Here stands the final entry in the SmilePolitely's BEST series, a completely bland and uncontroversial series that resulted in no arguments or controversial comments or possible unintentional sexism or anything. What does it mean for something to be the best of culture? We don't know either! Let's go and see. But first, if you want to see the description of the conception of this series go here (fairly accurate, except there were more top hats and monocles). For the rest of the series, see below:
Best place to take an out-of-town visitor: Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
Of course there's no single best place to take every out-of-town visitor. Wildly varying tastes might cause any given traveller to prefer film to opera, fine wine to fine pastry, or even Bud Light to PBR. But what you really want to do with your average visitor is to impress, to be able to say that Champaign-Urbana is a place with culture and panache. In short, to impart the fact that it's cooler to live here rather than wherever you're from, man. And for executing the slight of hand to pass off C-U as a cultural mecca, it's hard to do a better job than taking them to a performance at Krannert. Such highlights as Sinfonia da Camera, the Ellnora Guitar Festival, and a certain local music festival that will remain nameless ensure that the Krannert Center for Performing Arts always impresses. Plus, if your out-of-town visitor is of the romantic variety, we have it on good authority that the roof of Krannert makes for an excellent spot for late night make-outs.
Runner-up: The Virginia Theater
Whether during Ebertfest (although your visitor had better either have spent the large sum for a festival pass far in advance or be prepared to wait outside for quite a while) or just through the course of a normal year, it's hard for a lover of movies to get a better viewing experience than the old movie palace operated by the Champaign Park District. They always (usually) manage to get 35mm prints of both classic films and new favorites. And not to be ignored is the wide range of live performances that take place on the stage, such as the upcoming performance of Swan Lake by Champaign-Urbana Ballet.
Best politician: Mayor Jerry Schweighart
The contention for this category was fierce. The esteemed Mayor of Champaign pulled out an early lead during the discussion over the awarding of the federal Broadband Opportunities Program grant by being unafraid to defy the Champaign City Council, standing for his principles even in the face of the best interests of the community by voting to turn down the $23 million awarded to the two cities for job-creating infrastructure improvement projects. After all, if the free market says that 'Comquest' is doing a great job, who is the federal government to stand in the way? Also, someone has to stand up against Google's conspiracy to steal radio waves from television stations.
But then Mayor Prussing of Urbana came out swinging, finally moving to destroy the goat lady menace that has terrorized our community for too long. Not a one among us has escaped the milky, delicious sting of an enraged goat lady defending her territory. Mayor Prussing was simply the first person courageous enough to realize that unlike a vampire, a goat lady can only be vanquished by shoving through her not a wooden stake, but an ill-conceived road construction project.
However, in the last seconds, Mayor Schweighart pulled it out by heroically standing up not just to his opponents, but to conventional logic itself by asserting that President Obama is not an American citizen. It takes a person of strong character to go outside, stand proudly amongst a group of people who all think the same things you do, and confidently announce your beliefs without regard to opponents, detractors, or facts. And for that, Mayor Schweighart, you are the best (most entertaining) politician in C-U.
Best Road Trip: Allerton Park
One of the nicest things about living in Champaign-Urbana is that if you ever get tired of the urban lifestyle, a quick drive out of town offers a respite of simple pleasures. Lucky for us, there are several road trips within an hour's drive that offer many combinations of fun, food, and relaxation.
When it comes to a pure get-away, it may be obvious, but a better road trip would be difficult to scrape together than a drive to Allerton Park in Monticello. A trip to this sprawling park will reward the traveler with 14 miles of hiking trails and the chance to relax in the elegant gardens surveyed by the brick mansion and statuary. While the destination is famous, named one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois, the majesty of Allerton Park is incontestable in these parts. After spending a morning or afternoon in the park, a drive through downtown Monticello is worth the extra mileage. The downtown offers some nice places to eat, shop, and peruse, including the independent record store Any Frequency and a pottery shop called Out of the Blue.
Trip to Charleston: Take in some great pizza at Pagliai's Pizza; sip some coffee at Jackson Avenue; pick up some cheap vinyl at Positively Fourth Street Records; and then take in a movie at the historic Will Rogers Theatre.
Trip to the Homer Soda Company in Homer, then on to Kickapoo Stake Park, Gross's Burgers in Danville, then ending with a movie at the Lorriane Cinemas in Hoopeston.
Best Place to Get Mauled by an Off-Leash Dog: West Armory Street
Though there are arguably several sites in Champaign-Urbana where you or your canine companion could run into a free-wheeling hound without an owner in sight, your best bet to get accosted by one of these leash-free dogs is around West Armory Street in Champaign. This neighborhood wins the coveted BPTGMBAOFD award thanks to several local residents on this street and a few blocks in its perimeter who believe their precious pooches are "behaved" and "aren't hurting anyone" if they should come charging across the street at you with fury in the eyes and foam at the mouth. As an added bonus, they come in all sizes: here, we've been chased, snarled, and snapped at by everything from a Chihuahua to a Yellow Lab and every mutt in between. So if you are out for a walk or a bike ride in the neighborhood around West Armory, beware if you hear the tinkling of dog tags and the heavy breath of some fast-moving creature racing over the pavement: this is not Lassie coming to welcome you home.
Runner-up: Urbana Dog Park. People bring their dogs here to "play." Some people also don't know how to properly train their dogs and don't seem to be aware if their fuzzy bitches turn Cujo when they sees other canines. If you love your dog, be on your guard at all times when visiting any dog park, because it can turn ugly in the blink of an eye.
Best Place to People Watch: Café Kopi
If gawking is your thing, venture to downtown Champaign and plant yourself in one of the outside tables of Café Kopi for an optimal spot to people-watch. Kopi serves as the center of North Walnut Street for downtown activity, being located directly across from the Esquire Lounge, and smack-dab in the vortex of townies, hipsters, hippies, professors, artists, freaks, rail-riders, dog-walkers, and every subset in between. There are fewer students here, which means more color, and more variety in the type of situations you're sure to witness. Here, you can spy on the people stumbling out of the Esquire across the street, meet local business owners as they grab their morning coffee, and watch cops ticket hapless meter offenders. Spying and gawking aside, Kopi is a great place to hang out, enjoy the breeze, and take in the colorful people that make up Champaign. And if you actually open your mouth and talk up some of these people, you could end up making some lasting friendships.
Runner Up: The quad at the University of Illinois is a good place to people watch for the sheer volume of students that frequent this vast patch of grass between Foellinger Auditorium and the Union. Here, you'll catch games of ultimate Frisbee, touch football, lovers schmoozing, drunkards drunking, and Greeks chalking the sidewalks.
Best place to cheat death on your bicycle: North Prospect
There are busier areas in town, and also streets that have more semi truck traffic that moves at a higher speed. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a place in town where a bicycle is treated more like a UFO than in that sprawling auto-centric wasteland north of I-74. Anyone who has two-wheeled it in Mallville will remember the honking horns, the curse words hurled, and — most frightening of all — the complete lack of acknowledgment followed by a near-collision.
Check out the map to the right, in which Champaign County Bikes detailed all the comfortable-riding streets in the North Prospect area by coloring them green.
Honorable mention #1: Pulling an Evel Knievel across what used to be White St. east of First. This opportunity will expire sometime in the next five years, presumably.
Best hill: "Hackberry Hill" in Orchard Downs
I must admit I was unaware that this hill had a name until "researching" this post. But there it is in a U of I "Deciding Where to Live" handout -- Hackberry Hill. While it's true that any hill in Champaign-Urbana automatically makes the top five, Hackberry gets special marks for its relative sledding awesomeness; there's no fence at the bottom like the hill by Centennial, and it's a lot longer slope than the hill at Prairie Park. Woo-hoo!
Most overlooked social service agency: Family Service Center of Champaign County
FSC has served Champaign County since 1911, offering a range of services to children, adolescents, adults and seniors who are in need of intervention or support. From providing support to seniors interested in attending their local public library to providing families in the midst of a divorce the tools necessary to understand how their decisions effect one another, FSC does work that is absolutely necessary in our community. What's more is that FSC serves as a hub for many smaller local service providers who rely on them for a legitimate, centrally located and affordable facility from which to operate. For more information, visit their website.
Best home solicitors: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
When living as an eccentric and reclusive Smile Politely editor, one is likely to shut off the lights and hide behind the couch when someone trying to sell you something rings the doorbell of your penthouse at Smile Politely Enterprises Tower (if you don't know where it is, then you're clearly not important enough to know). The most appreciated visitors are those that, when it is arranged ahead of time, appear at the door to solicit money in exchange for a pizza. Therefore, when we think of the best home solicitors, we think of the worthiest adversaries: Mormons.
Much like any proselytizers, they are selling a purely notional product (salvation) in exchange for a valuable commodity (your time). Like Goldman-Sachs selling mortgage-backed securities, this is an impressive bit of salesmanship when you think about it. And they're so nice! It makes it so hard to turn down that pamphlet that you know you're never going to read, and almost makes you forget that they donated so much money towards passing Proposition 8 in California.. The fact that they always head out in pairs makes it more awkward to try and squeeze past them at your front door in an attempt at the 'actually I was just heading out to the store' gambit (though not at Smile Politely Enterprises Tower of course: we have a revolving door). And finally, they manage to roam the neighborhood, home soliciting you even when you're not at home. It's not long before one is engendered with a reflexive reaction to dive behind the nearest garbage cans at the mere sight of a white button-down shirt and tie.
Well played, Mormon missionaries. WELL PLAYED.