[UPDATED: Friend of the program R.J. O’Connell recorded a narration of the essay here!]
There is almost nothing to see in southern Illinois. Interstates cross in Marion. Or is it Mt. Vernon? It makes very little difference as a practical matter unless one is traveling to either Marion or Mt. Vernon, which, unless someone is a convicted felon, is unlikely.
But beyond these crossroad towns, downstate Illinois is vast and empty. Once the land rises out of the Ohio River valley, it doesn’t even offer the courtesy of an occasional interesting hill. It is farms. And it is farm roads and it is farm people in a blanket of barren but beautiful farm land that seems far away from anything.
This isn’t to pick on downstate Illinois, by any means. Much of Missouri is like this, too: empty and flat, space bifurcated by Interstates and the occasional blessed town — sometimes even of size, but usually just wide spots where the gas station attendants make cracks about a band mistakenly thanking the good people of Washington for coming out when the gig was actually in Warrenton.
The same story is repeated, sometimes in extremes, across Conference III. Empty and cold in Minnesota and Manitoba. Empty and dry in Texas. And nothing but corn and the curve of the Earth clear from Kansas City to Denver.
And in southern Middle Tennessee, the farther from Nashville, the “-villes” turn to “-burgs,” the greens get greener in the summer and the browns get browner in fall and in the winter, it’s all grey, clear to Birmingham, where it’s grey all year.
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