The Land of Lincoln

Last weekend Auntie Lisa and I flew to St. Louis, rented a Prius, and drove to Springfield, IL, the state capitol and the home of Abraham Lincoln. That is all we knew about the city, but our dear friend Suzanne was getting married and four of our other friends from Notre Dame were also attending, so we embraced the journey. Because blogging has made me a much more curious traveler, I seized the opportunity to take photos of our surroundings when we discovered that we had a few hours to kill before our first scheduled appearance.

I knew we were near Lincoln land because when I mentioned my trip on the internet, the internets said “Why are you in the Land of Lincoln?” It is probably something I should have known before. Or maybe I knew it at some point but that is one of those pieces of knowledge that was lost during one of my two childbirthing experiences.

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And so it was that our innocent little stroll around the neighborhood of our hotel, the Capitol District, was filled with interesting historical buildings and facts. And opportunities to faux-hump the statue of a dead president.  For a Friday afternoon in a state capitol, there were surprisingly few cars on the street or people walking the sidewalks.

Auntie Lisa is in a long recovery from surgery on her foot, but she gamely traipsed around town with me despite my asking her, every five seconds, “Are you okay? Do you need to sit? Do you want to head back?” It was the side trip into the Bizarro Record Store/Pawn Shop that did her in. I saw the sign for Recycled Records/Springfield Furniture and that odd juxtaposition of merchandise was so intriguing I just had to poke my head in. Thirty minutes later we came back out, heads full of odd new facts and lungs full of dust.

Brothers Gary and Mike Kessler starting selling records out of their parents’ furniture store in the 1980’s.  The building, which is not maintained – the walls are crumbling and the windows are cloudy, adding to the weird charm of it all – has been in the family for generations.  Now, the brothers have 40,000 records, a bajillion CD’s, a wall of neon beer signs, and various and sundry things. They do their best business around Christmas time and in February when they have their annual megasale.  Their staff is a collection of interesting characters, and they’re not open on Sundays.  If you are looking for something – anything – chances are they have it.  I planned to revisit during our stay but the opportunity never came up.  I know I could have spent hours in there.

Most of our activity over our weekend in Springfield centered on hanging out with friends and attending wedding festivities.  During our “down time,” with lack of anything better to do, we ate and drank.  I like to refer to it as our culinary tour of the Capitol District.

We started our Saturday morning with breakfast at Cafe Moxo, where the eggs for sandwiches are hacked out of a slab o’ scrambled eggs that awaits the morning rush, and the bread is trucked in daily from St. Louis.  The space was once a bank, and our little party of Notre Dame grads (and one very English spouse who was preoccupied by some other wedding) and 2 little girls made quite an echoey racket as we lingered over coffee inside a former vault.

We all sauntered back to the hotel, the Springfield Hilton, after breakfast and discussed what to do next.  After about 15 minutes of general befuddlement, we walked back down the street to J.P. Kelly’s, where the Bloody Marys are $5.00 on Saturday morning and are made to order after you check off exactly what you want in them on a special order form.  (Not a fan of tomato juice or horseradish or pretty much anything that goes into a Bloody Mary except the “sidecar” of beer, I opted for a stiff morning gin and tonic.  Or three.)

We had learned of this fantasticness from Kelly Wickham and her sidekick, Russell, who double as Mocha Momma and The Cuban on the internet.  Again with the internet.  At Abraham Lincoln’s house I checked in on Facebook, and Kelly nearly did a spit-take with delight.  “You’re in my town!” she replied in a comment, which I received on my phone.  And thus, another internet-borne IRL friendship was made.  She and Russell crashed Suzanne’s pre-wedding party at the Hilton (at my invitation, of course) and met all of my friends and fit right in.

I love travel in the digital age.  There are friends everywhere.  It was Kelly and Russell who had helped build up a repeat clientele for J.P. Kelly’s by collecting people from Twitter and staging a weekly meetup there.  After our Bloody Mary’s, well, it was time for lunch.  Another great recommendation from our new local friends led us to Cafe Brio, which was noisy and bright and served up a delicious tangy pomegranate margarita.  On the rocks, with sugar.

Breakfast the next morning was the buffet at the Hilton followed by brunch at Suzanne’s house.  Then one more visit with Kelly and Russell and Kelly’s spitfire mother and her delightful sons, which included dinner made by Russell, a tour, and lots of sweet German wine.  Their house is out in a new-ish subdivision in farm country, so we were able to see a bit more of the general Springfield area.  It’s a small town, man.  Compared to Los Angeles, which greeted us the next morning with oppressive early May heat and exhaust from a billion cars, Springfield felt green and sparse and well-hydrated.

Stay tuned for wedding photos, a review of the Prius, and the story of how we found out about Osama Bin Laden’s capture.


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