Friday, August 18, 2006

Day 6: Chicago to Fairfield, Iowa

We got up early this morning and headed down along the Lake to check out my old stompming ground, Hyde Park. We circled around a little bit, and I saw hospital where I was born, the schools I would have attended if we had stayed in Chicago, etc. I know there are many naysayers that claim that I am not "from" Chicago, but I have new information: I did not live here for three months, like I thought. I lived here for a whole nine months.

We lived on the third floor of this corner apartment.

My bedroom was the one all the way on the left with the air-conditioner. Good memories. The apartment was long and narrow, a series of rooms along a hallway.

This was my favorite breakfast joint when I was a kid. Just kidding. My parents would eat here all the time; it is right across the street from the apartment. My mom and I had a pretty good breakfast there before heading out of town.

Today's drive was a big of a southern detour to visit some of my mom's friends and family across Iowa. The drive at first was pretty dry: Chicago suburbs giving way to terrible condominiums servicing those who are willing to exchange an hour plus commute for cheap housing. We got off the interstate in the little town of Princeton, Illinois and headed south on the Ronald Reagan Trail, which was much more pleasant. I feel like I'm finally making my way back into the real Midwest, although here it is very rolling. The battery on my iPod gave out somewhere in Illinois, so we tuned into some country radio for a while, which added to the Midwestern mood.

Flipping through the AAA guidebook, we discovered that Galesburg, Illinois was the birthplace of Carl Sandburg, so we decided to stop there and have a look at his birth house.

He was born in this cottage, which measures 20 feet by 22 feet. He moved out from here before he was too old.

He is buried here, behind the cottage. This garden is apparently based on a description that appears in his only novel. It was not built on Sandburg's behest, but when he saw he apparently liked it enough to request to be buried here. There are short quototations from his poetry on those little rocks in a circle; the quotes were a little too short to have any real effect, so that bit felt a little too cheesy for me. All of this isn't very informative on Sandburg himself, so here is a link to some of his poetry; I haven't read him a whole lot, so I don't have much more to say. I wanted to buy his book Prairie, since it seems applicable to my immediate future, but it wasn't for sale in the bookstore.

We stopped next in Burlington, Iowa, just over the Mississippi. We took another quick stop here and looked around a bit. It's a nice looking old town, and very hilly because it is right along the Mississippi.

This is Snake Alley. Ripley's Believe It Or Not! calls it "the crookedest street in the world." I'm not sure quite how that measures, but it is a very short, twisty street up a steep hill. You can drive down it still, but my mom and I chose to walk up it. Other than the fact that it is narrow, brick-paved, and twisty, it's not really that fascinating. But hey, this is Iowa. (Just kidding.)

The mighty Mississippi. Crossing the Mississippi is supposed to be a symbol of any trip out West, I suppose, but at this point it's fairly anticlimatic. We zipped right over it on this bridge, and I hardly would have seen it had we not stopped, gotten off the highway, and trekked down to the riverfront.

Burlington from atop one of it's hills. Notice the train tracks; we got stuck behind a train here, our third of the day.

From Burlington it was a short drive on to Fairfield. Briefly, the story of Fairfield (and I'm sure this is full of inaccuracies, since this is all second hand; Wikipedia might do a better job, so I will refer you to its entry on Fairfield, as well as others throughout): Fairfield was once the home of Parsons College, which was a national joke; it is where you went if you couldn't cut it for any other college in the country. Because of this poor reputation, the college eventually went belly-up. The campus was then bought up by the Maharshi Mahest Yogi, creator of Transcendental Meditation, a meditation technique which has grown into a larger movement. This school became the Maharishi University of Management. The people of Fairfield were pretty accepting of the Meditators' arrival, since it did a lot to develop the community; downtown Fairfield is pretty cosmopolitan for Iowa, I think--three Thai restaurants, three Indian restaurants, and lots of vegetarian places in a town of less than 15,000. A couple miles outside of the city a development was established called Vedic City. This is where my mom's cousin and her family lives; they are Meditators. Though it all sounds a bit esoteric, it is a really nice community; having spent a night in Vedic City, the only obvious difference from what we might call a "mainstream" community is the architecture, which is vaguely Eastern, and based around a certain system--although it is apparently adaptable to various styles of homes, as demonstrated by the houses around Fairfield. The spiritual differences that Meditators take on are pretty well woven into day-to-day existence. It's a very fascinating place.

Fairfield also sports a very nice crushed limestone trail, which served me well for a bike ride. I took a few pictures on my ride, which make Iowa look a lot like New England and the rest of the East Coast. I wish I had gotten some shots of the corn fields and cow pastures, because those were a bit more beautiful.

A reservoir in Fairfield.

A creek.

A house next to the trail. If you open it up larger, you might be able to get a sense of the architectural flavor that dominates outside of Fairfield, especially the raised bit in the center of the house.

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