Friday, July 30, 2004
In 2002, a bully that harassed the town of Toulon, Illinois, for 30 years finally lost his cool. He shot a rookie sheriff who came to his house to serve an arrest warrant, then jumped into the sheriff’s car and circled the town, looking for grudges to settle. He shot a husband and wife at close range in their home. Then he drove to the home of another neighbor, only to find no one there. After a western-style gunfight with the police, he was finally taken into captivity and charged with three murders.
Robert Kurson, a writer from Chicago Magazine, wrote a feature about Thompson that I ran across in the collection Best American Crime Writing for 2003. His article “The Bully of Toulon” delves into the “biology” of Toulon. He says, “The town exists as a living, unified being; no part moves without implication for the other parts, no person living without affecting other lives.” What’s fascinating about the article is that it tries to figure out why Toulon tolerated Thompson for so long. Beyond rural life in this small town, the article provides insight into the mystique of the Midwestern way of life.
Thompson held deep, simmering grudges for years, ignited by the slightest provocation. Once someone got on Thompson’s bad side, he extended the grudge to the person’s family, coworkers, and friends. He’d stalk his victims in an old pick up truck, glaring from out the window. Toulon residents tolerated being followed by Thompson, getting cut off at intersections by his beat up truck, and having Thompson circle their property as he shouted threats. Thompson was a problem this town ignored for decades.
What’s interesting was how some of the good folk of Toulon talked about Thompson after the fact. They remembered his mother as “good in ways.” They remembered Thompson as a man who would come through if you needed anything. If you treated him fair, “he’d treat you fair back.” Mostly, Thompson was a member of the community. Someone who’d never lived more than 30 miles away from town. Someone who’s roots sunk deep into Toulon’s history.
In his article, Kurson compares Toulon to a rural town in Missouri that faced a similar situation. The town of Skidmore put up with another bully who feuded and stalked town members. Tired of the abuse, this town took action. A large group of town folk surrounded the guy’s truck and shot him. Someone in the crowd pulled the trigger, but no one’s talking. Without a witness to come forward, the case remains open.
One underlying fact points to the different responses to similar situations in Skidmore and Toulon. In an interview Kurson gave to This American Life on 11-11-2003 episode, Kurson reveals that the Skidmore bully had only lived there for five years. This , I believe, explains the gulf between Skidmore and Toulon’s response more than anything else. In Skidmore, the bully was an outsider. The town felt no remorse for taking direct action to put this guy out of action. In Toulon, the bully was an insider. He’s claim to Toulon was more tangible than the protection orders the local police refused to enforce. He was innately bound to the town, and the town to him. The problem was Toulon could not shun one of its own.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
This moment, I'm just stepped back indoors from my evening walk. During the past four months, I've been doing a Moon Walk. Folks from my workplace and from other employers around town are logging their miles each day, and our totals are added together. The goal is to cumulatively walk the distance to the moon and back, and so far I've logged almost 500 miles.
Wearing a pedometer each day, I've discovered some patterns to my walking. Some days, I can accumulate 18,000 steps without noticing the distance. Other days, I barely make 5,000 steps all day long. Those are the couch potato days, the days where I hunker down in my office for eight hours at work and then spend the evening eating popcorn in front of the TV. Not my most glorious moments.
The trick is to get the feet moving throughout the day. My favorite way to rack up steps is to take the long way around. The college where I work was built in the 70s, and the entire building encircles a courtyard, making a loop that is about a third of a mile around. Need to run some files up to my boss? I'll make a pass around the courtyard before heading upstairs. Feel the urge to refill the water glass? I'll do a lap around the entire building before stopping at the drinking fountain. If I keep my feet moving, I can add up 10,000 steps before I leave the office at the end of the day.
When I'm on the ball, I can do a good mile-long walk before work, a half-hour walk at lunch, and then a solid walk after work around the neighborhood. Those are the good days. Some days, my lazy bones don't want to expend the effort. Today, I was running late and missed the morning walk, then things got rushed around the office, and the lunch walk became out of the question. By the time I got home, there were barely 4,000 steps on my pedometer. Now, after an hour walk, I have a respectable 13,000 logged for the day.
There are walks, and then there are good walks. I consider a good walk one where I strap on my athletic shoes and break a sweat tackling the hill up the street. What I like best about going on a good walk is the perspective factor. When the anxiety level gets ratcheted up, a brisk walk can melt the worry lines away. After a few healthy strides, I sometimes realize I've been holding my breath--like I've been afraid to let got or something. This evening when I started my walk, I was in a lousy mood. Cranky coworkers, crazy delays, a long list of items on my "To Do" list, and too many interruptions to get any of them done for the day. But after a good walk, I could care less.
I think I've earned my TV time for the night.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
It's perfect gardening weather, but I am so not in the mood. These days, all the gardening centers have slashed the prices on their remaining stock of plants. Discounts galore, and I should be pulling on my garden golashes to do some planting so that the babies will have a chance to put down roots before the crisp weather moves in. It's just that now that the green flush of spring has passed into the distance, I'm over my gardening infatuation. Perhaps that fledging love I felt in spring, that urge to dig in the dirt, perhaps it was just a crush and not true romance...
While we were on vacation, my fledgling spring plantings were overtaken by the most vigorous batch of weeds I've ever seen. Before we left, I'd weeded the plantings clean. In just two weeks, some of the weeds had grown two feet high. It's like alien life sprung from the earth fully formed. The suckers are amazingly healthy. The weeds make my fledgling perennial bed look lush and overflowing with emerald life. If i didn't know the weeds would soon choke out the intended plants, I'd let 'em go for a while, just to fill things in a bit.
Instead of doing any weeding tonight, I put on my walking shoes for a stroll around the neighborhood. Down the road a bit, I caught the refrain of an old-time country song. The woman's voice crooning over the airwaves sounded a little someone from the Carter Family "Cole Miner's Blues" era. Following the tune, I discovered one of my neighbors has a jukebox in his garage. There it was, a glittering retro speciman, right between the lawn mower and the garbage bin. Somehow, with it's chrome detailing and the curves of a Cadillac, the contraption look right at home next to a station wagon. In the front yard, my neighborhor watered his daisies to music that made me want to pull weeds while wearing a pair of cowboy boots. I waved, and he gave me a nod in time with the music. Just about then, the record changed to a big band rendition of the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
Now that's the tool every gardener needs--a jukebox.
Monday, July 26, 2004
Live Long and Prosper
Late at night on our way home from vacation, we drove the last few miles down a country road. After spending hours on four-lane highways, turning off onto the country road felt like entering a foreign country. We were traveling at a slower speed than we had on the freeway, but at the rate the darkened farm houses and rows of soybeans flew past us, I could have sworn we were moving much faster.
The road stretched out straight ahead into a night so dark it seemed like we’d slipped into another dimension. To top off the perceptual shift, the corn fields along the road twinkled with fireflies. As we barreled down the road, it felt like we were in a space ship flying through a star field with little blips of light zoomed past at warp speed. Very SciFi.
From time to time, one of the glow worms got in the way of the windshield. Splat! The squashed fireflies glimmered for a few minutes on the glass after their untimely demise. Squish-a-roo, squirt-ola, splits-ville, but what a way to go.
To infinity… And beyond.
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Greetings from Old Quebec!
For the last two days, our footsteps have explored the walled city of Quebec. The first night we arrived, the Quebec Summer Festival was just coming to an end. All over the city, musical venues were open to the public. We listened to a hip hop band that rapped in French. The baggy pants, baseball caps, the screaming crowds. The band rapped in an "old school" style--kinda like the Beastie Boys. And like most hip hop bands singing in English or any other language, I couldn`t understand a word.
All around the old city, street performers plied their trade. We spotted fire eaters, bicycle stunt artists, and mimes. One artist dressed in blue silk and gold bangles combined her belly dancing skills with mime poses. This is fusion art at its best!
The streets of Old Quebec are lined with stone buildings, many more than 200 years old. We wandered around for two days gaping at the lovely cobblestone squares hemmed in by centuries-old churches, cafes, and private homes. The streets are narrow and twist and turn throughout the old part of town like the path of a drunken sailor. We`ve traveled to many historic sites around the US, and Quebec has the largest historic district we`ve seen. Savanna, Georgetown, Alexandria--these historic districts are charming, but they could fit into a hidden corner of the wall that surrounds Old Quebec.
To get a birds-eye view of the quarter, we climbed to the top of the garrison wall that defines the historic quarter. We were able to walk along the wall about a third of the way around. From the top, we could spy down curving streets, peer over rooftop gardens, and stretch our eyes to golden views of the St. Lawrence river in the evening light.
This morning, we are touring the Musee de la Civilisation (and this is were I found a free computer terminal to update the blog). The museum is dedicated to defining the Quebec sense of culture and identity. The unique Quebec perspective! I never realize the conflict between New France and New England raged on for nearly 200 years, and somehow I never heard before that American troops attacked Quebec during the Revolutionary War. How fascinating to see history from a different set of eyes.
Peoria has old connections with Quebec. Throughout the museum, we`ve found references to Joliett, Marquette, and Hennepin--those early French explorers that established a trading stations throughout North Amercia, including along the Illinois River in our hometown. This makes Quebec feel a little closer to home.
Our stay in Quebec ends tomorrow, and we begin our journey back to the Heartland. Au revoir!
Sunday, July 18, 2004
Late-breaking News Update
The skies over Maine cleared, and we spent our last two days at the ocean enjoying beautiful vistas of the mountains, sailboats, and the sea. Our last full day in Maine, Randy and I rented bikes and road 15 miles over the carriage roads in Acadia National Park. One of the fabulous features of the park are the carriage trails, built by the park`s founder to provide a way to enjoy the park free of automobiles. On one of the carriage roads, we traveled around a rugged mountain (with much huffing and puffing) to a point with a stunning view towards inland Maine. Our trail then took us around Jordan Lake where we took a refreshing break at Jordan House. A restaurant has been in operation at this site for over 100 years! The restaurant`s specialty is something called a popover. I`m not exactly sure what this was, but it was puffy and served with strawberry jam. Very tasty! We dined in the lovely restaurant with a view of the lake and the Bubbles Mountains on the far shore, all the while sitting in our bicycle shorts with our helmuts dangling off the back of our chairs. We were very refined. On the ride back, we crossed picturesque streams and spotted a waterfall. Neither of us fell off our bikes, and we re-learned how to use the gear shifts quickly enough. It felt good to be "back in the saddle" on a bicycle again. A fantastic Maine day.
Friday, July 16, 2004
Roving Reporter here, catching up with Laurie and Randy on their Epic Journey to Maine. The two packed up their car with enough socks, shoes, hiking gear, and junk food to last for the arduous journey. They drove through six states and on countless highways and biways to make their way. It’s been a full week since their journey began, so let’s see how they are doing.
RR: Tell us about the drive to Maine.
L: Well, we drove hard for two days and ate too much junk food along the way. That about sums it up.
R: Thank goodness for Harry Potter. We listened to book for, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the entire way. Otherwise, we may have sunk into deep, car-induced comas on the interstate.
RR: So, you made it to Maine in one piece. What was the first thing you did when you entered the state?
L: We stopped at a yarn shop, of course. Halcyon Yarn carries locally produced wool that is of the highest quality. Randy patiently waited in the car while I went browsing. I saw lots I liked and picked up a catalog. The catalog has given me a lot of fun daydreams, thinking about possible future knitting projects.
RR: You didn’t actually buy a whole bunch of yarn?
L: I was strong and resisted.
RR: Now comes the interesting part. Tell us about Acadia National Park? What do you think of this natural wonder?
L: The first day we were here, it was beautiful and clear. We toured the entire park and drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain to take in the view. The mountain is a craggy chunk of pink granite, and bits green struggle along here and there. A large bay spread out at our feet, dotted with islands. In the distance, we could see sail boats gliding into the mist.
RR: But then, disaster struck.
R: That’s right. On our second day, Laurie came down with an exotic, tropical illness. A quick trip to the doctor took care of everything. We were able to get in a hike along the coast that afternoon.
L: Good thing we enjoyed the views along the beach and shore cliffs on our second day because we probably won't see another sunny day during our visit. By Wednesday, the entire island was socked with fog. On Wednesday, we hiked to the top of South Bubble Peak, thinking we might get above the clouds. Instead, once we reached the top, all we could see was think swirls of white clouds.
R: We had to look at postcards in the gift shop to see what the view would have been from the top of the peak!
L: Actually, hiking in the rain was fun. It reminded us of our days in Seattle. The woods are full of wildflowers, and wild roses grow everywhere. The roses are pink and white and smell heavenly. We’ve also seen buttercups, little trillium, and dogwood. On one trail, we found wild iris. And the rain didn’t stop us from taking a cruise on a sail boat.
RR: What? You went out on a sailboat in pea soup weather?
R: Our motto is Carpe Diem! The weather report says it is going to rain the rest of the time we’re in Maine, so why not enjoy! We bundled up and climbed aboard the Margaret Todd, a clipper ship with full sails. The ship was run by a captain who used a huge wooden steering wheel to guide the ship around the bay. On board were several sailors who operated the rigging. The sailors spoke a foreign language, full of words like “block and tackle” and technical terms for all the sails.
L: The weather was brisk, and in the fog, we could only see the barest outline of the cliffs on shore. But it was great being at sea!
RR: So what next on your Epic Journey?
L: We have two more days here in Maine. On Sunday, we head north for Quebec. Wish us luck!
Friday, July 09, 2004
Peoria Top 10
10. The joy of -40 degrees wind chill in the winter
9. Counter-balanced with the bliss of 100% humidity in the summer
8. Avanti's Gondola sandwiches
7. Shnuck's (a great name for a grocery store!)
6. Menard's (an even better name for a hardware store!)
5. Bald eagles in January at Starved Rock State Park
4. Pelicans in March along the Illinois River
3. Long hikes at Forest Park, our urban oasis
2. Red cardinals at the bird feeder
1. Forbe's Managzine rates Peoria the city with the best cost of living for 2004!
Check out the Forbe's article here: http://www.forbes.com/bestplaces/2004/05/11/cz_kb_0511bestliving_04bestplaces.html
Peoria grows on a person. When I first visited Peoria with my then-boyfriend, I thought to myself, "Well, it's a place to visit, but..." It should be no surprise where this story is going. A couple of year's later after we got married, my husband got a job in Peoira, and we've been living here ever since. The first year, I spent most of my free time dreaming of moving to a more exotic local. Eventually we settled into jobs we like, reconnected with Randy's family and friends, and even bought a house (at a very reasonable rate, I might add). Now, after four years here, I feel like I've found my way home.
What do I love best about Peoria? It has most of the resources of a big city without big city traffic. When I lived in Seattle, it took me over an hour to commute just ten miles. Here, my morning drive is smooth sailing, a relaxing journey giving me time to listen to NPR and enjoy zooming across the Murray Baker Bridge. Sometimes I actually wish my commute took a little longer so I could soak up a bit more of the daily news. No bumper-to-bumper slowdowns and delays for me.
Randy and I didn't notice how much the stress level of living (and commuting) in a large city graited on us until we moved here. Randy could curse up a blue streak while driving in Seattle Cursed Blankin' @$%#@ Blank Blank! Me, I became a white-knuckle driver, holding my breath for long stretches and tensing my entire body in the hopes of coaxing all the surrounding traffice to keep moving. I'm convinced moving to a small city added five years to our lives.
So let's celebrate Peoria! The Heart of Illinois Fair is this weekend. It's a classic county fair, with live stock exhibits, quilting contests, cotton candy, and a whole mess of wobbly-looking thrill rides. I can see the blinking lights of the rollercoaster from the neighborhood, and in the evening, we can hear the roar of the tractor pull. Ah, good times!
Thursday, July 08, 2004
Sparklers and Bottle Rockets
This year's 4th of July celebration raised the bar on home firework displays. Those measly sparklers and sputtering fountains just won't hack it next year. Now that we've seen the possibilities, our standards are higher. Our expectations are greater. We just can't go back to lawnchair-variety spinning flowers and bottle rockets.
Randy's crazy cousin Dave smuggled Indiana fireworks over the Illinois boarder. Apparently the good people of Indiana aren't much concerned about anyone shooting their eye out or setting whole neighborhoods alight. Because, let me tell you, the firework stands in Indiana sell a whole new grade of festival firepower.
Cousin Dave put on one hell of a show. Pinwheels that shot 50-feet into the sky and twirled daintily. Plumes of purple starlets zoomed overhead, one after the other. Red dragon flames licked the treetops. Dave would shout to the gathering crowd, "This one's called The Birthday Cake," and then for the next five minutes banners of light waved overhead, stardust burst forth, and glitter hung in the air. Without a license, without training, without any first aid burn training, and without so much as a bucket of water near by, we watched something that rivaled anything at the City's 4th of July extravaganza.
After lighting off the last rocket, Cousin Dave wandered in from thick cloud of smoke that had gathered about his launch site. His staggering form resembled a ghost soldier's on a battlefield. He coughed raggedly, wiped soot from his brow, and hand over his heart began to sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. "My eyes have seen the glory...."
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
"Check out the fireworks," Randy said to call me over to the window. I expected to see sparklers from a neighbor's firework display. Instead, the entire sky was flashing silver light. It looked like a giant strobe light was lodged in a mushroom cloud. The cloud hovered ominously just above the neighborhood. Streaks of lightening shot out of the cloud into the sky in snake-like slithers. A medusa cloud. When a lightening streak caught the ground, it reverberated with a dangerous beauty. Even though a huge storm cloud hung in the distance, the air around us was still. We stepped out onto the porch to watch it lumber closer. We felt anticipation in the air--excitement even. The storm cloud might harbor tree-snapping winds. It might hide a twister. But we wanted it to come closer.
Randy ran around the house looking for a camera. Even with all the excitement, I felt the call of sleep and made my way to bed. Lying backwards on top of the covers, I watched the lightening approach though a bedroom window. In one overhead burst, three tentacles of light emanated from a single source. The wind picked up, and ran splattered the window. Randy rummaged around in the room next door, "Where's the #@$&$# film!" After snapping a few frames before the ran turned into a torrent, Randy joined me backwards in bed so we could watch the storm. As I fell asleep, lights flashed in my eyes.