone. I managed to get myself lost in the neighborhood trying to get back to the main road, much like I used to do when I would jog these streets all those years ago.
Somethings never change, I suppose.
My next stop was Millikin University. It looked the same too. I tried to find his old apartment, but I couldn’t find it. I remember railroad tracks, but there were no buildings by it. Was it razed? Was my memory wrong? It was all a bit hazy. The old bars were right where I left them, seemingly untouched by time. The gas station by campus is where I stopped on my first roadtrip, twenty years previous, nostalgia filled the air. My windshield survey was enough: it was time for lunch.
I found a darling little bistro on Prairie Street and parked my car at the intersection of Main and Main – quite possibly the most Decaturian thing ever. I ordered French onion soup, a sandwich, and treated myself to a martini that was basically summertime in a glass. I slowly sipped the martini and ate every bite of lunch, a perfect end to my Decatur foray.
As I left the bistro, with plans to keep driving south, I noticed my lips had gone numb.
The eight mile run that morning had caught up with me, the only explanation for getting a buzz off a drink with a meal. I logged too many hours working in the Emergency Room to even think about getting in the car, so I walked a mile back to Millikin to sober up.
What else could one do on a hot summer day?
I walked down Main Street – I know what you’re thinking and I was fine – my only encounter was a gentleman who made it known he approved of my curves. I ignored him and kept going as if Jim Millikin was my great-grandfather.
I cooled off in the main building, Schilling Hall. I forgot a small theatre was here. I paced the hallway, looking at stills from student plays gone by. I missed my theatre days and suddenly had a longing for a matinee. I strode around the “quad” if it can even be called that and sat down next to my favorite Millikin guy: the bronze man on campus, a statue. He was still here, reading the same book.
I thought of my other favorite Millikin guy – the one who’s old apartment I couldn’t find – and if I still had his phone number, I would have sent him a picture of me sitting outside Schilling Hall. “Guess where I am.” But that contact had been deleted a long time ago. I sighed. I hoped life was treating him well, wherever he was.
With my liver downshifting into second gear and my parking meter running out, I made it back to the car, completely sober.
I sauntered through Fairview Park by the Pavilion until bugs got too buggy. A cop pulled me over as I was exiting, apparently I was going the wrong way. He spent five minutes yelling at me about it, but didn’t cite me. He didn’t notice my North Carolina plates or listen to the fact I had only been here with a native son years ago.
And with that, I drove straight to Amish country, too annoyed to stop for custard at Krekel’s.