Down by the River

I’ve lived most of my life within a half-hour’s drive of the Mississippi River.

Generally, when family or friends say something about going down to the river, they intend to “I don’t know, maybe burn a thirty-pack and watch the boat races.”

Yesterday at about 8:30 in the morning, when my wife called downstairs, where I was on only my third cup of coffee, and asked if I wanted to go to the river, my first thoughts were, “It’s too early to start burnin a thirty-pack. And it’s Tuesday, so there aren’t any boat races.”

What she really wanted to do, though, was explore a few of the small towns of Western Illinois we often pass by without taking the time to look around. So, some photos, unadulterated. Hopefully they don’t look bad on the blog without the sepia tinting.

First up, Oquawka, Illinois. Oquawka is kind of the mecca of river towns around here, but the place does have literary roots. The town’s other claim to fame is Norma Jean, the elephant killed by lightning. She is now remembered, a few feet from the public pool, via shrine:

Once we finished with Oquawka, we drove The Great River Road to Keithsburg.

The good citizens of Keithsburg have been a little up in arms lately because the owners of this place (and, yes, that is a lighthouse painted white and striped pink, if you were wondering):

want to turn it into a, um, gentleman’s club. Apparently, the waitresses orginially served customers their fried catfish while wearing bikinis, but the bikinis have come off. Gentleman’s clubs and the river share a long history (see Gulfport), and it seems like Keithsburg is going to be a part of that history. It makes some sense, since there’s an odd store in town (Population: 740) that sells shoes and outfits for women looking to perform in such clubs:

Behind Bikinis, you can get down to the river proper:

Did I mention I've been reading Charles D'Ambrosio's The Dead Fish Museum? I know this fish is missing its head, but can someone identify it for me? I’ve never been great at species identification (whether it's trees, birds, or, um, fish) and the curiosity is killing me.

All in all, we drove through about twelve or so towns, had lunch in Viola, and my truck's tires never touched the Interstate. There were, however, no thirty packs burned, and there wasn't a single boat race.


Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention my good luck in Joy, Illinois, where I doubled my $1 investment in the scratch-off lotto machine and you-- blind from the sun-- nearly crushed a young girl playing with porcelain kitties in the low light on the gas station's floor.

fringes said...

By God, that is the most poetic and rhythmic comment I've ever read.

Chad Simpson said...

Anonymous is certainly the real writer in this house, without a doubt.

And I did forget to mention her good luck in Joy, where mail-order brides work customer service at the convenience store, and little girls sit right in the middle of the floor playing with sculpted cats.

Lisa said...

And those are certainly the best photos accompanying a blog post I've ever seen.

Seriously. Love the photos. What a fun little trip.

Chad Simpson said...

Thanks, Lisa. J. took half of the shots.

And I don't think these photos hold a candle to the shots of food on your blog!

Southern Writer said...

Now I'm really curious. Half an hour from the Mississippi and in the south? Are we from the same town?