The windshield was inches from my forehead, and I was still clutching the tan leather armrest like an eight year on his first rollercoaster.
It all happened so fast.
A few hours west of St. Charles, Illinois is a small town called Gelena that most Chicagoans have a fleeting sense of, maybe they’ve been there once or twice and they probably know a few retirees that escape there every summer weekend. Really, all in all, it’s just a small Midwestern respite with rustic antique shops, a typical diner, and some might say a landscape worth noting, if they’d never been to California or even Missouri for that matter.
A friend and I and his sister and her friend were hanging out for the weekend with his parents and some of their extended family and it was my first time at the family cabin adventure.
I’ve documented my own family’s trips to upstate New York, thousands of miles from home, and this friend had definitely joined me on one of those East Coast excursions. I feel a sense of sanity in the idea that an extended family might live within a few hours of one another, like his (mine’s quite spread out).
I feel that same sense of sanity in them trekking out to NOMANSLAND to really get the conversation flowing.
So here we were, in western Illinois; the land of corn, the land of changes in altitude that for those of us living in suburbia seem impressive despite their being a mere freckle on the manicured hand of potential cliffhangers in North America. It was sort of a beach cabin complex scene, and on this particular afternoon us kids wanted to head into town to…I don’t know…eat taffy and see locals?
We were bored and looking to gossip of our own accord without the adults around.
We probably had to pick up some milk.
We were graciously afforded the Lincoln Sabre (I’ll never forget the model) to head into ‘town’ to kill some time. What that means, in fact, is that it was still light out, maybe mid afternoon, and we were allowed to drive into Galena to “check out the shops”. That, to us at the time, meant laugh at the locals and putz around talking about pressing highschool social matters for a few hours before returning home for dinner on the grill next to the lake. We were in highschool and we were escapists and we all felt alive as we headed into town.
I don’t remember what we did.
I know Galena, in a sense, because it wasn’t my first time there and it wasn’t my last, but there really isn’t anything remarkable about Galena. We probably walked past a bunch of antique shops, joked about how small town it was, and sampled fudge.
Does every American small town produce unnatural amounts of fudge? Really.
As we left to head back to the cabin, it was later afternoon and we’d hooked up a disc-player to the radio (!!!) in order to play our music and we were laughing and singing. Our cabin was one among many in a “community” nestled within the “hills” of the “terrain”.
The roads were crooked spaghetti and the drive was solitude.
My friend was driving, of course…son of the patriarch…and he was driving enthusiastically. We were young, we were vibrant, and we were stupid.
If I had a digital pencil I’d draw you the curve, but I’m left to describe what was one of the most unforgiving turns in a road I’ve seen in my life…
(more to follow)