Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Road trip, end of day 7

I spent much of today on a nostalgia trip visiting the places in southern Illinois where I spent my childhood. First I swung by the Mordor-like town of Roxana, the site of the (now former) Shell Oil Refinery where my father worked and where I actually lived for several years as a tot. Yes, along with several other families, mine actually lived inside the refinery fence in "staff houses." We were among the last families to live there; after we moved in 1963 they tore down the houses, which had stood from the 1920s. In this picture, where you see a red brick building on a low rise, that's actually where the houses were.

But the visit was not a complete waste of time, as there is actually a very well-stocked museum just outside the refinery gates, utterly filled with memorabilia from the refinery itself, from jackets and coveralls worn through the years by workers, to photographs of self-consciously smiling men looking at huge pipelines, to pictures of them bowling and playing baseball. Staffing the museum was an ancient, bent woman who identified herself as the former secretary to the refinery's manager during the years I lived there. She did recognize the name of my father, who was one of the managers.

In 1963 we moved to nearby Edwardsville, a very Norman Rockwell-ish small town. It was only about five miles away, but the hellish environs of the refinery were unseen and (more importantly) unsmelled. We lived in this house until January 1970, when we moved to Texas.

I spent a few hours driving around the town. I had visited once before, in 1995. At that time -- 25 years after leaving -- the town struck me as still rather like the town I had left behind. But today -- 15 additional years later -- it was much more unrecognizable. There has been a lot more development in the last 15 years than in the 25 years before that. The thing that really blew my mind was a new commercial development on the other side of a small wooded ravine where I spent endless hours playing when I was 8, 9, 10 years old. Seeing the ravine from the edge of this development -- a spot where there had not even been any roads when I was a child -- was a very surprising perspective.

I took a lot of pictures of the most historical things I could find in the town. Then I finally left. The town of my childhood is really no more.

After that I drove west across the Mississippi into Missouri, which I spent the afternoon crossing, arriving finally in a Kansas City suburb after dark. Here I am staying in a Hampton Inn, which is really nice, but a little expensive.

I used the gym, and then I drove to a nearby shopping center to find something to eat. For the first time in my life, I went to a Hooters. I'm sure the bizarre scantily clad waitresses are well known to everyone. It's just like being in a strip club, except they aren't quite naked, and they're not going to get naked. Instead, they bring you spicy buffalo wings or, in my case, a mahi-mahi sandwich which was actually very good. Otherwise, the girls are pretty much the same (though prettier), all false-friendly and bending over to give you a good look. Luckily there are huge televisions hung about the room at ceiling level, all showing sports; it's easy to just sit and look at these so you don't feel you are being unnecessarily exploitative.

No comments: