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A Postcard From Up North

Greetings from a strange, faraway land.


The careful reader will note that I haven't posted much of anything lately. The reason is because my wife and I have been going through a long an convoluted move to the Great Lakes, Illinois area. My wife is in the Navy, and the Navy has decided that the base there is where we will be for the next three(ish) years.

It's as different up here as you'd expect. No restaurants have sweet tea, the soil lacks any trace of clay or sand, there is a Garrison Keillor-approved number of Lutheran churches about, and it actually gets chilly in the evening in late June. The locals are all excited about "iced hockey" or some such nonsense, a sport (I guess?) that a nearby team in Chicago seems to have won. It's all very bewildering.

I will try to turn this experience into somewhat of an anthropological experiment to try to help y'all understand what life is like for the millions who are unfortunate enough to live outside the southeast. In this first dispatch, I will give you a piece of advice for any time you may come up this way to visit. It should be obvious enough, but it still needs to be said:

Don't expect anything that looks to be Southern-like to live up to its appearance.

For instance, I had a pulled pork sandwich at a strawberry festival two weekends ago. That sounds like it could've happened anywhere down South, right?

Well for starters, I'm not sure why the festival was in Long Grove, IL when all of the strawberries were from Michigan. The berries themselves that we bought were somehow kind of bitter (?!), which I didn't think was possible for ripe but not rotten strawberries. That's Michigan for you, apparently.

The sandwich certainly wasn't the worst thing I've ever had that has been labeled "barbecue" (hello, McRib). That said, let's just say that anyone wielding that thing would be laughed out of the state of South Carolina. I am going to have to do more thorough vetting of the bona fides of anyone purporting to sell barbecue in addition to cooking plenty of my own out back to make up for the lack of options.

The festival was also fairly strange in and of itself. Long Grove looks and feels like a small town that Disney created, from its quaint fountain in the middle of town to the Irish music playing softly outside the Irish restaurant with the sculpted apple barrel on the cusp of falling over on the side of the building. There also were several booths selling what appeared to be identical merchandise, with suspiciously similar people using identical sales pitches. The afternoon included a performance of a band of kids, none older than maybe 13, playing classic rock tunes like "Purple Haze", "American Girl", and "Come Together". It was as though a John Hodgman monologue had come to happen in real life.

Anyway, nearly everyone I've met so far has been very nice. It's certainly a livable place for now, though I've been told stories of crystals of frozen water that fall from the sky in large quantities during parts of the year. Imagine that!