I like people who decide to spruce up the whimsy factor in their lives and buy a giant, plastic, large-mouth bass for their mailbox. I was nearing what was supposed to be the last hour of my day on the road when I decided to get off the highway and take the smallest reasonable roads I could. My rear-view mirror has a compass on it; I carry an atlas; I did well in high school geography; eventually I would run into St. Louis. If I hit the Mississippi river, I would turn south. It would be as simple as that. And it was as simple as that, but my eyes started to rebel, and all the coffee and water I'd drunk throughout the day started to voice their opinions as well. In the last couple hours of travel, I must have pulled off the road four times to pee. I did not pee on this largemouth bass mailbox, though I did turn around and go back a couple hundred yards to take a picture of it. It's not the greatest photograph in the world—the neighbor across the street was watching me suspiciously. I just popped a shot and carried on down the road. I was nearing the place where southern Illinois gets squeezed toward St. Louis and the river. I wonder how many bills have been stuffed into that fish's mouth.
In southern Illinois, I went through a lot of small towns with populations of about two hundred. This dude is one of maybe 1000 residents of Benld. Besides his little dog on the end of what looks to be a flexi-leash, I didn't see another living soul as I passed through the town center. I got stuck at a railroad X-ing and watched box cars piled high with coal head west toward St. Louis. Here's another bit of Benld's downtown.
I kept driving, heading west, south, and south-west. I was getting very close to St. Louis, but it was impossible to tell that a major city was nearby. The world went from very rural and poor to urban in no time. I knew I was getting close to St. Louis when here and there among the farmlands I spotted a couple McMansions set back a couple hundred yards from the road. Being made out of brick and early 2000s bad taste, they looked very out of place among the farm houses and combines. Apparently a handful of upwardly mobile Americans with comparatively well-paying jobs in St. Louis have decided that they want to build giant, sore-thumb homes in the agricultural towns twenty and thirty miles from the outskirts of the city. But mostly the area looks like this:
And like this:
I'm not certain that I would want to move to Benld or a neighboring town, one of which is called Bunker Hill, but there is a certain charm to the openness and emptiness of the landscape. It's almost desolate, and one would think that one could be anyone in such a desolate place, that one could totally reinvent oneself in a place like this, but I'm not sure who I would reinvent myself to be. Abraham Lincoln? There is a bronze statue of him in the neighboring town of Bunker Hill. It's in the town center. Right across from the Pin-Up Bar and Grill. I stopped beside it to look at my atlas.
OK, I'll see you tomorrow for the riverside, country roads, St. Louis to Memphis portion of this journey. There will be another video coming again soon, too, a video about the road from northern Illinois to this part of southern Illinois. But now I must sleep. It's only 8 P.M. but I am zonked.